Last night, The Wrap reported that Adam Wingard’s live- action adaptation of Death Note, a dark Japanese manga, is in talks to stream on Netflix. The series was dropped by Warner Bros. as part of their new strategy to film fewer projects — which we assume is a response to BvS’s plummeting box office sales.
Though Warner Bros. gave up on Ryuk and his book, other studios were clamoring to secure the project. “Within 48 hours, nearly every studio head had reached out to meet with Wingard,” The Wrap reported. So what’s the big deal with this freaky manga project? If you haven’t already read the books or watched any of the previous animated series or films made in Japan, here’s your primer.
Fucking demons, man
Death Note tells the story of Light Yagami, a teenager who finds a mysterious black book on the ground, and discovers that writing any human’s name in the book causes that person’s death. There are several rules to the “death note,” which has a handy instructional guide attached. The version included in both the animated Death Note series and the manga confirms that demons prefer what looks like a goofier Papyrus font.
After Light kills a few people with the notebook, the book’s rightful owner, Ryuk, breeches the human world to track him down. When they meet, the story takes an unexpected turn: Light declares himself a god and vows to cleanse the world of evil, and Ryuk is so amused that he decides to follow Light around. In addition to being an oddly detached death spirit (shinigami), Ryuk is just a splendidly designed character. It’s been so much fun to see him appear in different media, and Netflix’s live-action version will likely look just as startling.
Intrigue and cops
As if bombass-looking demons weren’t enough to crystalize Death Note’s mass appeal, the series follows several detectives who are hot on Light’s trail. One of those detectives — the plot thickens! — is Light’s father, who’s desperate to find the source of Japan’s sudden, mysterious stream of heart attacks and freak accidents.
That police procedural angle helps to ground the story, which is similar in tone to works like Black Butler, but, notably, more focused on a human narrative. Ryuk and the shinigami are a structural tool for commentary on Japanese and Westernized culture.
Adam Wingard knows gore
Wingard, director of V/H/S, V/H/S 2 and the absolutely brutal feminist horror You’re Next, has already demonstrated his mastery of dread and darkness. It’s tremendously exciting to hear that a director well-versed in wild, experimental horror will be at the helm of the American, live action Death Note, because we can assume the film will feel tense and dark, rather than manic and fanciful.
Adapting Japanese art and animation into English-language projects has proved a difficult feat for projects in the past, perhaps because most American audiences are unfamiliar with the magical-realist, imaginative tone used in most contemporary Japanese fiction. Netflix, however, has been leading the charge to develop Japanese stories for American and otherwise Western audiences to stream and enjoy, so the company may have its hands on a goldmine.