Adam Wingard, remaking the horror-thriller manga, says it is ‘one of those things where it’s a good conversation to be having’
Following the Ghost in the Shell cinematic adaption, years of Akira rumours and news of upcoming Bleach and Cowboy Bebop film releases, Death Note is the latest Japanese anime set to hit screens as a live-action film. Originally strips in a manga mag back in 2003, it’s been adapted for television and film several times – this Netflix adaptation of the anime horror however will be the first major Western production.
Death Note traces a thrilling story of cat and mouse. Light Yugami discovers a supernatural book, which allows him to kill anyone if he writes their name inside. The high school student embarks on a journey of moral decay, descending into a power-mad killing spree. The genius, elusive detective L and the police force attempt to track him down and put a stop to his horrific murders. The new adaption by Blair Witch director Adam Wingard’s transplants the story from Tokyo to Seattle, with Nat Wolff as Light Turner (a more ‘Western’ sounding name), Keith Stanfield as L (Get Out), and Willem Dafoe as the shinigami Ryuk (a death god and the keeper of the supernatural notebook).
The upcoming horror-thriller has been met with widespread criticism for the white-washing of its narrative and characters, the same backlash Ghost in the Shell, The Great Wall and Iron Fist felt.
Wingard previously tweeted about the criticisms earlier this year, relating that he thought the reactions were presumptuous. “Just clearing up misconceptions .No one has seen the film outside of 2 test screenings. Criticisms at this point are based on assumptions,” he tweeted.
However, speaking to Vulture at a New York screening, he said he was happy to discuss the issues. “It’s one of those things where it’s a good conversation to be having, and it wasn’t one we were really expecting,” he told Vulture. “It wasn’t until the Ghost in the Shell cracked it open (that it became a conversation. But by then, we had already cast all of that stuff.”
He added that that the film was “a whole new thing”, rather than turning a Japanese teenager into a white one. “The characters are all very different and it is a different kind of experience all together.” Wingard detailed “letting go of the original source material” for a more original production.
“The anime itself is an adaptation, and a lot of those things are on the nose,” he explained. “So this was a chance to reexplore the material in a new light.”
Roy Lee, Death Note producer, dismissed the criticism however. “We didn’t look at race as a factor,” he said. He used remakes of American films like Sideways in Japan as an example: “There was never a thought for them to bring in American actors to play the (characters) in the Japanese remake,” he told Vulture. Masi Oka, another producer, added that it “wasn’t specifically a racially bound story, because it was set in America.”
Despite their words, the Netflix reboot is at the mercy of its viewers, who aren’t afraid to call things out when they see it. Just look at the parodies of the Stonewall film, which transplanted the narrative from trans women of colour to a white cis gay man, or the backfiring meme generator of Ghost in the Shell.