By Curtis Cole
As you may have heard, Netflix is making a live-action Death Note film. Though the trailer released just a couple weeks ago, it has already generated an immense amount of animosity from fans and ordinary people alike. Why is because of the whitewashing: Death Note, being an Anime program, features, obviously, Asian people; not so in this live-action remake, though, which replaces the Asians with White people.
Whitewashing is hardly new. Properties from Avatar: The Last Airbender to the new Ghost in the Shell movie, all have been whitewashed. Such whitewashing will remind people of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy from some time back which took aim at the overwhelming amount of White people noticed by Hollywood at the expense of Persons of Color.
Why Hollywood does this is simple—because they wish to appeal to the widest audience possible and when you live under a regime of institutionalized racism, people can hold racist feelings without them even being much aware of those prejudices. This is perhaps even more so in Anime properties since these franchises usually are heavily patronized by young, White, heterosexual males. This goes doubly for Death Note which has a history of being used as a scapegoat for misunderstanding youth and adults alike.
But that is just the simple version. And, in any case, aside from race, what makes this trailer so awful? If we are able to push aside our righteous hatred at Netflix whitewashing yet another Anime property, then still couldn’t we at least accept the product for what it is? If the film turned out to be watchable and good, then can’t we be professionals and give it a pass? Maybe but I disagree.
I say this because, if the trailer is anything to go by, the film is going to be terrible. I myself am a fan of the series, so to see this trailer fall so flat was just too much. But, let me explain, in detail, why.
The trailer opens with the classic scene, the death note falls from the sky to be discovered by protagonist Light Yagami.
And I already have problems. Light doesn’t look like how he is portrayed in the Anime (one big giveaway is that he is White but beyond that…); by this I mean, in the Anime, Light was this hardworking, well-dressed, A+ student who was a conceited and bonafide genius. Looking at his wardrobe, you could easily tell he had ambition and the cold- calculating machinations to bring his designs to fruition. I do not see this in this trailer. Though it is only my sensation, when I see Light here, I see just the typical, young adult actor who is dressed up in some thin overcoat with a sweater underneath, his blond insufferable hair sticking out in contrast to the Anime’s dirty blond hair. He doesn’t look disarming, he looks like—and I really hate to go here—but he looks like a Mama’s Boy.
But, hey, the actual death note looks believable. So props to the prop team for making something from an unrealistic anime, realistic. Kudos!
Following this, we see a montage: a school hallway, a brief flash of Ryuk, and then an image of the death note on a table beside an apple. Trite, but whatever. Then there is a brief flash of the skyline before we are introduced to some cheerleaders; now, I can’t remember if Light’s sister was a cheerleader in the anime, but even if she was, I do not recall cheerleading being an important part of any sub-plot so I can say this right now: if the film as any more than one tiny scene featuring scantily clad cheerleaders, I will give it a zero. Death Note isn’t about creating wank-fodder for fourteen-year-old boys (more on this later…).
But, to move forward.
Next, we encounter someone walking down a hallway absolutely bathed in red lights. The figure has his face covered. I assume this is L but really, who knows. Then we get a scene of Light in his room reading the death note while it rains outside. I guess because things weren’t dramatic enough; though, to give credit where credit is due, I am digging the music; it is creepy and wouldn’t be out of place in the anime, so kudos for that, at least.
Here on out, the trailer gets… weird, and not necessarily in a good way.
Light writes a name in the death note before it cuts away to this dream (?) segment which shows three people floating off the side of a building. Then we transition to a posh club corner booth, of sorts, which has someone stooping up from the ground, the words “Justice of Kira” are written on the wall (in blood?). I do remember something similar happening in the Anime, but that was in a prison and part of Light’s self-training, so I am confused as to why this scene would take place in a club and much less why someone would, apparently, be there in person… maybe to get some information like Light did in the anime to the FBI investigation, but that doesn’t clear why there is that slogan written on the wall. This whole moment seems overly melodramatic.
Unfortunately, things only get worse. Soon after this moment, we see Light with, presumably, Misa Armani. But we do not see her and Light together long before a scene cuts and we are presented with what looks like a passionate kissing encounter between her and Light.
So, let me stop here because I am going to have a fit.
Remember earlier in this piece where I remarked that Death Note was not about creating wank-fodder for fourteen-year-old boys? Yeah… guess what they did? So, here is the thing… in the Anime, Light and Misa were a couple, but it was a dysfunctional relationship, to say the least, and it was not by any means hyper-sexual; from what I remember, Light only kissed Misa once (maybe twice), but that was only to control her into being his puppet. So let me just come out and say it: Light is either Gay or Asexual.
Light is ambition and egotism personified. If he has time for such base and vulgar things like “making out”, it is only to control and dominate other people; if any actual romantic inclinations exist, they are deep below the surface. The Anime gets this right in the presentation of Light and L’s affectation in that it is externalized as competition; at the end of season one, it does take a softer, more compassionate form, but that is a whole other issue; the point is, though, that this is subtle, something one must work out vis-à-vis the subtext. In fact, there are moments in the Anime series in which the show takes pains to illustrate just how detached Light is from his alleged romance with Misa.
Alas, the live-action film seems to have completely disregarded such facts.
The inclusion of such a scene is simply to puff up the film’s target audience, young, White, heterosexual, cisgender boys who will consume anything Anime related but be relieved to find out that Light is now much more relatable and this idea of an elitist, romantically dispassionate genius has been gutted in favor of a proxy of themselves. It is revolting. Taken together with the whitewashing, I think if Netflix believes that this film is going to be a success, they are likely deluding themselves (then again, people keep watching those terrible Adam Sandler films, so I guess anything is possible).
There is more to this trailer, but other than some asinine stunts concerning a faris wheel and an encounter with Ryuk, there isn’t anything more to note in this trailer. Suffice it to say, Death Note seems to have fallen victim to the cultural producers’ ideology virus—decrepit liberalism in a period of decay. Pity but not surprising.