The Death Note book, a concept many would dream about using to fight criminals or the evils of the world. It’s a book where you write a person’s name and moments later, they die. All the crazy criminals of the world can be wiped out by writing their names in this book. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But of course there’s a tricky part! The book comes with rules such as “you have to picture the person as well as write his full name” and “you have to write how the person dies.” There are other rules too, but you’ll have to watch it to find out.
It starts off with Light Turner, a high school kid who’s writing up answers for exam papers and selling them to other students. Normal high school tropes appear in the movie like shady dealings and cheerleaders cheering. His writing is interrupted by howling winds and a book falls from the sky. He goes to pick it up and looks at the title “Death Note.”
As students scatter to find shelter during a sudden rain storm, Light is walking around the school and he sees another kid being bullied. A girl steps in to deal with the bully and Light stops the bully from hurting her. He winds up offending the bully and gets punched in the face. After being knocked out cold, Light wakes up to see that a teacher has found him and his exam papers are littered out in the rain. He’s sent to the Principal’s office where he is lectured for providing exam notes, but is baffled as to why the bully wasn’t also reprimanded.
He is sent to detention and left alone to read the mysterious book that fell from the sky. He begins by reading the rules then goes to an empty page. Soon the lights are out in this classroom and he sees the Shinigami, Ryuk. Tables and chairs are thrown about like the courtroom scene from Ghostbusters. Light is now face to face with the Shinigami who tells him to go to the window. He looks outside to see another girl being bullied by two guys. Ryuk tells him to write the bully’s name in the book, once this is done Ryuk tells Light what else he has to write to make the death happen. A Final Destination event occurs as the bully is killed. I don’t want to get into it, but it was pretty brutal.
He’s at home later having dinner with his dad, who happens to be a police officer. As the conversation goes on the reason as to why his mother wasn’t at the table becomes abundantly clear. She was killed by a shady businessman who bought his way out of prison. His dad believes in the justice system while Light believes in absolute justice, an eye for an eye. He goes to his room and reads the other notes in the Death Note book, there’s a message “Don’t trust Ryuk, he’s not your pet, he’s not your friend”
At that moment, Ryuk appears on the bed behind his desk. Ryuk convinces Light to use the book and he inside it he writes the name of the person who killed his mother. The next day, his father gets a call and heads to Light’s room to tell him the news, the man responsible for his mother’s death is no more.
Light returns to school and the girl he defended turns up to talk to him about the bully who died. She introduces herself as Mia. They go to a room and he boasts about ending the bully’s life like it’s a good thing and she looks impressed by this. They watch local media on Light’s laptop to find a criminal that they can kill with the Death Note book. When they do, they both seem pleased with the result. Following this Light and Mia make a victory speech where they emphasize what they are doing is justifiable saying, “All the people who make life miserable, I can reach out to them.” But killing them? No, I completely disagreed with their motivations and with that statement I think they became the antagonists of the story.
We then see a montage of Light and Mia together as Light takes out dictators in other countries with his book. He has thought of a persona for when he uses the book, Kira. Kira means light in Russian and Celtic. It also means killer in Japan. Light uses this as a way to misdirect anyone who might find out about him. There is then a news montage showing a criminal throwing himself in front of a train, but not only his life is lost. Radio hosts try to justify what Kira has done, even though he also took innocent lives. Some people see him as justice and he has quite a following, like a cult of Kira.
L, the mysterious super detective turns up to a crime scene, reads the situation and speaks to a police officer played by Masi Oka. He played Hiro Nakamura in Heroes. He even mentions that one of the crime gangs was Nakamura, nice little nod to his character on Heroes. Turns out L set up the warring gangs, he wanted to know if this Kira would take his bait, he did. Now L knows exactly where to look next.
The next day, his father questions Light about Kira’s actions and how this persona chooses who is good and who is bad. His father believes that these terms are subjective, but Kira doesn’t see it like that. Later in the day, Watari, L’s handler turns up at the police station to talk with Light’s dad, who is heading up the Kira investigation. Watari takes Light’s dad to meet L and they start to zero in on who might be committing the murders.
L decides to do a public announcement on the news, calling Light/Kira out. From this moment on, the real battle begins, who will find who first? It becomes a deadly game of Cat and Mouse. It gets really interesting with both of them trying to outdo each other. You have to watch to find out!
My first impressions of this US version was ‘I like the tone’ this and it could have some potential so I continued to watch. As I carried on watching it was interesting. They cast someone for the role of L that looks nothing like the anime or the live action films but his performance was captivating. He had the same mannerisms as the great detective L, right down to the massive sugar intake. His handler, Watari, was great. He kept repeating “sleep is key to strong thought” almost like the Alfred to L’s Batman like detective skills.
Light Turner wasn’t what I expected either, some parts felt rushed and I wasn’t a fan of him swearing the way he did. He made friends with, Mia who becomes his girlfriend. The part of the Shinigami, Japanese for ‘Death God’ Ryuk? A lot of cgi, but he was voiced by Willem Dafoe. Tapping into his Green Goblin persona from Sam Raimi’s Spiderman films to make Ryuk sound mischievous yet creepy. His character started to play both sides, and acted duplicitous at times.
The story moved along as L used his deductive skills to find Light, while Light was busy trying to find the real name of L before L caught him. It was fun to watch. Mia towards the end was something that confused me the most.
Okay, I’m heading into spoiler territory, but I have to address the issue with this. Mia tore out a page from the Death Note book and wrote on it. Surely the owner of the book is the one making the calls. Anyone else read the manga or watched the anime? She’s not the keeper of the book so why did the other events occur? If she did use a page, why couldn’t she see Ryuk? That part confused me but apart from that, it was a good Netflix original film. I need to revisit the anime and the live action films, they made more sense for me. I read some of the rules from the other versions of Death Note and this one was a little different.
If you want to learn more about Death Note and don’t know where to start, this film is worth checking out first. I loved the ending, but I shan’t spoil anything.
You can find me on Twitter, with the twitter handle @ImmieBroods if you wish to discuss more about this Netflix original film.