In today’s “something you’re not sure you wanted” news, Netflix’s English-language live-action movie adaptation of the beloved manga series Death Note got its first trailer. Death Note, which was originally written by Tsugumi Ohba and drawn by Takeshi Obata, already has spawned a successful anime series, a live-action miniseries and four live-action Japanese films.
Death Note is the story of Light Yagami, a brilliant college student, who happens upon a notebook that kills whoever’s name is written inside. Yagami is pursued by a mysterious super-detective who must keep his identity hidden in order to catch the killer.
It’s a genuinely great premise that has some compelling, twisty plot elements, which ultimately makes for a truly cerebral and intense thriller, especially for the first half of its original three-year run. So to see it adapted into English is sort of an exciting prospect (although I’ll always be of the opinion that American audiences are far too lazy when it comes to simply watching a movie with subtitles.)
There are several aspects that make this adaptation really interesting, though: for one, it’s directed by Adam Wingard, the director of the entertaining You’re Next and the truly under-seen The Guest. Secondly, the monstrous god of death named Ryuk who dropped the notebook in the first place will be voiced by Willem Dafoe, which sounds amazing. And the super-genius detective with strange habits known only as “L” will be played by Atlanta’s Lakeith Stanfield.
Filling out the cast, Nat Wolff (The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns) will star as Light Turner (as he’ll be called in this adaptation), Margaret Qually (The Leftovers) will play the Misa Amane role (known here as Mia Sutton), and Paul Nakauchi and Shea Wigham will appear as well.
It should be said, too: this adaptation of a Japanese series that’s filled with mostly white people comes at a time when the white-washing of Asian characters in film and TV is being scrutinized more than ever, as with the current Scarlett Johansson/Ghost in the Shell situation. This doesn’t look like any kind of progress or improvement on that mark. Even if you want to make this film in English, why not cast Asian stars?
Live action adaptations of anime/manga series have always seemed like a real dice roll, but most of the time, the dice are loaded, and things don’t go well. In general, this one’s got some impressive talent behind it, though, so I won’t give up on it yet. It’ll be out on Netflix on August 25th.