After nearly a year of anticipation, Netflix finally released a teaser trailer for “Death Note,” the supernatural thriller based on the popular Japanese manga series by Tsugumi Ohba, and it looks incredible. The trailer is just a minute long, but it suggests that this Netflix Original, scheduled to debut on August 25, is going to be just as dark and melancholy as the Japanese manga original. So far, this is what we know about “Death Note.”
#1: The plot and narrative will remain loyal to the manga classic
From what we know from director Adam Wingard, all attempts are being made to stay as loyal as possible to the manga classic (which appeared in serialized form in Japan from 2003-2006). So that means we know the basic storyline, as well as the key characters involved.
“Death Note” tells the story of a magical notebook that gives Light Turner (played by Nat Wolff), a genius high school student, the power to kill anyone whose name he writes down in the pages of the notebook. Obviously, that’s quite a power to have, and he decides to use the notebook to kill criminals and evildoers, and by so doing, to change the world.
He soon attracts the attention of an Interpol inspector – known only as Detective L (played by Keith Stanfield) – who is trying to figure out who is behind all these strange deaths. That leads to a cat-and-mouse game between L and Light Turner, and involves the presence of other individuals with the same power as Light Turner.
#2: The film is going to have to deal with claims of “whitewashing”
Any time you’re going to make a Hollywood version of a Japanese classic, you’re going to run into problems with the original’s loyal fan base. Netflix is finding that out the hard way – when it cast Nat Wolff in the lead role as Light Turner, it was immediately hit with charges of “whitewashing.” In fact, a petition to boycott the film has already picked up the signatures of more than 12,000 people.
According to these fans, the lead role should have been given to an Asian-American actor. Even more disturbing, according to these fans, Netflix has changed the name of the lead character from Light Yagami to Light Turner. That might not sound like a big deal, but what if a Japanese movie studio made a remake of “Star Wars” and called the lead character Luke Yagami instead of Luke Skywalker? And, adding insult to injury, Asian-American actor Edward Zo auditioned for the role, but wasn’t given the part.
#3: Plenty of enigma and mysterious elements we need to piece together
When the teaser for “Death Note” dropped on March 22, fans immediately scrutinized it for clues and hints as to what they should expect when the film premieres on Netflix in August. The teaser was just that – a “tease” – but still, certain facts are now known.
For example, we’re shown the mysterious “Death Note” falling from the sky and landing on Earth. We’re given a brief summary of how the “Death Note” works – it requires the owner to write down the name of the person who must die within the notebook itself. We’re also shown an apple, which could be a way of representing the temptation faced by anyone given such God-like powers.
However, what’s really fascinating is that there are no signs of Ryuk the Shinigami, the Grim Reaper-like figure who sent the Death Note into the world. Instead, at the very end of the trailer, we hear a voice ask, “Shall we begin?” This voice sounds exactly like Willem Dafoe, who is scheduled to voice the role of Ryuk.
And there’s one other element of the trailer that’s a bit mysterious – we see the phrase “Justice for Kira.” In the original, Japanese “Death Note,” a Kira was an owner of a Death Note. The word “Kira” is actually a Japanese pronunciation of the word “killer.” And in the original, there were at least two other Kira in addition to Light Yagami, including one girl who becomes a romantic interest of Light Yagami.
And, finally, we’re shown the context of where the film is going to take place. One of the scenes shows us the iconic Seattle skyline. And we’re also shown some very brief scenes of a high school where, presumably, Light Turner is still a student.
#4: Questions of morality
According to the creator of the original Japanese “Death Note,” Tsugumi Ohba, the manga series was really a rumination on different moral themes. Most likely, the film will develop these complex themes, such as the difference between “vengeance” and “justice.” It will also ask, at least indirectly: Who has the ability to judge others and play God with their lives?
In some ways, then, the film might be similar to previous Hollywood films that have explored the role of vigilante justice. Often, acts carried out in the name “justice” or “security” go too far, leading to horrific mistakes. That could be the case with “Death Note,” where Light Turner has the ability to play God with people’s lives.
#5: The cat-and-mouse game between Light and L
We don’t really see any of it in the teaser, but a core plot narrative in the original was a cat-and-mouse game between Light and L. On one hand, you have the Interpol detective trying to figure out who is behind all these strange deaths. On the other hand, you have the genius high school student is trying to figure out the real name of L. (Presumably, once he knows his full name, then he has the power to write the name into his supernatural notebook.) As part of this drama, L begins to interact with Light’s family members and romantic interest, which raises the stakes even higher.
It will certainly be interesting to see what director Adam Wingard comes up with as a finished product. As the former director of “Blair Witch,” it’s likely that we’ll get a supernatural horror aspect to this version that the original didn’t have. But with a great cast – Nat Wolff, Margaret Qualley, Keith Stanfield and William Dafoe – “Death Note” looks like a real winner.