And now for an exciting change of pace, Amelia, Dee, and Vrai sit back, throw down a few drinks, and provide their before and after impressions of the live-action Netflix Death Note movie!
SPOILERS: For the entire Death Note live-action movie AND the manga/anime series.
0:01:15 Background with Death Note
0:06:11 Hopes for the movie
0:13:45 Vrai’s monkey’s paw
0:16:08 Light as a white protagonist
0:23:36 Sex, death, and cinematic influences
0:29:57 “Light is right” or “Light is white”
0:35:06 L was the only good thing
0:40:37 What would you have changed?
0:45:25 Light’s household
0:52:05 Live action versus animation
0:53:25 Failure to be campy
0:57:50 Failure to send a message
Recorded Saturday 16th September 2017
Music: Open Those Bright Eyes by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
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AMELIA: Hello everyone and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. My name is Amelia, I’m the editor-in-chief at Anime Feminist, and I’m joined today by Dee and Vrai Kaiser. If you guys would like to introduce yourselves?
VRAI: My name is Vrai Kaiser. I’m an editor and contributor at Anime Feminist and you can find me on Twitter @WriterVrai and all over the internet doing things.
AMELIA: And the thing we are doing today is… watching the Netflix adaptation of Death Note. Which—
AMELIA: —has had mixed responses. [chuckles] I think it’s fair to say.
DEE: [chuckles] Yeah, that’s a good way to put it.
AMELIA: So my understanding—[chuckles] mixed reviews! [laughs] So my understanding is that Dee has seen it, and is for some reason willing to see it again, [crosstalk] which we’re pleased about.
DEE: [crosstalk; proudly] I am!
AMELIA: Vrai and I have not seen it. We’re not going into this completely unaffected, we have seen responses on Twitter and so on, but we’re gonna try and stay open-minded. We’re gonna have a short discussion now, just to say what our background with Death Note is and what we expect going into it, and then afterwards we will come back and share our thoughts.
So to start with, then: what is your background with Death Note for both of you? Dee, let’s start with you.
DEE: Uh, sure, okay. I’ve not read the manga. I watched the anime in college. I have a very clear memory of binge-watching it in my sophomore dorm room.
I had a really hard time getting into it because I found Light to be the most unlikable character I think I’d met up to that point. But then I sort of got into the cat-and-mouse game between him and L and I got sucked into the story, and I had a really fun time cheering against him, pretty much start to finish. So yeah, I’m definitely in the Light is a Terrible Person Camp, I guess.
And I’ve never had any desire to go back to it. It was one of those fun experiences while you’re watching it, and then I was good.
DEE: I never… I didn’t have emotional attachment to, like, anybody in the story? So once I knew how it ended, I didn’t need to see it again. I guess that’s about my experience with Death Note. And now I have seen this live-action film. I’ve not seen the Japanese live-action films, so.
AMELIA: Okay. Vrai, how about you?
VRAI: [pained] Uh-hummm…
AMELIA: Oh dear.
DEE: That’s a good start.
VRAI: Y’allllll… I was in it to win it with Death Note when I was in high school.
AMELIA: Oh, wow! I did not know this!
VRAI: Like, somewhere on LiveJournal, there may still be extant fanfiction that I wrote.
DEE: Oh, no! That’s amazing.
VRAI: As late as—I think in 2014, I did a list of my Top 20 Anime and it was still clinging on near the bottom of that list on sheer nostalgia. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shake the deep bedrock fondness that I had for this no matter how—no matter how loudly I acknowledge that it’s deeply misogynistic and the back half has horrible pacing issues. And I can cop to all of that, but also, like… my heart though. My heart though.
VRAI: [increasingly frantic] I saw the anime, I read the manga, I saw the horrible Japanese films. I know about Beyond Birthday, who is a shitty—like, no joke, you guys, he’s a clone—or, he’s a doppelganger of L who was born with Shinigami Eyes and he takes place in a prequel light novel. And, you don’t understand: this is my Fushigi Yugi, Dee!
DEE: [laughs; claps] I was gonna say! I think we’ve all been here with shows; I don’t think I realized how deep you were into The Death Note. That’s amazing.
AMELIA: I had no idea. But yeah, we’ve all been there with different shows.
VRAI: And I still cry over what a wasted character Misa is, ’cause she could have been so great. And Mello is, like, proto-Yurio, and you don’t understand.
AMELIA: So maybe there’s a chance that this adaptation will have some improvements—Dee, say nothing just yet.
DEE: [crosstalk] Mm-hm. Not a word.
AMELIA: So, my background with Death Note is that I… you have to look at the times it came out. It actually—the manga came out pretty much when I started going to university to do Japanese studies and was in the Anime Society. And, at that time, Death Note built up a bit of a reputation for itself, just as a manga. And then the anime came out pretty much when I stopped watching anime.
DEE: [crosstalk] Oh, okay.
AMELIA: So I knew the story. I’d started reading the manga. I don’t think I’d finished it at that point. But the live-action film started coming out when I was in Japan. And so, I’ve seen actually more from a typical Japanese person’s perspective, I think. ‘Cause most Japanese people have not seen the Death Note anime, but they may have seen the live-action—at least one of the live-action versions—and some will have read the manga.
And I watched part of the anime recently, and I was really impressed by it, actually. I think I would have really liked it had it come out when I was watching simulcasts; I think I would have really enjoyed it. But I read the manga, I watched the live-action films.
And this was before—one of the live-action films, at least—before identifying as a feminist. So a lot of stuff that, maybe it slightly bothered me then, but I didn’t think too much into it? Since then, I’ve kind of logically built up a bit of a resistance to it. So I’m really keen to see how this adaptation actually might address some of those things by adapting it for a different culture that does have a more surfaced discussion of feminism, I guess?
What do you think, Vrai? Is anything you’re particularly hoping for from this adaptation? Or dreading?
VRAI: Honestly, if it manages to surpass cringe-y and ascend to the land of Camp As Fuck, I’ll count it as a win.
AMELIA: [laughs] Uh, Dee, I know you’ve seen it, but before you saw it, what would you think you—what was like your best-case scenario or worst-case scenario for it?
DEE: I had very tentative hopes that it was going to do something really interesting with social commentary about America, especially with the way they decided to cast it. I had a feeling that would not be the case, but I was… like, when they cast a white dude as Light—I mean, obviously there is the issue of white-washing that that has been discussed a lot and I think obviously it’s a valuable issue.
But in the context of setting Death Note in America, it made sense to me, because the whole point of Light is that he’s this upper-middle-class average man, with all these entitlements, who kind of feels like he can do whatever he wants. And if you’re gonna map that into America, I think a white kid is probably the way to go.
And then they cast Lakeith Stanfield as L, and I was like, “Okay, are they gonna do something with this?” And I was tentatively hopeful that they would, while being reasonably confident they would not.
And so that was kind of my best-case scenario, was maybe they’ll actually do something with this. Because the original Death Note does have some social commentary in it—as bombastic and melodramatic as it is, it is there.
DEE: And then I thought, “Well maybe they’ll—maybe Misa won’t be just a passive, clingy Light fangirl,” and that would be cool, too. So yeah, those are the most best-case scenarios you can possibly get.
Worst-case: it would be so boring I would hate it and not even wanna finish watching it. Like, that was my worst-case scenario.
AMELIA: Oh hey there, Last Airbender. That was exactly my experience, except substitute “boring” for “enraging.” I couldn’t get past—I think I stopped—I rage-quit 12 minutes into that film. So that’s probably my worst-case scenario.
DEE: [crosstalk; bashful] I saw that movie twice.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Oh my God.
DEE: [crosstalk] I saw that movie twice, you guys. [embarrassed laughter]
AMELIA: Are you okay? I’m so sorry.
DEE: No, it was fine! I watched it with friends and we MST3K’d it and we had a good time. But that’s really the only way you can get through it. It is a trainwreck of epic proportions.
AMELIA: That’s pretty much what I’m doing now. I mean, it’s coming up 5:30 in the evening for me, in the UK, so I will be drinking while watching Death Note.
AMELIA: I’m so sorry that the both of you are in time zones where it’s a bit earlier in the day and you still have things to do, so, maybe you won’t be drinking.
DEE: [crosstalk; high-pitched] Uhhhhm…
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Although if you are, I fully support you.
DEE: [laughs] Don’t judge me for the boozy hot cocoa sitting next to me.
DEE: Just because it’s 11 AM doesn’t mean I can’t have boozy hot cocoa.
AMELIA: I would have had a full pint next to me at that time in the morning, so yeah, good on you.
AMELIA: You’ve kept it sophisticated; I approve.
DEE: I’m classy!
AMELIA: I just wanna talk about the white-washing issue just for a second.
DEE: [crosstalk] Yes, absolutely.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Please do.
AMELIA: It’s a very important issue. [carefully] I… have… pretty much the same feelings as you do, Dee. I think that the way it worked, within the context of Death Note, Light had to be a part of the ethnic majority to try and tell a story with similar social commentary to that that the original Death Note has. I think they could have used a Japanese-American lead and told a different story—
DEE: [crosstalk] Absolutely.
AMELIA: —perhaps looking at the idea of “the model minority,” for example. That would have been equally fascinating. I would have been 100 percent up for that.
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah, me too.
AMELIA: I mean, it’s a different kind of storytelling. A different… going into different commentary than we would expect from a privileged white dude at the head of it.
AMELIA: So I don’t think that the decision in this case… It doesn’t… [takes a breath] It’s really difficult, because those people who say “it was white-washing”—like, valid. Valid point. I’m not disagreeing in the slightest. I don’t think that the decision to make it about a white guy… it doesn’t come across as the same kind of thing to me as what they did with Avatar the Last Airbender, to use an example that just came up. Where it—
DEE: [crosstalk] Or Ghost in the Shell.
AMELIA: Or Ghost in the Shell. [chuckles] Whoa, yeah, that’s a really good example. Where it actively erased cultural commentary, yeah.
VRAI: Yeah, I… And maybe we’ll get into this more, after, but I’ve—
DEE: We will. We’ll talk about how what they did with the movie affects their casting choices. 100%, we will. [crosstalk] I can say that.
VRAI: But also, as I’ve gotten older and learned more about the differences between America and Japan’s justice systems, I’ve grown more and more skeptical as to how much we’re supposed to think that Light is a misguided idealist as opposed to an asshole. [pained] And that’s become increasingly troubling as I’ve gotten older.
AMELIA: Can you just rephrase that for me?
VRAI: Yeah, sorry. Because, you know, Light is a character who essentially has a God Complex. But as I’ve gotten to know more about Japan’s legal system, their arrests philosophy, as I understand it, is very much: if you are arrested, you’re probably guilty of a crime.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Oh, I see.
VRAI: So in that context, Light is more like: “Well, you’re killing people who are already in prison and they’re probably guilty, they probably deserved it,” kind of thing. So it’s maybe a lot… maybe we’re supposed to be going with him a lot longer before he jumps off the slippery slope than I think an American reader might initially think. And that’s very uncomfortable to me, [pained laugh] looking back on it.
DEE: Although… I mean, you say that, but I know a lot of… I mean, I have friends who I like a lot, who were on Light’s team. They were on Team Light.
VRAI: Oh, oh, I remember “Light is Right.” And I always hated it.
DEE: Uhh, yeah.
AMELIA: Ooo, that’s an awkward catchphrase.
DEE: [half-laughs] Yeah.
VRAI: Yeah. Yeah it was, a lot.
AMELIA: Well, I’m highly in favor of adaptations in general. I love it when you take an older story and you say something new with it. I love the idea of re-contextualizing something to say something new.
AMELIA: So I don’t fall into the group of people who were upset about white-washing in this instance. I’m usually completely with all of you, but in this particular one, I thought instantly: “There is a lot that you can say about a privileged white guy with a God Complex right now that would be extremely important for people to see.”
DEE: Yeah, [crosstalk] that’s where I was, too.
AMELIA: So I would love to see that story. I think it’s probably time if we go and watch it and see if that’s the story that we get.
DEE: All right, let’s do it, guys! AniFam, we’ll see you on the other side.
[Fast-forward sound effect]
AMELIA: So we just watched Netflix Death Note.
DEE: We sure did.
VRAI: [whining] I haaaate it.
AMELIA: Oh! You didn’t enjoy it, VRAI?
VRAI: [pretending to cry] I hate it.
AMELIA: This is very surprising to me. Would you like to… would you like to elaborate on those thoughts a little bit?
VRAI: This is a very strange experience for me, because, like… my family is a trash family. We enjoy watching things that are bad.
VRAI: But it’s rare that I watch a movie that I nod and say “Yes, this is very make-funable of. Also, I hated it.”
AMELIA: What did you hate specifically about it? I’m sure there’s only one or two things.
VRAI: Just a few things, yes. Just… it’s like watching a monkey’s paw of things I wanted to change about the original anime.
AMELIA: I was hoping you’d go into this. Please list those things and explain how Netflix didn’t quite deliver.
VRAI: Well, because one of the things that I think we can all acknowle—actually, first let me acknowledge that I don’t think that the original… as much as I have a lot of nostalgia for the original anime, I don’t think it’s any kind of sacred text. In fact, bagging on Death Note is a hobby I highly encourage.
VRAI: But, like—
AMELIA: You bag on half the stuff you love.
VRAI: This is true.
AMELIA: That’s how you show affection.
VRAI: [chuckles] But I’m more annoyed that this didn’t do the things that I found interesting about the original and also did not have anything else interesting to replace those things with.
But, for the monkey’s paw thing: you know, most of the characters in the original are soulless sociopaths, which is why the couple really big emotional moments, like L being sad in the rain and Matsuda shooting the fuck out of everything at the end, are some of the really memorable moments.
DEE: [pumped up] Yes!
VRAI: So I thought, “I wish that some of the characters would display more emotion.”
DEE: [amused] You got it!
VRAI: “I wish that—”
AMELIA: [very amused] Monkey’s paw curls one finger.
DEE: [laughing in background]
VRAI: “I wish that Misa had a more active role in the plot.”
DEE: [dramatically] Monkey’s paw curls two fingers.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Ohhhh.
VRAI: [through pained laughter] I have to stop wishing for things.
AMELIA: You need to stop wishing for things. The universe will not deliver as you hope. [chuckles]
VRAI: No! Like, I just… I really… Aggh! One of the biggest failings of the original anime, I always felt like, was that there was no moment where, like when L is dying—spoilers—this anime is like 12 years old, I don’t care—when L dies, there’s—
AMELIA: [crosstalk] We’ll include a note.
VRAI: —there’s no moment where Light is like, “Oh shit, I have lost the only person I can relate to on any kind of—who can stand toe-to-toe with me on any intellectual level.” There’s no moment of regret there. And so any emotional investment goes, poof, and it goes away.
And there’s still not that. There’s still no mutual respect there. There’s just… [through pained laughter] I don’t know. I don’t know, what is it doing? What is happening?
AMELIA: I have a very clear take on what’s happening. What’s happening is that putting a white guy at the head of this story meant they needed to make him sympathetic; they needed to make him worthy of redemption; and they needed to make it possible for viewers to absolve him of as much guilt as possible. [crosstalk] That was the—
DEE: [crosstalk] And apparently put him in high school, so he’s also an idiot.
DEE: But yes, you are correct. No, that is what they did, [crosstalk] to his character.
AMELIA: It was very frustrating. Right from the start, they’ve got… There was something really clear that happened at the beginning. I’m sorry, I’m a few glasses of wine in, rightly so, so my memory recall isn’t quite as sharp as it could be.
DEE: [crosstalk] It’s all right. We took notes.
AMELIA: But basically, a lot of people go through stages of making him seem better than he is.
So, let’s talk about Mia. Let’s talk about Mia and how her entire role seems to be Lady Macbeth, Cersei Lannister, “let me show you how much better you are by showing you how much worse I am, thus lowering the bar and making you seem marginally better by comparison”?
DEE: Yeah, but Cersei Lannister and Lady MacBeth are much better written characters.
AMELIA: Agreed. A million percent. Not denying that whatsoever. But that was essentially her role, right, was to make Light look more sympathetic by existing near him?
DEE: Yeah, it was… So, when I was first watching this with some friends, we got to, like, the very first scene of the two of them sitting on the bleachers and her being like, “Man I wish I could have seen that guy die.” And I was like, “Oh, she’s gonna be the evil woman who tempts him to stray from the path of justice.” And my friend kind of chuckled and was like, “I don’t think that’s what they’re doing with her,” and I was like, [high-pitched; skeptical] “Uh-huh.” And, uh…
DEE: My sweet summer child. And then we watched exactly that happen for the next hour and a half. And I was like, “Okay, so we took a different kind of sexist route.” With… basically, it was like: okay, Misa is the sexist stereotype of the passive woman who does everything for the guy.
DEE: Mia is the sexist stereotype of the evil woman who uses her wiles to control and turn the man away from a path of goodness.
AMELIA: Yeah. She’s Eve, right? She’s Eve.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Possibly Lillith. Yeah.
AMELIA: Yes! I mean there are so many women. This is an archetype. And they just slotted her neatly into that archetype without actually giving her a character.
Now, I’ll be honest, I was snark-tweeting a lot of this, so there are things I missed. But is there any point where we’re given a reason, a justification, for why she’s so keen to see justice meted out on these people the way that we get a justification for Light wanting to see people brought to justice? Do we get that for Mia?
VRAI: Not that I saw!
DEE: No. Um…
AMELIA: Yeah, not that I saw. No?
DEE: [crosstalk] No, we don’t really get that.
AMELIA: [crosstalk; annoyed] Okay! Great.
DEE: She makes one comment about—something to the effect of, like, “I’m just a cheerleader. My life hasn’t meant anything up to this point.” And that—
VRAI: I hated that! [crosstalk] I hated it.
DEE: [crosstalk] —is a terrible line!
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Yeah, “My life”… [trails off into chuckles]
DEE: They put all the worst lines in Mia’s mouth. And this movie has a lot of bad lines, so that is saying something.
AMELIA: Oh my goodness, yes.
VRAI: And like… the one thing I can say for Misa is: she’s terribly written and she completely loses any—she has a very promising start. She comes off as this character who is vengeful and wants to believe in this thing and sticks around with this guy, maybe because she doesn’t feel like she deserves any better and maybe has some survivor’s guilt, [frustrated; punctuating each word] and I think she has a lot of interesting potential as a character and it hurts me.
[shifts back to usual speaking voice] But that stuff is all at least initially there and just never gets explored. Mia is a completely flat character all the way through.
AMELIA: Yeah. Absolutely. She’s there to serve a purpose for Light’s character, not to exist as a character in her own right. Whereas… Misa is pretty awful, but she is a character. She’s one of the flatter characters in Death Note, but she is not as bad as Mia, I would say. If we’re in a hierarchy of terrible female characters within this franchise.
DEE: I mean—
AMELIA: Mia is pretty low for me.
DEE: [reluctantly] Yeahhh… I don’t know.
DEE: I guess it depends on what’s the worst thing for you. And I would—I think I would almost a character have agency and be just a shit-bag than be completely passive. So I might give—
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Ahh, you’re totally right!
DEE: I might give Mia a little bit of a nudge just in terms of personal preference because of that…
AMELIA: D’you know what? They are equally terrible.
DEE: [crosstalk] But, they’re both—
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yep.
AMELIA: I’m calling it.
AMELIA: Executive decision, guys. They are equally terrible. [crosstalk] If they were in our…
DEE: [crosstalk] In completely different ways.
AMELIA: If they were in our premiere episode ranking, they would both be Pits of Shame.
DEE: [cracking up in background]
AMELIA: They are bad female characters. We’re decreeing it.
VRAI: Well, Mia didn’t have a female-coded Death Note who died because she loved her so much there. Er, death god. Yeah. Yeah.
AMELIA: Oooo. Yes. There was that.
AMELIA: I had forgotten about that. I’m so glad we have our Miles equivalent for Death Note on this podcast with us.
VRAI: [cracking up in background]
AMELIA: Very pleased.
VRAI: This lives in my head now. I have valuable brain cells dedicated to Death Note minutiae.
DEE: Well, it feels like they made Mia the character that Light actually is in the original Death Note?
AMELIA and VRAI: [crosstalk] Yes!
DEE: Not as clever, necessarily, but that same very, like, “doesn’t really have any kind of backstory reason for what they wanna do, except that it’s kind of a power trip.” I don’t know why they—well, I mean… We know why.
DEE: Amelia said it right from the beginning.
AMELIA: [sarcastically] “I have no idea why!”
DEE: Why they felt the need to turn Light into a working-class, mom died tragically, bullied nerd with a White Knight syndrome. I can’t imagine why they did that. And they went out of their way to absolve him of any guilt.
AMELIA: I just remembered the major thing that they did. The major thing that they did was set Ryuk up as the tempter in this situation.
DEE and VRAI: Yeah.
AMELIA: Saying, “Come on, you know you want to. This is all you have to do, you just have to go ahead and kill this guy.” The whole point of Light’s character was that he absolutely, naturally fell into the idea of killing people in the name of justice because he felt it was the right thing to do.
VRAI: Yeah. Ryuk didn’t even show up until after Light had already killed at least one person.
AMELIA: Exactly. And then Light was like, “Fantastic, you can see what I’ve done. Here we go. This is… this is just what I’ve done.”
VRAI: Yeah. Anime Ryuk is an entirely neutral force.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Exactly.
VRAI: Like, he drops it, and he sits back and watches. The entire way through.
AMELIA: And instead, in this version, he is the reason we don’t entirely blame Light. Because, you know, he wouldn’t have done anything with that Note if Ryuk hadn’t made him, right? Hadn’t tempted him?
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah.
AMELIA: And then later, we get Mia saying, “No, no, no, you shouldn’t feel bad.” Actually, this was an interesting moment, where I watched it with my Muggle friend. And Light saying, “I feel really bad about what I’ve done,” and I was like, “Ugh, this is ridiculous.” And my friend was like, “No, no, no. When soldiers, for example, kill people, they suffer for it. They have trauma; they have stress.” And I was like, “Oh, yeah. That is very true.”
They could have actually done something interesting with the idea of a Light who feels guilt. That’s not what they did here.
DEE: [quietly] No.
AMELIA: Let’s be really clear on that.
VRAI: No. It was the scene from Hannibal and also Interview with the Vampire, except that I don’t love this thing.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] “The scene”? “The scene”?
VRAI: [crosstalk] “God kills indiscriminately, and so shall we.”
AMELIA: Ahh. yes. Yeah. Where the main character feels some guilt and then is taught not to by an outside force, so that they then—let’s be honest—so that he then feels comfortable killing again. Right?
VRAI: Yeah, pretty much. And also, that other person is usually the love interest.
AMELIA: Yes. Because… Oh! Oh, I love that opening… the opening juxtaposition of sex and death. Specifically sex and murder. Wow.
AMELIA: Women are terrible influences, guys! Don’t do it, don’t do it. Just leave ‘em all alone.
VRAI: What offends me is that the gore effects aren’t even that good.
[Laughter; Amelia cracking up]
VRAI: I love a splatter movie. Re-Animator is one of my favorite films. And this is disappointing.
AMELIA: [dryly] Stop the podcast. Vrai’s got it. That is the most problematic thing we’re gonna find.
DEE: The gore just wasn’t very good.
VRAI: [through laughter] No.
AMELIA: It wasn’t very good. It was underwhelming. Bad job, Netflix. Could have been better.
VRAI: [laughs] It’s very cheap. Listen, if you want an exploitation movie that’s inviting us to revel—because, let’s be honest, the early part of the movie is inviting us to revel in the killing of these bad people—it’s not even any fun. It’s very… it’s cheaply done, aggh, it’s poorly shot, and I hate it.
AMELIA: And that was a very conscious decision they made, which I thought was quite interesting. A lot of the death is ostentatious. When we have that big moment where the FBI agents jump off the roof en masse, it’s a very ostentatious moment. It is… you know, it has a soundtrack— [crosstalk] we’ll get to the soundtrack in a moment—
DEE: [crosstalk; giddily] Oh God, yes.
AMELIA: —that almost glamorizes it; it almost beautifies it. And that is very absent from the Death Note manga. [crosstalk] Where the—
VRAI: [crosstalk] Oh, it’s there in the anime!
AMELIA: …Okay. [amused] It’ll be interesting to compare them. But in the manga, it’s very clinical and it’s very logical; it’s very thought out. And Light is trying to go under the radar as much as possible, unless he’s trying to send a message. So in the anime it’s a bit more, ah… glamorized?
VRAI: Well, um, because… A lot of the deaths are still run-of-the-mill in the sense that Light is trying not to get caught, but you have, like… you know the potato chip scene, [dryly] because everybody knows the potato chip scene? There is a whole montage early on of Light that intercuts Light writing in the Death Note with people dying and there’s sweeping choir, choral doom-y music and him swiping the pen with sparkles across the page!
AMELIA: Did you say “doom-y music”?
VRAI: Yes. It—
AMELIA: I just wanna be really clear on this.
VRAI: I was 11 in 2001. I picked up some things.
[Laughing and clapping]
AMELIA: Vrai is now happily engaged, we’d just like to assure everyone. It worked out. It’s fine.
VRAI: It’s fine. I too am a functional adult.
VRAI: [through laughter] Ostensibly.
AMELIA: Yeah, the constant juxtaposition between sex and death is pretty uncomfortable. It was also pretty standard for American horror movie fare, right? This isn’t…
VRAI: Oh yeah.
AMELIA: This isn’t drawing from Death Note; this is drawing from the horror genre as Hollywood does it.
VRAI: Specifically the mid-2000s horror genre, that’s very slick and not a lot of grit to the kills. The kills are very stylized and removed a step from death. The early kills are very reminiscent of Final Destination.
But yeah, it reminds me of: as PG-13 horror movies began to take over, you wanted to get the thrill of violence with as little of the grottiness and impact. Like, Texas Chains—
VRAI: Would you like a treatise on the evolution of American horror film? Because I could do that for you.
AMELIA: Could you fit it into, like, five minutes? ‘Cause we can do that.
VRAI: I mean, that’s basically it. What I said.
AMELIA: [laughs] Summarized. Okay.
DEE: Would you consider this a horror film, though? ‘Cause, to me, it feels like it’s supposed to be more like a detective thriller.
VRAI: I mean, I wouldn’t call it a horror film, but it’s definitely, like in the early going, drawing from that tradition. Very Final Destination.
AMELIA: Can we talk for a second about the tradition it draws from? Because it absolutely taps into the 1980s. It starts off with these big… I didn’t go to an American high school, but I’m assuming that… the ticking of the boxes: the American football, the cheerleaders, the jock-bullies-nerd thing. That all came out very very quickly, and it felt like they were deliberately trying to tap into something there. And then later, you have this full-on ‘80s soundtrack over a school dance!
You guys tell me: how realistic did any of the school-related stuff feel to you? How authentic did it feel and how nostalgic did it feel for this 1980s past that right now pop culture writers keep tapping into through things like Stranger Things, Ready Player One. We’re seeing this over and over again.
VRAI: I mean. It’s… [hesitates] It certainly taps into high school in the ‘80s in the way that John Hughes films rendered them. I don’t know if it was anything accurate to actual life.
AMELIA: [chuckles] The Muggle friend I watched with at one point literally just said: [intensely] “Breakfast Club!” That was the full sentence. That was the full sentence.
VRAI: Yeah, that. That is accurate. Your friend done got it.
AMELIA: She’s a big fan of the ‘80s. She had very strong feelings about this soundtrack.
VRAI: I also think they might have been trying to evoke Carrie a little bit with the Homecoming Dance shit, but then they… It never actually went anywhere, really.
AMELIA: I mean, it just felt like… once again, it felt like writers looking back at their childhood and saying, “Oh well, if I’d been able to have a Death Note when I was being bullied…” That was how it felt.
AMELIA: Did either of you feel the same, or…?
VRAI: Oh, oh no, this is absolutely a story that… You know how the Star Trek remakes are not actually remakes of Star Trek, they’re remakes of the popular consensus that evolved over the years of what Star Trek was?
AMELIA: [laughs] Yes.
VRAI: This was also that.
AMELIA: Interesting. Can you specifically list the kind of things you’re talking about here?
VRAI: Well, we mentioned in the pre-show, I guess, the strong contingent of people who are on Light’s side and “No, he’s actually a cool anti-hero,” kind of thi—yeah. I see a lot of that here.
AMELIA: So… just to quote you: “Light is right.”
AMELIA: [crosstalk] You see that side of it.
VRAI: It was A Thing. And this seems to be the natural conclusion of what I observed extensively in fandom 10 years ago.
AMELIA: And see, this is fascinating to me, because I think the casting decisions suddenly become huge. When you put a white character front-and-center in a Japanese franchise and you go out of your way to change the essential nature of their character to absolve them of guilt…
AMELIA: …That’s a very big and important decision. And they doubled down on that. Now, again, I was snark-tweeting and I was possibly topping up wine, so I may not have seen all of this montage, but were all of Light’s kind of political victims people of color?
VRAI: I’m pretty sure ISIS was in there. Yeah.
DEE: Well, he definitely killed what was basically Kim Jong Un, too. So.
AMELIA: We had an East Asian person, we had an Arabic person. And—
DEE: I mean, we saw him kill white people, too. Like, his first two victims were white guys from the area who were being assholes.
AMELIA: Sure. But in the big, global sense. As soon as he… As soon as we shifted into montage—which, again: 1980s trope—as soon as we shifted into the montage scene, it seemed like it was brown person after brown person after brown person. It was very uncomfortable. [dryly] And then he talks about how he’s very cleverly picked the name “Kira,” because that’s a Japanese name.
VRAI: Oh my God, I died!
AMELIA: And there are no Japanese people in America.
AMELIA: Obviously. So he’s very cleverly put the FBI off the scent. FBI, you’re earning your money. Good job, guys.
VRAI: My skeleton un-zipped my flesh suit and it ran away during that line.
DEE: To Japan, in fact. It is on a plane to Japan at the moment. To apologize for this film.
VRAI: [cracks up]
AMELIA: It was very uncomfortable. And when he… there’s one moment—I even wrote it down because I was so snarky about it—but there’s one moment where he specifically says—no, L says that: “He used the name ‘Kira,’ so he’s obviously Japanese. [dramatic whisper] Except he’s not!” [snaps fingers]
And this comes as a big revelation to everyone. “What do you mean, he could have a Japanese”—well, a vague Japanese name; that’s not a Japanese name—“and not actually be in Japan or from Japan?!”
AMELIA: It was embarrassing. It was a really bad decision. As it was in Ghost in the Shell, I think, right? As soon as they actually incorporate the original Japanese identity, it all goes wrong.
VRAI: I mean, it was pretty wrong, but then it went wronger.
AMELIA: Wronger! So much wronger. Extremely very wronger.
VRAI: [chuckles] It is interesti—like, even before getting into all of the big shit that changed, a lot of the little shifts—like you mentioned, Ryuk being a tempter; also the fact that Ryuk chose Light as opposed to the arbitrariness inherent in the original story.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Mmmm, yes.
VRAI: And on the name subject: the fact that he chooses his own moniker as opposed to having it assigned to him by the masses.
AMELIA: Yeah, absolutely. And it, again, it feels like a way to make it a very white man’s story, but not in a way that actually says anything about whiteness. Not directly anyway. Not intentionally. It says plenty about whiteness, none of it flattering, I assure you.
VRAI: It’s a Chosen One, Self-Determination narrative. And it’s very weird.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] [chuckles] Yes. Exactly!
DEE: Well, and it’s so frustrating, because, again, the decision to cast Light as a white person could in the context of the original story—if they had made Light the Light we know from the original—would have been really interesting. But not only did they—
AMELIA: [crosstalk] It would have been perfect!
DEE: So then it’s like, if you’re gonna change the writing, why… [sighs] Now it’s just white-washing. There’s no decision there, it’s just, “Oh, let’s make him a nice guy, and also white.”
AMELIA: I am a 100% on that side now. You know, before we watched it, I said, “Well, you know, I’m not in the camp who considers it white-washing because genuinely I believe Death Note as a concept is a framework.”
AMELIA: You could use that to tell culturally relevant stories across geographies and across media. I do believe that. That is not what they did!
DEE: [crosstalk] Nope.
AMELIA: They white-washed it so that they made straight cis white guys watching it feel good about their murderous intentions. [baffled] That was all they did!
DEE: They not only—they white-washed it and they Light-washed it, I would say.
DEE: [weakly] Ba-dum tish.
AMELIA: They Light-washed it. [laughs]
VRAI: Well, they even did it worse than that. Because there’s this running theme in the anime about how L and Light aren’t so different after all, because they’re both sociopathic assholes who are losing peop—who are using people. They just have different definitions of justice and they are different levels of sanctioned by different groups of people, kind of thing.
In this one it seems to have taken that theme and decided to go in the version of: “Look, under certain circumstances, anybody could decide to become a killer!” But the…
VRAI: But the way it frames it is also like, “Light understands that he’s trying to do the right thing and everyone’s just against him and L is so emotional about the bad things he thinks this white guy is doing.”
AMELIA: Oh my God. And the fact that they use Mia to accomplish that really frustrates me.
AMELIA: The fact that he sits there in this diner—he doesn’t even try to hide his identity.
DEE: [crosstalk] Nope!
AMELIA: He’s just like, [mockingly] “Well, I guess we’d better speak in coded terms now we both know who I really am.”
VRAI: [pained] Eyyy.
AMELIA: And he says, “What if there was someone worse? What if you and the person you’re chasing actually have the same priorities?” And I have to admit I love this moment when L, who is played by a Black actor, says, “You don’t get to claim being misunderstood and in a complicated situation. You’ve killed a lot of people.” [crosstalk] That was a beautiful moment.
DEE: That’s the one point in the movie where I think they almost actually hit on the moral dilemma at the core. Because, like you said, L says, “Okay, you’re coming to me and telling me this is a complicated situation; that you’re misunderstood. What do you think ‘Kira’ would say to that?”
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Exactly!
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yeah, that—
DEE: “Kira would just walk you off a bridge,” I think was the line.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] That’s it, yeah.
VRAI: That is the one really—it’s a really good little speech. That’s it; that’s the one.
VRAI: That’s it. Singular.
AMELIA: Hey, do you think they should have had L and Light interacting more in this film?
VRAI: Honestly, part of it is my bias that the sexual tension between them is one of the only thing that really holds up [through laughter] about the originals.
AMELIA: I mean—
VRAI: Like, once L dies, the show falls apart.
AMELIA: I agree with that. But as somebody who did not ‘ship Light and L specifically, I think that they just would have gained so much more from more interaction between the two of them. Instead, they cast Mia as kind of the foil to Light. It’s like, [menacingly] “Look how bad Light could have been!” Instead of setting up L and Light as contrasts. Which is far more interesting.
DEE: Really, they just should have had more L. The movie should have been about L.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yes!
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Ah.
DEE: What I’m trying to say is, “Give Lakeith Stanfield a starring role in… everything.” Let’s go with “everything.” [chuckles]
AMELIA: I mean, didn’t Japan do this, and the result wasn’t great? But… [amused] yeah, maybe America can save it!
VRAI: [crosstalk; deadpan] Let’s not speak about L: Change the World. Let’s… not do that.
AMELIA: Let’s not do that. Yeah.
VRAI: Well and I felt for Lakeith Standfield a lot during this film, because in some ways L is a cartoon character. He’s a collection of tics. And I feel like Alessandro Juliani, who is the best L—I’ll put that card down—did a lot.
VRAI: Like, was able to do a lot with that vocal performance and put a lot of nuance in it. But every actor who’s ever played L really struggles with this fact, to try and find a consistency between… you know, the fact that this character has to just seem weird and alien for a lot of his time on screen, because we’re in Light’s point of view.
AMELIA: I appreciated, actually, that [he] was played by a Black actor.
VRAI: Oh no, I think he’s doing great! I just feel like it’s hard material.
AMELIA: Oh, yeah. Sure. Absolutely. It was just one of those things—it was a moment when, I think, it was just like L and Watari on the screen, and I think—I got the feeling that Watari, he’s played by Paul Nakauchi, I think his name is, and I got the feeling that he was a native English speaker. [chuckles] The way that he, like, trying to pronounce things like a Japanese native speaker and it wasn’t really coming across. It was… Yeah, it was an interesting choice to have him coming across as still a Japanese guy rather than just a Japanese-American.
VRAI: Also, the fact that Watari is just a plot device now. He’s the most blatant, laziest plot device I’ve ever seen.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Yeah. It was, like—
DEE: They did not set up their relationship well enough. Because here’s the thing: in theory, if you are gonna just change everything about the original story, I think the concept of L having an emotional attachment to somebody and Light threatening that and seeing how L reacts to that—I think that’s very interesting as a concept. But I don’t think they set up his relationship with Watari particularly well. So when he disappears, [tentatively] I didn’t quite understand why L was as upset as he was?
AMELIA: He was very [unintelligible].
DEE: Because there is a legitimate… You get to the end of the movie and L—no one believes him. He’s figured it out, but nobody believes him. And he finds that one page of the Death Note. And to me that is the only legitimate, believable moral conflict in the entire film, is when he looks at that paper and he has the pen, and I’m like, “Oh, this is an interesting story.” And then, of course, the movie ends.
VRAI: Of course.
DEE: But… And again, I think Stanfield has a lot to do with that.
AMELIA: He makes it interesting.
DEE: He makes it interesting. And again, he’s not necessarily the L of the original, but the script—I don’t think the script really allowed for that anyway—so I think he takes the character they gave him and makes him a good character. Which is more than I can say for pretty much everyone else. [pained chuckle]
VRAI: Well, and it’s weird that they added this father-figure dimension with Watari. Which I’m for if, like you said, it had been better built up to. But it’s weird that they also sacrifice the element that would have played against that perfectly, in the original anime, where Light claims to want to protect his family, but then once he’s in a corner, he’s completely willing to kill off his own dad to save his skin.
AMELIA: Yeah, the fact he doesn’t even hesi—he instantly says, “No, we’re not killing my dad,” and Mia is instantly like, “Yes we are!” That… [sighs] That could have been better handled. Absolutely.
DEE: Again, it’s just this evil woman messing everything up, you guys.
AMELIA: She messes everything up.
AMELIA: So, this is an interesting train of thought we’re on. What would you have changed? So let’s say we have it: we have a Netflix-funded Death Note. We have a white character as the lead, we have L being played by Black actor, we have Watari as a Japanese-American. Let’s go down this road.
What would we have changed from what they’ve done to make it something that would have been actually interesting and engaging and, looking at it through a feminist lens, it would have been as non-problematic as possible? Is that too much to hope for, Netflix?
DEE: Well, I mean… You make L an asshole. An entitled ass, I should say, as he is in the original.
AMELIA: L or Light?
DEE: Oh God, sorry, Light! My bad. Yeah. Light.
AMELIA: Just being clear on that.
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah they have the same letter, and…
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Asshole L could also be interesting, but… I think we’re—yeah, you’re focused on Light.
DEE: I think giving Light that God Complex he has in the original. Again, because if that’s the casting decision you’re going to make, then it seems to me that you are intentionally mapping over the privilege and entitlement of the original character into an American setting, and if you’re gonna do that, then you have to also make the character have those same personality traits. Otherwise, like we’ve talked about, it’s just white-washing. So I think there’s that.
I’ve tried to think about how you could… how Misa or Mia—whatever you wanna call her… I’m trying to think about how she can work in the context of the Death Note universe and I think about the only thing you… I think there’s, like, two things you can do with her.
Either she figures out Light is a jerk and basically switches sides, or she’s just as bad as he is and they’re equal partners in being awful. Because then at least you don’t have the Evil Woman Temptress, you just have these two people who are kinda like, “Let’s rule the world, hell yeah!” And that could at least be interesting to have them sort of working together against L.
AMELIA: There was kind of a moment in this where it felt a bit Bonnie and Clyde, as my Muggle friend pointed out again, with the non-Japan references. And it did feel like that. It did feel like “partners in crime.” And they keep referring to “us” and “we.” “We do this; this happens to us.”
But as you say it, it didn’t feel like an equal partnership at all. It did feel like vying for supremacy at every step of the way. And emotional manipulation every step of the way. It wasn’t what we could have had from a criminal relationship between lovers.
VRAI: Yeah, and that’s an almost-impossible character to… salvage…
VRAI: Especially in the context of a ninety-minute film.
VRAI: Because I was thinking, “Well, there’s the fact that there’s the whole, you know… gaslit and survivor’s guilt element of the character” that could have worked in a TV series format. You could never do that in a film. Having her switch sides works better, but also that’s, like, the long tradition of “the weaker, more emotional woman who was swayed from one side to the other.” It’s always a female villain. [sigh-laughs]
AMELIA: One thing I did appreciate about Original Misa was that she figures out who Light is.
VRAI: Yeah, she has a great introductory arc! And then it all goes away.
AMELIA: Yeah. She figures out who he is, she comes to find him, she tells him, basically, “You’re stuck with me now.” And so he has to find a way to incorporate her into his life, and she does not fit into his life. And I think all of those are elements that you could have translated into an American high school and it still would have been perfectly valid and engaging.
VRAI: Right. To make her seem intelligent, and not just evil.
DEE: I also don’t really—
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Yeah, absolutely.
DEE: I don’t really get why they had—why they put them in high school, other than because somebody wanted to do some kind of campy throwbacks to ‘80s high school films.
AMELIA: Bingo! [crosstalk]
DEE: I can’t think of any other reason why you’d put them in high school. Because part of, I feel like Original Death Note kind of works because they went out of their way to not make him the typical high school protagonist. Like, so he’s a little bit—
AMELIA: He is in high school at the very beginning, right? He is in high school at the very, very start, when he picks up the notebook.
VRAI: Yeah, but he…
AMELIA: But then he gets out into university very early.
VRAI: Yeah. Like, [fumbles with words for a few moments]… blah. He meets L at the introduction—
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Entrance.
VRAI: —Entrance Ceremony for university.
AMELIA: Yeah. Which is fairly early on. Much earlier than they meet in the Netflix show, where L’s already figured it all out and Light’s already desperate.
VRAI: [sternly] Give me more Keith Stanfield, and give him better material.
DEE: [crosstalk] Lakeith.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] It’s Lakeith, right? Lakeith Stanfield.
VRAI: Lakeith. Excuse me.
AMELIA: And they… yeah, they could have just fixed quite a bit by having them meet quite early on and having Light have to struggle against L rather than struggling against Mia. That actually would have solved a lot of problems if they just shifted the primary conflict.
DEE: Have it be more of that cat-and-mouse, [in a dry sing-song] which is the most interesting part of the original~
AMELIA: Why do you think they gave him a single-parent household? Why do you think they made his dad a single parent; they gave him no siblings?
DEE: Because they wanted—well, no siblings makes it easier for him to mess with the Death Note. And his mom’s dead because that’s his motivation for using the Death Note. It’s tragic, and he’s motivated by love and vengeance, and that makes him more relatable and sympathetic.
AMELIA: Yeah… [crosstalk] It’s just a shame. If they—
DEE: [crosstalk] I mean, I think that’s why.
AMELIA: Yeah, no, I think you’re right, I was just checking there’s no alternative options. Because yeah, they’ve made him from this Norman Rockwell family—
AMELIA: If it had been something like the early seasons of Mad Men, that could have been quite interesting, actually. You’ve got this idealized family, on the surface, and then underneath.
VRAI: Yeah, I mean, to me that really works well in the anime, is that his family is perfectly normal and—like, his parents are supportive, he has a little sister with whom he has a good relationship. And he’s still a fucker.
AMELIA: Yeah, exactly. There’s absolutely no justification for his murderous intent—
DEE: Except that he’s privileged and entitled and thinks that he can just do these things. [crosstalk] Thinks that he can be God.
AMELIA: [unintelligible under crosstalk]
VRAI: [crosstalk] Mm-hm.
AMELIA: Yeah. And that would have translated so well onto white masculinity in America right now. That would have absolutely translated beautifully, to be able to say something hugely relevant. And they threw that chance away. It’s very frustrating.
VRAI: Yeah, and it’s also… I mean, I understand why they cut Matsuda, because there’s not a lot of time in this compacted story that they’re telling. But considering that one of the interesting things I always thought about Death Note is that it’s essentially a typical shounen series in some ways. But our protagonist—like, Matsuda is the Shounen Hero, he’s just not the point-of-view character.
DEE: Yes. [crosstalk] That’s a good point.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] That is fascinating! I’ve never heard that before. Can you just lay that out in a bit more detail for me?
VRAI: ‘Cause he’s the new rookie cop who really believes in his mentor, Light’s dad, and they’re struggling against this enemy they don’t know, and Matsuda’s kind of a screw-up but he’s doing his best, and he accidentally blunders into helping and harming with some things, and then at the end he’s the one who realizes what’s gone down, he loses his mentor and has to stand on his own, and he realizes—he’s the one who actually takes action against Light and shoots him so many times and it’s amazing.
DEE: [applauding] I cheered. [through laughter] I cheered when that happened in the anime. I was so happy.
AMELIA: That is so true. And they could have used a Matsuda-style character as, again, another foil for Light. This is how you could go [crosstalk] if you believe in justice that strongly.
[unintelligible crosstalk as Dee and Vrai try to jump in]
DEE: Well, you sort of get the sense they were trying to merge L and Matsuda in this film because they didn’t have enough time for all those characters. So you give L…
AMELIA: He does have that scene where he runs with a gun and threatens Light with shooting him. [laughs] It just feels so weird.
DEE: Oh, the glorious parkour chase scene? I like that scene.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Oh, it was beautiful.
DEE: [crosstalk] I like that scene because Light runs the way most people drown, and it never stopped being funny.
AMELIA: [cracks up]
VRAI: No, it’s actually a very good callback to the swimming scene. [chuckles] Which is—
AMELIA: And also the 1980s!
AMELIA: So, it really accomplishes multiple goals within itself.
DEE: It’s such a long chase scene. You get about, I don’t know, about two-thirds of the way through it, and I’m like, “Okay, this is a parody.” That was kind of the moment when I—well, I think Ice Cream Butler was the moment when I realized this movie was supposed to be kind of goofy and I wasn’t supposed to take it seriously.
AMELIA: Ice Cream Butler I thoroughly appreciated. And that was a moment, I was like, “This is what you could have been. You could have been introducing more Hollywood-style humor and quirk in these little subtle ways rather than changing it wholesale, so fundamentally.” But I loved Ice Cream Butler.
AMELIA: That was probably my favorite part of the whole film.
DEE: That, and I love the chase scene, and then the ferris wheel exploding in slow motion with Chicago playing in the background is… A Thing of Beauty.
VRAI: [laughing] It’s so dumb! It’s so dumb.
DEE: [gleefully] Exactly.
AMELIA: “Beauty”? “Beauty”? Is that the word we want to go with here? Is that the adjective?
VRAI: No, that is one of the moments where the film ascends into “God, this is dumb, God, it’s so dumb.” That and whenever they led Willem Defore carefully onto set and said, “Okay, feel free to break out your Green Goblin voice again.”
DEE: “Yeah, just ham it up, Willem.” He’s pretty good in this, too. [chuckles]
AMELIA: He’s—yeah, he’s totally fine. He plays the role they asked him to play. That’s… that’s totally fine. But, yeah, as we’ve noted, Ryuk is much more a neutral presence in the original.
And actually, if you’re telling a story about “privileged, entitled, elite kid is hugely arrogant and commits mass murder,” then you want someone neutral in the background. You don’t wanna give him the get-out clause of “he’s actually been influenced by a literal demon.”
VRAI: Well and especially because Light does try to blame Ryuk at certain points when he wants a scapegoat.
AMELIA: Ahh, yeah. One thing I actually really liked is the notes that they had in the Death Note. [crosstalk] Warning Light. Saying—
VRAI: [scoffs] Oh my God! Somebody saw Gravity Falls and decided that was a neat idea.
DEE: Well, except—
AMELIA: I really appreciated that, actually. When it says “Ryuk’s not your friend. Don’t trust him.” And he’s like, [smugly] “I know better.”
DEE: Yeah, but then—
VRAI: [crosstalk] “Don’t summon under any circumstances.” [laughs]
DEE: Then do you—
AMELIA: What was that?
DEE: Oh, that’s a Gravity Falls reference. [crosstalk] “Do not summon.”
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Oh, okay.
DEE: Except, here’s the thing: Ryuk’s name is in the Death Note. And later Light’s like, “I’m gonna write your name in the Death Note,” and Ryuk’s like, “Nobody’s ever been able to do it,” and I’m like, [baffled] “But. It’s. Right. There?” Soooo…
VRAI: [cracking up]
AMELIA: Oh dear. Ohhh, dear.
VRAI: [crosstalk; through laughter] What is continuity?
DEE: [crosstalk] Did no one read this script? [laughs]
AMELIA: That is an excellent point that I hadn’t considered. I do not pick up on plot gaps when I go through the first time. When I go through anything the first time, I’m like, “That was amazing; it was so tightly plotted.”
AMELIA: It’s only later I have this stuff pointed out to me. Yeah, you’re right. …Huh.
DEE: [unintelligible under crosstalk] …think it’s hilarious.
VRAI: [crosstalk] The prop designer had a neat idea and they just wanted to do a thing.
AMELIA: Yeah, they didn’t do anything with the apples, either.
DEE: I mean, other than…
AMELIA: They just have them on screen constantly.
DEE: Constant symbol of temptation. Do you get it, audience? Do you get it?
VRAI: In fairness—
AMELIA: He’s still eating apples. He’s still dropping them. They are still showing up just around Light’s furniture. That would attract insects.
DEE: [sternly] That’s how you get ants.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] That is how you get ants.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Do you want ants? That’s how you get ants.
AMELIA: AniFem readers, we care about you. Don’t just drop half-eaten apple cores on the ground. It’s very very bad. Oh, unless you’re outside, that’s fine. That’s great.
VRAI: But in fairness to the movie, that is about the level of depths of symbolism in the anime. [snickers]
DEE: True. I mean, it’s not subtle in either version.
VRAI: [through laughter] No.
AMELIA: The thing about animation, though… you know, there are certain things that come across better in animation compared to live action and vice versa. And the thing about animation is that you can do a lot of stuff heightened as long as you match it with the visual style overall.
Whereas when you’re doing live action, you have to be a lot more careful with that stuff, because it won’t automatically come across as being stylized at all. Because it is just people on screen. So I think that the anime automatically drops you into this world of “expect things to be apart from reality. Expect things to be quite different.”
DEE: And Araki has a very particular big, explosive kind of style anyway, so that adds to it for sure.
AMELIA: Again, I haven’t seen the Death Note anime all the way through, but I watched the first few episodes for a review I did earlier this year. And I was really impressed and I felt like it did set a tone, and it matched that you tone.
VRAI: Having only watched—of his work, having only watched Death Note and the first season of Attack on Titan, what I’ve gathered about Araki is: boy, he sure knows how to make things look good. Human empathy, less so.
AMELIA: Ah. And that’s pretty appropriate for Death Note, to be fair.
VRAI: Yeah, yeah. I mean.
AMELIA: I appreciate how campy Death Note ended up. And I wonder if they’d hit that note earlier, more consistently—’cause there are moments earlier where the subtitle “[scream]” shows up repeatedly. And—
DEE: [giggles] Light’s scream when Ryuk shows up is an amazing scream. It is, truly—
AMELIA: [crosstalk] It’s pretty good. It’s fairly high-pitched, I appreciated it.
DEE: [crosstalk] It breaks glass a little bit. It’s wonderful.
AMELIA: It is wonderful, and I did appreciate it. And I thought, “Okay, if this is where they’re going, that’s fine.” But then it dropped into tropes.
DEE and VRAI: Mm-hm.
AMELIA: And that was… That was a bit misjudged, I thought. If they’d kept it at this kind of high camp level of self-deprecating mockery of the source material as a concept, okay. It wouldn’t have been my preferred adaptation, but I see where you’re coming from. And instead, it seemed like they dropped into tropes without keeping the high camp up until the very end when they have the big ferris wheel thing, and Air Supply playing, and it was all…
AMELIA: It’s unfortunate. If they’d been consistently at that level all the way through, it could have been a cult hit.
VRAI: That’s a really nice way of summing it up. ‘Cause there were—like, I could definitely mock this movie all the way through, but there were only a couple moments where I could delight in how stupid it is.
DEE: Yeah. Yeah.
AMELIA: [laughs] Exactly! Exactly. If we’d been able to watch it in a year’s time, a la The Room or something like that: absolutely, I would… Yeah, I’d kind of be on board. I’d say “Okay, it’s stupid, but it’s clearly stupid.” Whereas I think what we’re left with is something that’s far more frustrating.
VRAI: Yeah. Juuuust enough potential.
DEE: Yeah, it hits these really fun, campy bits, and then it slides into just frustrating. Like you said, like tropey, sexist, high school movie bullshit.
AMELIA: Yeah, exactly. It does the opposite—have you seen 22 Jump Street?
DEE: No. But I’ve heard it’s a fun adaptation.
AMELIA: Well, the first thing it does—22 Jump Street—these police officers go back to high school, and the first thing it does is debunk their ideas that you still have the American football, the cheerleaders, the jocks beating up the nerds. It completely subverts that in its opening scene. It’s like, “What are you talking about? That was 10, 20 years ago.”
And Death Note just slips straight back into that. And it just means the writers feel a bit out of touch. So…
VRAI: Yeah, and—
AMELIA: It’s… Go ahead.
VRAI: Oh no, sorry. I was just trying to… I got caught mid-thought trying to think if anybody besides Mia really makes much use of a cell phone.
AMELIA: Ohhh, good point!
DEE: When I was watching it with friends, at the beginning, I was like, “Is this supposed to take place in the ‘90s, maybe? ‘Cause it kind of feels like it is.”
DEE: And then somebody was like, “No, they have cell phones.” And I said “Okay, never mind.” [chuckles]
AMELIA: It absolutely feels that way though, doesn’t it? This film could have come out when I was in high school, and… yeah, it would have felt completely relevant except for the futuristic cell phones they have.
VRAI: This is just me stealing a meme, but the photos of people putting—God, what’s the name of the guys name who plays Light? [crosstalk] And is terrible.
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah, I dunno his name.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Matt Wolf? Matt Wolf.
VRAI: Yeah, just placing photos of him next to Tobey McGuire in Spider-Man 3. No difference.
DEE: [cracking up in the background]
AMELIA: Spider-Man 3, which I saw in the cinema with school friends, yes.
DEE: Same here.
DEE: [still laughing]
AMELIA: And that is exactly how it felt. So, it’s just further proof that we didn’t need… that doing an adaptation across cultures doesn’t necessarily mean actually transferring the message to say something meaningful in the new context.
Which is really unfortunate because I do feel—as I said before and as I will reiterate now—that Death Note as a concept you could absolutely transfer in a way that’s meaningful across geographies, across media. Netflix just failed. Let’s be really clear on that.
VRAI: Remakes are great if they have something new to say about the material.
AMELIA: Exactly. And instead, this just felt… Like, I read this on Twitter, but it feels like the bad guy from Ghostbusters, the reboot, who’s obsessed with the fact that he was bullied and wants to take power over everyone—
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeeees.
AMELIA: It feels like that guy wrote the script.
DEE: Yes, that’s… that’s apt.
AMELIA: So, overall, slightly disappointed.
DEE: Yeah, and it’s—you know, now that you say that, there’s a version of this movie where you do still have Light as this, like, Angry Nerd trope who’s supposed to be heroic and then you just tear that systematically down, start to finish, in the film.
VRAI: [wistful noise]
DEE: But they didn’t. That would have been really interesting. If you wanna go the route of, like, “Oh, here’s that ‘80s trope of the bullied nerd who then takes power back, yeah!” via, you know, being an asshole, functionally.
DEE: There’s a movie you can do with that! Where, again, with lines like that one really good line L has, where you can kind of tear that down. But they don’t. They go out of their way to make nothing his fault.
AMELIA: Exactly. And they could have even done more with L, actually. I mean, L says at that point, “What would ‘Kira’ have done?” And it felt, actually, there was more you could have said there about: “You know what, even if you admit to being a serial killer, you’re a young white boy from a well-respected family. You’re gonna be all right.” [crosstalk] Whereas, imagine—
DEE: [crosstalk] Well and nobody believes him. [brightly sarcastic] Oh and hey! You know what we haven’t talked about: the fact that the police officer puts the Black man in a headlock.
VRAI: Yup! That sure happened!
AMELIA: Oh my goodness.
VRAI: And then I quietly died inside.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] I actually missed—
DEE: Then your skeleton just left for the moon. Was like, “Not even Japan’s far enough away.”
AMELIA: I missed that bit. Could you contextualize it for me, please?
DEE: Yeah. So, after Watari disappears, L goes over to Light’s house and just like [crosstalk] sits down at the table and confronts them.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Ah, yeah, has this rage.
DEE: And Lakeith Stanfield makes the scene work. But he kinda gets up in Light’s face and is like “If anything happens to him, I’m coming for you.” And Light’s dad—who I’m gonna call Eli, because that was his name—the character—
AMELIA: It was James.
DEE: James? Okay. Well, that was his character on Boardwalk Empire, so that’s his name forever.
AMELIA: Eli! That’ll do.
DEE: Like, jumps up and immediately puts L in a head lock and is like, “Don’t you ever”—what was it?—“Don’t you ever threaten my son again,” or something like that. And it’s real uncomfortable.
AMELIA: Oh, the commentary opportunities!
DEE: [crosstalk] It’s tone-deaf.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] The possibilities there!
DEE: But it ends up just being completely tone-deaf and real uncomfortable.
VRAI: Right, because… yeah, you could have done something with the fact that L was making a—not a threat so much as a promise—but he never raised his hand. Like, it was all words.
AMELIA: Wow. I’m so sad I missed that. I might have to re-watch this in a format where I’m able to take screenshots and just do… [chuckles] Do another live-tweet, but actually being able to screenshot what I’m looking at and put it up with commentary. ‘Cause I watched this with my Muggle friend, who was equally horrified, but for slightly different reasons. But even—I mean, she picked up on the racial tone-deafness in general, as well.
VRAI: Oh! There was one line that I actually took down notes about that struck me as a moment where the movie put me squarely in “fuck you” territory.
VRAI: And it’s during the montage—you know, The Murder Montage of Sex and Death?
DEE: Oh yeah, I called it “The Sexy High School Murder Montage.” Yeah.
VRAI: [chuckles] Yeah, yeah! You know the one.
AMELIA: The Murder Montage of Sex and Death. The Sexy High School Murder Montage… These are all great names for book chapters, actually, you guys.
VRAI: [laughs] But, yeah, they put on a guy who’s clearly a conspiracy theorist talking about, “This is all a plan of the super-elites. This is all a false flag operation!” At which point I’m kind of like, “All right, fuck you, movie.” Because the original was kind of about the super-elite—the most intelligent, fast-tracked to the highest power in the country—deciding what’s best for everybody.
AMELIA: And there’s a moment, isn’t there, where L’s like… He’s talking to Light’s dad and saying, “You’re unusually bright, son.” It’s like, “What are you basing that on?”
AMELIA: [laughs] Exactly! All we see from his time in school, is that he stands up against bullies, maybe once—
VRAI: He does homework for other people. Therefore: smart.
DEE: Yeah. He’s doing other peoples’ homework, and that’s supposed to give you the impression that he’s, like, an intelligent kid with good grades to the point where everybody’s kind of forcing him to do their calculus for them.
AMELIA: Wow. Okay. This is… I may need to watch this again. [crosstalk] I quite forgot about that, but.
VRAI: [crosstalk] He is getting paid for it. During the opening cheerleader high school montage, there’s a hand-off of money, for homework.
DEE: Oh, that’s right! I forgot he’s getting paid for it. Yeah, so it’s not like he’s being bullied into doing it, necessarily.
AMELIA: This is such a different type of story. Do we think… Do we think we could have done something meaningful with this? Like, is that enough of a trope to actually say something important about society? Or is that just something from the 1980s that the writers wanted to [unintelligible under crosstalk]?
DEE: [crosstalk] How d’you mean, though?
VRAI: [crosstalk] I do think terri… go ahead, go ahead.
DEE: You mean the “doing other people’s homework” thing?
AMELIA: Yeah, like, so smart he does other people’s homework but isn’t acknowledged as smart in school, because he’s in detention for standing up to bullies.
DEE: Well, he’s in detention for doing other people’s homework, ’cause they catch him with—
AMELIA: Oh, really?
DEE: Yeah, ‘cause they catch him with the homework. You were up and down early—at the beginning of this film, weren’t you? [laughs]
AMELIA: [defensively] I was getting wine. I was pouring wine. [crosstalk] It was very important.
DEE: [crosstalk] Hey, that’s the appropriate way to watch Death Note. Deathflix.
VRAI: Either version, really.
DEE: Yeah. So I do not blame you. No, he gets in trouble because the homework, like, flies out of his bag and they catch him with it, and they’re like, [scolding] “Oh, you’re in trouble, mister.”
And I think maybe the point of that was to show that Light was already morally compromised? But again, then they spend the rest of the film going out of their way to make it so that nothing’s actually is fault. Sooo…
VRAI: I don’t know. I feel like the point of that scene was to put us in Light’s camp. Because he has that line about: “What, you care about the fact that I’m doing people’s homework, but there’s people out there bullying?” And it’s like, [mockingly] “Oh man, the authority is corrupt. Someone should do something about this! It’s totally whack, yo!”
AMELIA: There was a line I… Here we go. He says in that scene: “You have the chance to stop the kinds of people who make things hard for everybody.”
AMELIA: And I just tweeted that with: “SUBTLE!”
AMELIA: Because it was so blatant. And yeah, I do remember that scene, because he’s saying, “You found me unconscious, right? Why don’t you care?” And I think you’re right: it was to put us on Light’s side early in the film.
Which, again, is kind of a missed opportunity, because his actions should really speak for themselves, as relates to the Death Note. That’s where the interest is: where do you as an audience member lie? Which side are you on? Because there is an argument for vigilante justice and there is argument against it within the text of Death Note.
And it’s a genuinely interesting topic. And, as an audience member, part of the fun is in thinking, “Well, if I had the option, what would I do?” And instead, we just get: He’s from a troubled background, he’s in a position where people really don’t care what happens to him, he’s got a tragic past, [crosstalk] nobody gets him…
DEE: [crosstalk; sarcastically sympathetic] And he’s being tempted and seduced by so many people. Poor baby.
AMELIA: Do we think that would have happened if it had been a Japanese-American lead, for example?
VRAI: [uncomfortable thoughtful noises]
DEE: It’s so hard to imagine the what-ifs, truthfully.
DEE: Because I don’t know if the script would have been the same or if it would have been different. I don’t know when casting happens in relation to scriptwriting for things like this. The way they talked about it, they made it sound like it was supposed to be kind of “color-blind” casting—and I put that in quotes that you couldn’t see.
AMELIA: Air-quotes, yeah.
DEE: Um… but…
AMELIA: Do we think if it had been a Japanese-American lead with exactly the script we got that it would have come across differently?
DEE: [hesitant] Yeahhh, I mean, I think it would have come across a little bit differently just in terms of… I don’t know. Actually, now that I say that, I have to stop myself. I don’t know. I’m not sure if I’m qualified to have that conversation, actually.
AMELIA: It’s an interesting question. And, yeah, I don’t wanna put you on the spot. This is as open to AniFem listeners—uh, AniFem readers, Chatty AF listeners—as anyone. I do think it’s an interesting question.
If you’d had the exact same situation but it had not been a white lead—if it had been a Black lead; if it had been a Japanese-American lead; if it had been a lead who wasn’t even American—would it have come across differently or would we still have had the same objections that we’ve discussed in this portion?
VRAI: Well, I wonder—and I’m genuinely asking this question, because I don’t know. Would it have come across different with a non-white lead, the elements… because, with a white lead, it really stands out, these elements that are trying to forgive him and paint him as sympathetic.
VRAI: If it was a non-white lead, would it stand out… the back half of the narrative, where it’s talking about, “Oh, you were so misguided and wrong to do this and you had no idea of the scope of what’s going on,” you know, as relates to people of color fighting back against their oppressors. [Pause] [Nervously] I genuinely don’t know, I’m asking.
AMELIA: No, I think that’s an angle they could have explored if they’d had a non-white lead. And that’s not something we’ll find out.
DEE: No. I feel like there’s a lot of ways this movie could have worked and none of them were the movie we saw.
AMELIA: [laughing] And none of them were what they went with!
DEE: Instead we saw the movie where the girl yells at the guy for asking permission to kiss her, which was—
VRAI: [crosstalk] I hate this!
DEE: —your first clue that this was going to go awry.
AMELIA: Oh, it was so bad. And then later on, she says something about “Don’t act superior to me for being a pussy.”
AMELIA: Agh, it was just… were there any woman writers on this staff?
AMELIA: Did they have any hand in writing this female character?
DEE: I don’t know. But yeah, she…
AMELIA: I genuinely don’t know, but my guess would be “no.” Maybe I’m wrong, but my guess would be “no.”
DEE: Yeah, it’s really…
AMELIA: She didn’t ring true in the slightest, on any level.
VRAI: Well, and she could have been somebody, even, who’s—there’s plenty of reasons for a woman to want to take action against… especially because—
VRAI: —they name-drop a lot of rapists and that kind of angle. Domestic abusers. [flustered] Yeah, great, you could’ve—why didn’t you do anything?! Why does this movie do nothing?!
AMELIA: Exactly. Even her saying “you shouldn’t ask” about him kissing her. That is something you can do something with there. There are plenty of women who aren’t… who are kind of more susceptible to the idea that actually “True Romance is passion without checking in,” necessarily. And that’s absolutely a common thing that people believe.
And using that as a theme and bouncing off that is something that you can do: the idea that Light should be in charge and she’s just gonna do what he says and then her later on saying, “No, actually, I don’t just want to do what you say. I do want you to ask about certain things.” Like, she basically goes through that journey, but without framing it in that way. So it just comes across as… her being… pretty awful.
DEE: Yeahhh, I just…. I don’t know if I have much else to add to that. She basically just gives him shit every time he is not this stereotypical image of aggressive masculinity, and it’s [sing-song] really uncomfortable~
AMELIA: [crosstalk] It’s extremely uncomfortable.
DEE: [crosstalk] Everything with Mia is bad.
AMELIA: And, I think we’ve said this repeatedly now, is that they could have made different choices and actually done something with all of this. I think all of the choices that they made at the beginning of the film they could have turned into something truly valuable, truly meaningful, that made social commentary that we’d all be happy to discuss. And it seems that they’ve tried to avoid all of the above, most of the time. Is that fair?
DEE: I think that’s fair.
AMELIA: Okay. Then I think we should really wrap this up. We’ve gone slightly over. I’m sure you’ll all forgive us. We feel very strongly about this. So thank you both.
VRAI: [flustered] Well this was… an experience. [pained laughter]
AMELIA: It sure was. And I’m sure we’ll have the chance again because it sounds like there are more adaptations coming up.
AMELIA: We haven’t watched Ghost in the Shell yet! There is that!
DEE: Oh, you meant other movies. I thought there was gonna be a Death Note 2 and I was like, “WELP.” [laughs]
VRAI: Guess I’ll die!
AMELIA: We don’t know, but if there is, I’ll probably watch it. And Vrai will probably watch it.
DEE: I mean, I’m not gonna lie: This is a bad movie. I didn’t hate it. Vrai, I know you hated it. I… once Ice Cream Butler showed up, I was like, “Okay, I’m not supposed to take this seriously,” and then I kind of had fun with it. But…
VRAI: This is a strange and comfortable place for me.
AMELIA: So, we’re—okay. This must be really awkward for you, Vrai. You love trash, and yet.
VRAI: Yeah, I do! I should like this!
DEE: It’s a little—
VRAI: I should enjoy this garbage!
DEE: It’s a little too close to other trash that you love, I think might be the problem.
VRAI: Yeah, possibly. There is better trash that is doing the things this movie is doing.
AMELIA: Just to be clear, Dee says that as a friend, not to throw shade.
DEE: Yeah! Obviously, as a friend!
VRAI: Everybody knows I love trash! I love trash! I live in the trash!
AMELIA: Read any of our premiere reviews. Vrai writes a fair number of them and actively chooses the trash.
AMELIA: I just… A couple of people have expressed sympathy for Vrai, saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry that you had to write the review of this show.” And I’ve had to be quite clear with them: “No, actually, we did not assign this to Vrai. Vrai chose this. Vrai has had agency through this whole process.”
VRAI: If it looks exceptionally stupid, I’m there.
DEE: [laughs] Yeah, that’s about right.
AMELIA: And Death Note has unfortunately turned out [unintelligible beneath crosstalk].
VRAI: [crosstalk] It’s not stupid enough!
DEE: It isn’t.
VRAI: It needs to be dumber!
AMELIA: Ahh, you’re right!
DEE: The middle act isn’t stupid enough.
AMELIA: We have identified the problem. The middle act is the problem.
DEE: Make it dumber.
AMELIA: Death Note, be consistently high camp ridiculousness all the way through, and then we can have a proper conversation.
AMELIA: I think we have to wrap it up, though. We have run quite over.
So thank you so much to everyone for listening. You can find us at www.animefeminist.com. You can find us on Twitter @AnimeFeminist. You can find us on Facebook at facebook.com/animefem. We have a Tumblr, animefeminist.tumblr.com.
We also have a Patreon, which is how we pay everyone for what they do. So, patreon.com/animefeminist. We started doing weekly podcasts because we exceeded $1000 a month in income. That is a fantastic achievement. It’s not quite enough to make sure that everyone gets paid for all of their work every time.
So please, if you have a dollar a month to spare, it adds up. People think that a dollar a month is them being cheap or them showing us that they don’t value us. That’s not true! We hugely value one-dollar-a-month patrons. We would love you to send us a dollar a month to continue our work.
If you have $5 a month to spare, you get access to our AniFem Discord, where you can have conversations like this with people every single day, and there is a lot of snark there, and it’s beautiful. So please, if you have a dollar or five dollars a month spare—or more—go to patreon.com/animefeminist and send us that money to continue our work and make sure people get paid.
So thank you so much to Dee and to Vrai for joining me on this journey of discovery.
AMELIA: And maybe we’ll get to do the same again with a Death Note 2. Netflix, let us know.
DEE: [chuckles] Yes.
VRAI: Don’t do this to me.
DEE: [laughs] Vrai’s like, [dramatically] “I can’t, I can’t.”
VRAI: [pained laughter] I can’t.
AMELIA: You can and will. It’ll be wonderful. And maybe next time we’ll be in person, with drinks in person, and that would be my ideal [laughing] way to view Death Note, I think.
DEE: Yeah, we’ll just MST3K it and put up the audio and everyone can sync it to the video file. It’ll be wonderful.
AMELIA: You’ve heard it here first: that’s the plan next time. Death Note 2—
DEE: Electric Boogaloo.