Death Note (2017)

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Death Note (2017)
Death note xxlg.jpg
The movie whose name is written in this notebook shall die.
Genre: Drama
Directed By: Adam Wingard
Produced By: Roy Lee
Dan Lin
Masi Oka
Jason Hoffs
Ted Sarandos
Based On: Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata
Starring: Nat Wolff
Lakeith Stanfield
Margaret Qualley
Shea Whigham
Paul Nakauchi
Jason Liles
Willem Dafoe
Photography: Color
Cinematography: David Tattersall
Distributed By: Netflix
Release Date: August 25, 2017
Runtime: 100 minutes
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $40 million

Death Note is a 2017 neo-noir supernatural thriller film based (very) loosely on the Japanese manga of the same name. The film is directed by Adam Wingard and stars Nat Wolff as Light Turner, Willem Dafoe as Ryuk, Lakeith Stanfield as L, Margaret Qualley as Mia Sutton, Shea Whigham as James Turner, and Paul Nakauchi as Watari. The film received mixed-to-negative reviews from critics and audiences with a 38% critic rating and a 24% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes but was overwhelmingly panned by fans of the original manga. The film was screened at FrightFest in London and was then released on Netflix on August 25, 2017. As of 2021, a sequel was in preproduction, with Greg Russo attached to write the screenplay.


A student named Light Turner finds a mysterious dark-colored book called "Death Note" and meets its demonic creator; Ryuk who reveals to him that the book has a supernatural ability to kill anyone if their name is written, along with the rules of the book. Intoxicated with the god-like power of the Death Note, Light begins to kill people he deems unworthy massacring several high-profile criminals around the world, becoming known as "Kira." Soon Light finds himself hunted by an enigmatic investigator who is bent on ending his reign of terror.

Why this Film's Name Should Be Written in the Death Note

  1. The story plays out far more like a classic "deal with the devil" scenario where an innocent hero is corrupted by power, which is about as far from the original story as it's possible to get. The most obvious example is that in this version Light has to be coerced into his first kill by Ryuk, whereas by the time Ryuk found him in the original story he had already written hundreds of names in the Death Note.
  2. The film doesn't properly translate the story to a Western setting, instead of having features that blatantly do not belong like a Japanese demon and a character called "Light." Much as Death Note's themes could be transposed to a Western setting (in particular it would work perfectly in a prohibition-era noir detective setting, with Ryuk re-cast as an ambiguous angel of death or demon), this is far from the way to do it.
  3. Many of the characters have been dumbed down or changed so much that they're not even the character any more.
    • Light Yagami becomes Light "Turner", a dull protagonist who is an unpopular bullied student with lacking charismas of the original character and is extremely stupid. We see him unable to fight back against bullies outside of his school, along with (among other things) taking the Death Note to school and reading it in public without even attempting to conceal it. Even when L is after him, he continues to talk about how he is Kira in public places and on the phone. He even instantly admits to being the killer the first time L confronts him about it!
      • This version of Light actually comes across as more unhinged than the original as his first kill is so brutal and so petty (where he has a cartoonishly stereotypical school bully named Kenny Doyle get gruesomely decapitated by a ladder for unintentional revenge).
        • Light Yagami's first kill was when he had no beliefs the Death Note would actually do anything (as he had not yet met Ryuk) and was an actual criminal holding women and children hostage, who he caused to die from a heart attack.
    • This version of L is also stupid in that despite him concealing his identity, his assistant Watari is going around using his real name. In the original Death Note "Watari" was an alias too, but here, even though the Death Note is supposed to require the subject's full name, it's apparently enough to allow Light to control him during more than 40 seconds as if the Death Note was a mind-control device by rewriting the death (violates rule 61), and grant Watari knowledge he does not have (specifically, Light's phone number).
      • This version of L was blackwashed and miscast for that. Even Kenichi Matsuyama's portrayal of L (despite being yellowwashed) in the Japanese live action film series is way better & more faithful than this literation.
        • The worst part is that according to an interview on news site The Verge, the actor who played as L, LaKeith Stanfield (who's also known for playing in movies like Get Out, Straight Outta Compton, Uncut Gems, and more), after being presented with the idea and decided to go for it, he literally studied everything when it comes to the series, including watching the Anime, reading the Manga, and overall really got into the character of L. Only after coming to the set for the first time was the realization that they were going to do something completely different than what he expected. So in a nutshell, even with all the research he done, everything was just straight up doomed from the very beginning.
    • Misa Amane is changed to Mia Sutton and instead of being a quirky character that is obsessed with Light' her personality is instead (according to director Adam Wingard) based on the sociopathic qualities of Light Yagami. Wingard decided to shove them into this side-character for no real reason. It ends out as if the two characters had their traits interchanged. She is killed by falling from a Ferris wheel and into a ground of flowers by Ryuk.
  4. Ryuk's introduction also completely sabotages Light's character: rather than momentarily being shocked at seeing a real-life Shinigami before accepting it, Light Turner has a prolonged routine which feels more like an attempt at slapstick comedy, where he screams like his trousers just caught fire and repeatedly falls over. The scene also comes across as very out-of-place since there are no actual consequences to almost everything in the schoolroom Light was being destroyed with only him to blame for it.
  5. The film plays out like a gory slasher flick, with some completely ridiculous Final Destination-style kill scenes like the ladder decapitation instead of an intense game of wits between Light and L.
  6. Terrible cinematography that overuses Dutch angles, similar to Battlefield Earth.
  7. The film ignores the rules of the Death Note or makes up new ones on a whim. Not only that, but the film's Death Note contradicts itself blatantly.
    • Rule 32 states that the Death Note's effects are irreversible through any means once the victim's name has been written and rule 89 states that the victim can be spared by destroying the page (which is just an ass-pull so that the ending works).
    • In particular, the scene where Light has several criminals in different countries write his alias in Japanese should not even be possible according to the rules of the original Death Note (violates rule 55) or even the film's own Death Note (violates rules 12 and 28), and neither should the various incidents where Light uses the Death Note and causes massive collateral damage (violates rules 10 and 26).
    • The film also has Light claim Watari's death is "dealer's choice" because he hasn't written any specific circumstances, despite the film showing rule 16 (which includes part of the original rule 1) which states that if no cause of death is specified the victim will die of a heart attack. This is part of a series of plot contrivances to make it so Watari's death is not Light's fault.
  8. Light claims his alias "Kira" means "Light" in Russian and Celtic. It actually means nothing of the sort in Russian: the word for light is "svet" or "свет" in Cyrillic, while the only "Kira" in Russian is a female given name which is a feminine form of "Kirill," which derives from "Kyrillos," the Greek word for "master." It also means nothing in Celtic: in fact, "Kira" is an Anglicized version of the Irish name "Ciara," which means "dark-haired." Even worse, he says it "sort of means killer in Japanese," which is stupid: it is actually just how the English word "killer" is transliterated into Japanese syllables, as Yagami says.
  9. Because the new Light is good-turned-bad, L has to be depicted as an out-and-out bad guy to be an antagonist for him, which isn't true to the original stories either.
    • He's even shown contemplating using the Death Note to kill Light at the end of the film, even though he would have no reason to assume that a piece of paper with the names of a killer's victims on it would be a magical artifact that actually killed those people.
  10. L's method of narrowing the search for Kira fails to align with the actual events shown: he claims the search can be narrowed to Seattle because the hostage-taker Light killed to show Mia the Death Note was real was only reported on "locally." Unfortunately, Light didn't find the man using local TV, instead, he googled for "live crime scene" and happened to find a local one by complete coincidence. The fact that it was on the internet makes L's logic utterly specious.
  11. There is also some Solo: A Star Wars Story-grade superfluous explanation, in the form of a completely needless reason for why L likes eating candy.
  12. A completely superfluous love interest plot-line is crow-barred in with Light doing most of his killing to try to impress the Misa Amane stand-in, Mia Sutton. This drastically weakens Light's character and also distracts heavily from the cat-and-mouse plot between Light and L which the film should actually be about.
  13. Ryuk is under-used and barely in the movie, which isn't excused by Shinigami's spectator nature since in the source he had more screen-time. He also looks kind of silly, and his eyes are blatantly just LEDs.
  14. The ending involves a stupid and out-of-place chase sequence and an even more stupid sequence where it is revealed that Light essentially used the Death Note to script out the whole of reality, including stating he survived a fall and that a page with his name written on it would happen to fall into a convenient fire barrel so he wouldn't die (violates the film's Death Note's rule 32 by accomplishing rule 89)
  15. The film went through three production companies and six writers (it was originally supposed to be released in 2009), so it isn't particularly surprising it's a horrible mess. Compounding this is that one of the writers of the final draft was Jeremy Slater, who wrote Fant4stic.
  16. For some reason, the film's credits run over behind-the-scenes footage and a blooper reel, which is not something one is generally supposed to do at the end of an R-rated horror thriller.
  17. Just like WIS No. 7 above & House of the Dead, it also added unnecessary nudity & unneeded sex scenes, which the original series didn't even have at all!
  18. The train crash scene in the film is unoriginal.
    • Instead, it uses real footage of a train crash from 2010, which is insulting to victims of that crash.
  19. Weak direction by Adam Wingard, who later directed Godzilla vs. Kong, a far better movie than this.
  20. None of the voice actors from the anime reprise their roles in the Japanese dub:
    • For example, Light is voiced by Nobunaga Shimazaki rather than Mamoru Miyano, except for Shido Nakamura as Ryuk, but this may be a good thing for fans who wouldn't have wanted said voice actors to be involved in this film.
  21. The pacing isn't very good.

Redeeming Qualities

  1. Willem Dafoe's performance as Ryuk was good and he was a perfect casting choice, even if he was just doing his Green Goblin performance from the first original Spider-Man film again.
    • The same also applies for the mentioned before LaKeith Stanfield as L, who, as we said, went on his way to research the source material and truly get into the role of L, showing how dedicated he was. If only the movie was more faithful to the source material.
    • Speaking of acting, this may be a good thing for Death Note fans who wouldn't have wanted the original Japanese voice actors to be involved in this film, as mentioned above.
  2. The score is just flawless.
  3. This movie is thankfully not canon to the Death Note franchise and is meant to take place in the United States than Japan as well as the characters have no relation to their Japanese counterparts.
  4. As mentioned before, the Death Note series being in a Western setting is not a bad concept, just poorly executed.


The film received generally mixed-to-negative reviews from critics, but was heavily panned by the audiences and fans of the original Manga and Anime. On review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 38% based on 76 reviews, and an average rating of 4.73/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Death Note benefits from director Adam Wingard's distinctive eye and a talented cast, but they aren't enough to overcome a fatally overcrowded canvas." Metacritic gave the film a score of 43 out of 100, based on 14 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". IndieWire gave the film a 2/5. The film has a 4.5/10 on IMDb and a 1.6/5 on Letterboxd.



  • During the development for the American adaptation, Warner Bros's other studios planned to deviate the source material of the manga where Light Yagami's backstory is of vengeance instead of justice and was to remove Ryuk and the rest of the Shinigami from the story. But it's original director, Shane Black opposed this change and wasn't green-lit.
  • A few months after release, it was discovered that the images of the train accident in the movie were real footage of a 2010 train collision in Buizingen, Belgium in which 19 people died. Both the rail operator and survivors have criticized this footage as disrespectful to the victims.
  • Despite the negative reception, a sequel was in pre-production and was to be written by Greg Russo, who said that it would be planned to be more faithful to the manga than the first film.


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