Death Note: Hollywood’s Second Chance at Adapting Anime in 2017

One of the last, largely untapped wells of film adaptations in the west is anime: the peculiar brand of Japanese animation that has swept the globe over the past several decades.  Like video games, it has proven an especially difficult nut to crack, with concerns over white-washing culturally specific narratives and condensing seasons worth of material into just an hour or two.

Hollywood has proven to be even less successful at this than at cashing in on popular video games.  Sure, video game adaptations have had their share of infamous stinkers, but they’ve had their share of passable works too.  Sure, we’ve had to put up with Super Mario Bros, Street Fighter and Assassin’s Creed, but we’ve also gotten perfectly serviceable movies like Mortal Kombat and Silent Hill.

But what to American anime adaptations have to show against such meager fair as Warcraft and Resident EvilDragonball: EvolutionTransformersSpeed Racer?  There’s an entire (amazing) Rurouni Kenshin trilogy, two genuinely great Attack on Titans movies and even an adaptation of Full Metal Alchemist coming later this year… if you live in Japan.  Americans have, until now, come up empty on the subject.

In 2017, Hollywood will have another chance make right on this kind of adaptation.  A lavish-looking adaptation of Ghost in the Shell starring Scarlett Johansson is poised to hit American theaters within the week.  And although its trailers look fantastic, persisting issues have dogged its production since filming began.

Although less well-known than Ghost in the Shell, we do have a second chance to get this right this year.  Netflix is poised to release a live-action adaptation of the popular anime Death Note on August 25.

The story surrounds Light Yagami, a high school student who discovers a notebook which will kill anybody whose name is written in it.  Realizing the opportunity he has to cleanse the world of the “morally unfit,” he becomes a serial killer that eventually draws the attention of “L,” a genius Interpol detective dedicated the discovering the invisible assassin behind the bizarre string of deaths that Light has set into motion.

Netflix has proven more than capable in creating high-quality, interesting programming that other studios have proven either reluctant or incapable of managing themselves.  The problem is, however, that those have almost invariably been television series.  From House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, Stranger Things, Black Mirror and any number of Marvel series have proven them more than capable at providing high-end entertainment their subscribers.

Their cinematic efforts, although far less popular, have none the less been just as acclaimed.  From Hush to Tallulah to four of the five Best Documentary nominees from this year’s Oscars, they have increasingly proven instrumental as a first-party purveyor of original content.  But condensing an expansive story to feature length has proven to be a particularly insurmountable challenge, and this is virgin territory for a company that seems most comfortable with working thirteen hours at a time.

Everything that I have seen so far, however, has given me faith that they will at least do an above-average job with this property, however.  The newly released trailer for the film is enticing, and Willem Defoe’s presence as the other-worldly Ryuk is a particularly comforting touch.  Hopefully they will prove just as capable of breathing cinematic life into Death Note as they have been with Daredevil and Jessica Jones.

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