Thursday, March 23, 2017

Death Note = No?

Hello again, bleeders. Today we're going to talk about something that hasn't even come out yet because...well, the response exploded and I feel like it may bear some proper examination. So, we've got another anime adaptation coming for American audiences. I say another because we also have Ghost in the Shell...which is something I keep trying not to think about. We'll get into the reasons for that in a bit. Mostly though, I try not to judge films before I've seen them. But there are times when it is hard not to roll your eyes at things, especially big changes to stories that mean a lot to you. Thus, here I come in, your friendly neighborhood hairy white guy who looks at this shit.

Hey, how's it goin'?

Now, when it comes to anime it's a complicated thing adapting the work to film. Not only is the story itself usually better suited to animation but sometimes it has some odd hurdles. We'll touch on some of those in a second. But the general consensus is that it's okay so long as the adaptation isn't too far off the mark from the source. Now, in the case of some things this a very tricky issue because the location or persevered location can sometimes be an integral part of the story itself. In the case of say...a story about Japanese cyborgs set in Japan...changing certain things about it can prove problematic. Anything from casting a white actress as your lead and changing her character's name to something less Japanese to casting someone who may be a bit too old for the role they're playing.

Sure, let's cast a 47 year old to play a 27 year old. No one will notice, right?
But in the case of the popular series Death Note, we've got an interesting problem here. People are upset because we have a white lead, of course, but then...I must ask...is Death Note an inherently Japanese story? Now hold on, before you stab me to death let me finish. I know it's set in Japan originally and it clearly has Japanese characters but there's a significant difference here between the two adaptations. Namely, Ghost in the Shell is trying to pretend to be faithful while still not being faithful. Death Note, on the other hand, seems to be an alternate telling of the original. It's like the new Ghostbusters film, in a way. Something familiar but different. For example, in all the outrage I haven't seen anyone actually talk about the movie beyond it existing and having a white guy lead.

Who is, by the way, a fairly talented Jewish actor. It's not all just a case of "white guy taking the lead" here.
On the note of casting, let's take a look at the cast. First, of course, there is Light being played by Nat Wolff. Nat's a young actor who has actually done some really good work following his stint as a teen star on The Naked Brothers Band show. He's also a singer and songwriter whose father is a jazz pianist. Go check out Paper Towns, because it is a really good show of his talents as an actor. Next, his enemy in the story, L. And guess what? Not a white guy. I know, shocking. No, he's being played by another talented actor who has been popping up all over the place in critically acclaimed works.

You know, the guy that is one of the creepier moments from one of the creepiest movies this year.
Yes, Keith Stanfield is playing L and holy shit am I looking forward to seeing that performance. Stanfield is a really talented actor who keeps popping up in the some of the best stuff out there and seeing him as a main character here honestly makes me feel better about the entire project. After standout performances in other projects like Selma and Atlanta, the man has been a particular favourite of mine. His chilling part in Get Out was really just icing on the cake. But yeas, there are other white actors present here. Notably in the roles of Light's father and the leading lady of our story. Again, not too surprising, but rather than be knee-jerk let's look at their chops.

NOT THOSE CHOPS, DAMMIT!
I cannot really speak of the quality of Margaret Qaulley's acting. I haven't seen The Leftovers and I still haven't seen The Nice Guys. I know, I know, I'm terrible. Shea Whigham though? Yeah, he's got some talent to back him up. I first discovered him through a film called Wristcutters, which I may talk about in the future, and instantly fell in love with him as an actor. A lot of people will be more familiar with him from Boardwalk Empire, but he's done some excellent work that's work looking into. Particularly, Tigerland is a big standout one for him and displays his dramatic talents well. Even though he'll always be a crazy Russian musician who makes me smile to me.

"As if anything could make you happy."
Rounding our cast out we then have Paul Nakauchi playing Watari, L's assistant, who adds an actual Asian to our cast. You younger readers probably know him best as Hanzo from Overwatch. Yes, the video game. Wait, aren't I skipping someone? See, this is what happens when you don't eat properly, your memory goes to shit. I should eat more apples. What, too heavy handed? So yeah, our final big casting we know of is for one of the most important characters. Ryuk, the bored Shinigami who sets everything into motion by leaving his Death Note in the human world. And who plays him? None other than Willem fucking Dafoe, because if you're going to cast a crazy-eyed monster then you should probably consult a crazy-eyed actor.

We all know it's gonna be CGI but he could easily pull this shit off with just makeup.
Now, I have illustrated that the movie does, in fact, have a rather diverse and a talented cast. I even hear Masi Oka is gonna be in it as an important character. The question is, does the story lose anything by being set in a non-Japanese setting? Well, I don't think it really does. At it's heart, it's a morality tale about what constitutes "justice". Light believes he's doing a good thing by making criminals die with the Death Note but when you really look at it, he's honestly a terrorist. He is terrorizing people with the threat of death and is ultimately a selfish person. The counterpoint to this is L, who is private investigator out to end Light's hold on everyone. It's not inherently a story that can be connected to any country or culture...except for the Shinigami.

What a colourful group of horrifying abominations.
Basically, Shinigami are the Japanese "gods of death" or, to put it a different way, they're grim reapers. Now, again, this is not a concept that is inherently tied to any one country, as most cultures have their own belief structures and such. And it could still work here, but I think it would only really work if they don't call them Shinigami. That's something tied directly to Japanese mythology and I feel like they'd likely be better off simply called them either gods of death or grim reapers. It's easier for a lot of audiences to understand.

Let's face it, some audiences are not going to pick up on things unless you spell it out for them.
But, at the end of the day, is this whole thing simply a bad idea that shouldn't exist? Well, I can't really say yet. I haven't seen the movie and we have only one single trailer to go by. What I can say is it has a talented director who has a background in horror films, a very impressive cast from what I've seen, and Netflix do release quality material...most of the time. I think it's too early to bury this movie or to call it out as being awful. I defended Ghostbusters and its right to be its own thing and to not give this film that same treatment would make me a hypocrite. I don't know if Death Note will be good or bad, but I can honestly tell you one thing: I still think it looks better than the other big budget anime adaptation coming our way. Later days, bleeders.

Seriously though, they made Batou look like a goober. I'm not okay with this.

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