Japanese manga hit Death Note comes to Netflix this Friday in a big-budget American film adaptation. Horror director Adam Wingard (V/H/S, Blair Witch) puts a western spin on a franchise that has enthralled Asian audiences for years. The original comic was written by Tsugami Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata in 2003. It has sold millions of copies since its inception. Followed by an anime television series, three live action films, and multiple video game releases. To say Death Note has an established fan base is a tremendous understatement.
The western version of Death Note takes place in modern day Seattle, Washington. Nat Wolff, the former Nickelodeon star turned indie-film favorite, stars as Light Turner. He’s an angry teen struggling with the accidental death of his mother. Sitting alone on a rainy day outside class, a strange book called the Death Note appears beside him. It is given to him by Ryuk (Willem Dafoe), a Shinigami or death god, that only Light can see. Any name written in the book, as long as Light knows that person’s face, can be controlled and killed. There are many rules to the Death Note, but the general idea is that the possessor can murder anyone.
Light decides to rid the world of criminals. He gains a sympathetic companion in classmate Mia (Margaret Qualley). The pair embarks on a bad guy killing spree for the ages. Light adopts the moniker “Kira” to the outside world. He is cheered as a hero by the masses. Befuddled by Kira’s seemingly omnipotent reach, the FBI assigns the case to the enigmatic “L” (Lakeith Stanfield). His face hidden from view and real identity top secret, L is an unparalleled detective. He is the perfect foil to Light’s plans.
Netflix held a press event for Death Note recently in New York City. Movieweb was invited to interview Nat Wolff, Lakeith Stanfield, and Director Adam Wingard. The film had only been seen by a few audiences, but was unfairly being criticized as “white washing”. Let’s be clear here. This is an English language, American version of the Japanese story. Adam Wingard and his production team stay faithful to the basic manga tenets; but obviously update the plot and characters to reflect the new setting. This film is just the beginning of the story and can’t be expected to cover every volume of the comic.
Death Note was Adam Wingard’s biggest film at the time. He’s since gone on to pre-production on the 2020 release of Warner Bros. Godzilla vs. Kong. Adam gave us a few updates on that film. Regarding Death Note, the actors and director were keenly aware of satisfying the existing audience. But delivering a fresh take that would hopefully attract new fans. My initial question targets the moral crux of Death Note. Is Light a hero or a villain? What’s wrong with taking scumbags off the streets forever? Their responses are interesting, but Lakeith Stanfield (Short Term 12, Get Out) took the interview one step further. He decided to respond to every question in character as “L”. I’ve never been sniffed by an actor during an interview, but there’s a first time for everything. Please see below our exclusive interviews with Nat Wolff, Lakeith Stanfield, and Adam Wingard.