Death Note (2017 film)

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Death Note
Promotional poster
Directed by Adam Wingard
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based on
Music by
Cinematography David Tattersall
Edited by Louis Cioffi
Distributed by
Release date
  • August 25, 2017 (2017-08-25)
Running time
100 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $40 million[1]

Death Note is a 2017 American neo-noir supernatural horror-thriller film loosely adapted from the Japanese manga of the same name created by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. The film is directed by Adam Wingard and written by Charles Parlapanides, Vlas Parlapanides and Jeremy Slater. The film stars Nat Wolff, Lakeith Stanfield, Margaret Qualley, Shea Whigham, Paul Nakauchi, Jason Liles and Willem Dafoe, and follows the story of an American high school student named Light Turner, who finds a mysterious supernatural notebook known as the "Death Note". After being visited by a demonic Japanese god of death named Ryuk, who tells him that the book causes the death of anyone whose name is written within it's pages, Light eventually begins to kill people whom he deems to be morally unworthy of life, under the alias of a serial-killer named "Kira", in a bid to change the world into a utopian society without crime, while a small task-force of law enforcement officials, including the FBI's top profiler, attempt to find and apprehend Light.

The film was released on Netflix on August 25, 2017. Upon release, Death Note received mixed reviews from critics and audiences. Much of the criticism was directed towards the incoherent writing, pacing, numerous changes from the source material as well as omissions of many of its crucial elements; however, critics praised Wingard's direction, the production design, soundtrack, cinematography and the cast, with Dafoe and Stanfield's performances as Ryuk and L receiving most of the praise.


In Seattle, Washington, high school student Light Turner encounters a notebook marked "Death Note". He is visited by the death god Ryuk, who tells him that he can cause the death of anyone he wishes by writing their name in the book, as long as he knows their real name and face. Ryuk coaxes Light into testing it out on a bully. The bully is decapitated in a freak accident shortly afterwards. That evening, Light is compelled to write down the name of Antony Skomal, the man who killed his mother in a hit and run. Skomal dies in a similar freak accident at a restaurant. Ryuk explains other rules of the Death Note, including the ability to control the actions of the victim for up to 48 hours after their name is written before they die. Classmate Mia Sutton asks Light about the Death Note, and he demonstrates how it works. She encourages Light to use the Death Note with her to rid the world of criminals, improving the world. They decide to work together under the guise of a god they call "Kira", using the book's coercion powers to have their victims reveal this name to the world.

Kira becomes beloved by the public, as its killings are seen as righteous by the majority of law enforcement, and Light and Mia become lovers. Kira's actions draw the attention of "L", an enigmatic FBI investigator, who is able to track down Kira's location to Seattle and his source to the city's police database. L and his assistant/father-figure Watari travel to Seattle and meet with detective James Turner, the head of the "Kira" investigation in Seattle and Light's father, to discuss how they will catch Kira. L gives a televised speech with his face concealed, taunting Kira to kill him, and when this fails to happen, L suspects that Kira must know a person's name and face to kill.

L has FBI agents follow Light and other suspects. Mia suggests killing the agents, but Light refuses. The FBI agents thereafter commit mass suicide and Light accuses Ryuk of killing them. James appears on television and vows to apprehend Kira. Mia urges Light to kill him for the greater good, but Light can't bring himself to do it. When James is not killed, L comes to the conclusion that Light must be Kira. L confronts Light, revealing his face to him. Realizing that L is closing in on him and with Mia motivating him, Light uses the Death Note to force Watari to uncover L's real name. As Ryuk explains, Light can burn the page with Watari's name on it within the 48 hours to cancel his impending death; however, this method can only be used to save a victim of the Death Note once. Watari leaves suddenly for the abandoned New York orphanage where he found L years before; L learns Watari has disappeared and orders Light's house to be searched; he finds nothing, as Mia was able to sneak the Death Note out.

Knowing that Light is still being followed, Mia helps him to sneak away at the school dance, allowing him to collect the Death Note and contact Watari via phone. Watari finds L's records moments before the 48-hour deadline, but Light finds Watari's page missing. Watari is then shot and killed by unknown soldiers before he can reveal L's name. Mia reveals that she used the Death Note to kill the FBI agents in order to protect herself and Light, took Watari's page, and has also written Light's name in the book, giving him until midnight before his heart stops. She offers to burn Light's page if he gives the Death Note to her, as she believes he is not capable of making the right decisions for the good of society. Meanwhile, L is devastated by Watari's death and goes on his own manhunt for Light.

Light tells Mia to meet him at the Seattle Great Wheel where he will turn over the book, and then flees from police, who are closing in on him. L catches up to him and prepares to kill him, but a passerby knocks L out after overhearing that Light is Kira. Pursued by police, Light meets Mia and takes her to the top of the ferris wheel. Light tries to convince Mia that they will be happier without the Death Note, at first seemingly dissuaded, Mia takes the Death Note when Light turns to look out, much to Light's intense dismay. Confused at first, she realised that Light must have written her name in the book, with her death contingent on her taking the Death Note from him. With both of them doomed, Ryuk causes the Ferris wheel to collapse. Mia falls to her death, while Light and the Death Note fall into the water. The page with Light's name on it drifts into a burn barrel, an event witnessed by L. Though Light is rescued from the water, he has fallen into a coma.

Two days later, a man leaves the Death Note at Light's bedside. When Light wakes up, he finds his father there, who tells him he knows that Light is Kira. James explains that he found a news clipping about Skomal's death in Light's room and realized that he was Kira's first victim. Light explains that he used the Death Note at the school to plan out Mia's death in a way that would ensure his own page got burned if she took the Death Note. He also manipulated several criminals to induce him into a medical coma, having them use the Death Note during his comatose absence to give himself an alibi. With Kira continuing to kill while Light was in a coma, L is taken off the case and forced to return to Japan. As his plane is about to take off, he ponders a comment Light made during their standoff, realizing Mia's involvement, he stops the plane and races to her home to search her possessions. He finds the Death Note page with the names of the FBI agents she killed on it, and in a hysterical fit, contemplates writing a name on the page. Back in Light's hospital room, Ryuk appears, laughing. When Light asks him why he's laughing, he simply comments "You humans are so interesting".


  • Nat Wolff as Light Turner / Kira: A bright yet isolated high-school student who discovers the titular "Death Note" and uses it to kill criminals by writing their names and causes of death, in a bid to change the world into a utopia without crime, and thus, alongside Mia Sutton, becoming the world-famous serial killer known as "Kira", while being both praised and feared by law enforcement agencies and the worldwide media and public.
  • Lakeith Stanfield as L: A near-mythical, highly-intelligent and well-skilled—but also arrogant and slightly unhinged—FBI profiler with a past shrouded in mystery and who is determined to capture "Kira" and end his reign of terror.
  • Margaret Qualley as Mia Sutton: Light's classmate and love interest, who becomes an ally in his mission to rid the world of criminals, eventually seeking to kill those who seek to stop them and becoming dangerously obsessed with the book's power. In an interview with io9, Adam Wingard revealed that rather than being based on original manga character Misa Amane, Sutton as a character is based on the sociopathic qualities of Light Yagami.[2]
  • Shea Whigham as James Turner: Light's father and a veteran Seattle detective, who aids L in finding the mysterious "Kira", unaware that he is his own son.
  • Paul Nakauchi as Watari: L's assistant and foster-father.
  • Jason Liles and Willem Dafoe as Ryuk: A demonic god of death and the original owner of the Death Note, who begins communicating with Light when he receives the book and inquistively observes Light's activities as "Kira". Liles played the character in costume, while Dafoe provided voice work and performance capture for the facial elements.


In 2007, the Malaysian newspaper The Star stated that more than ten film companies in the United States had expressed interest in the Death Note franchise.[3] The American production company Vertigo Entertainment was originally set to develop the remake, with Charley and Vlas Parlapanides as screenwriters and Roy Lee, Doug Davison, Dan Lin, and Brian Witten as producers.[4] On April 30, 2009, Variety reported that Warner Bros., the distributors for the original Japanese live-action films, had acquired the rights for an American remake, with the original screenwriters and producers still attached.[5] In 2009, Zac Efron responded to rumors that he would be playing the film's lead role by stating that the project was "not on the front burner".[6] On January 13, 2011, it was announced that Shane Black had been hired to direct the film, with the script being written by Anthony Bagarozzi and Charles Mondry.[7] Warner's studios planned to change the background story of Light Yagami into one of vengeance instead of justice and to remove Shinigami from the story. Black opposed this change, and it had not been green-lit.[8] Black confirmed in a 2013 interview with Bleeding Cool that he was still working on the film.[9] In July 2014, it was rumored that Gus Van Sant would replace Black as the film's new director, with Dan Lin, Doug Davison, Roy Lee and Brian Witten producing through Vertigo Entertainment, Witten Pictures and Lin Pictures.[10]

On April 27, 2015, The Hollywood Reporter revealed that Adam Wingard would direct the film, that Lin, Lee, Jason Hoffs and Masi Oka would produce, and that Niija Kuykendall and Nik Mavinkurve would oversee the studio.[11] Producers stated the film would receive an R rating.[12] In April 2016, TheWrap reported that because Warner Bros. had decided to make fewer films, the studio put the film into turnaround but allowed Wingard to take the project elsewhere. Within 48 hours, Wingard was reportedly approached by nearly every major film studio.[13] On April 6, 2016, it was confirmed that Netflix had bought the film from Warner Bros. with a budget of $40–50 million and a recent draft of the script being written by Jeremy Slater. Production officially began in British Columbia on June 30, 2016, overseen by DN (Canada) Productions, Inc.[14][15][16][17][18] Atticus Ross and Leopold Ross composed the score for the film.


The cast and crew of Death Note at the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con

On September 29, 2015, Nat Wolff was cast in the lead role.[19] On November 12, 2015, Margaret Qualley joined the film as the female lead.[20] In June 2016, Lakeith Stanfield joined the cast.[21] On June 30, 2016, it was announced that Paul Nakauchi and Shea Whigham had joined the cast.[22] On August 2, 2016, Willem Dafoe was announced to voice the Shinigami Ryuk.[23] In the wake of Dafoe's casting, Brian Drummond, who voiced Ryuk in the English dub of the anime, voiced his approval citing the casting of Ryuk.[24] Oka, one of the film's producers, announced that he also has a role in the film.[25]

Early casting announcements, similar to other Hollywood productions based on Japanese manga such as Dragonball Evolution and Ghost in the Shell, resulted in accusations of whitewashing.[26][27] In response, producers Roy Lee and Dan Lin stated that "Our vision for Death Note has always been to...introduce the world to this dark and mysterious masterpiece. The talent and diversity represented in our cast, writing, and producing teams reflect our belief in staying true to the story's concept of moral relevance—a universal theme that knows no racial boundaries."[18]

Wingard addressed the concerns over the film, explaining that the film is an American take on the Death Note story, stating, "It's one of those things where the harder I tried to stay 100 percent true to the source material, the more it just kind of fell apart... You're in a different country, you're in a different kind of environment, and you're trying to also summarize a sprawling series into a two-hour-long film. For me, it became about; what do these themes mean to modern day America, and how does that affect how we tell the story."[28]


The film was released on Netflix on August 25, 2017. On July 20, 2017, the film was screened early for audiences at San Diego Comic-Con International 2017.


On March 22, 2017, Netflix released a teaser of the film on YouTube.[29] An additional trailer was released on June 29, 2017.

Critical reception[edit]

Death Note received mixed reviews, with critics calling it "a bad decision on top of a festering pile of bad decisions", "a lazy, unambitious, forgettable movie" and "boring",[30][31] though the direction and the cast received praise.[31] On review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 41% based on 59 reviews, and an average rating of 4.7/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Death Note benefits from director Adam Wingard's distinctive eye and a talented cast, but they aren't enough to overcome a fatally overcrowded canvas."[32] On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating to reviews, the film has a score of 43 out of 100, based on 14 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[33]

Jeanette Catsoulis for The New York Times wrote that the film "feels rushed and constricted" compared to the volume of the source material, but praised how Wingard's direction focused on "mood over mayhem" to make the adaptation his own.[34] Peter Debruge for Variety said that he felt that Wingard took the film adaptation towards a Donnie Darko-styled work that would capture the interest of more Western audiences compared to the original work, but made the work capture the feel of a theatrical film rather than a work confined to its original medium. Debruge also wrote that despite the philosophical concepts of murdering via the Death Note, "the movie never quite reckons with just how twisted a concept it’s peddling, and that’s easily the scariest thing about it".[35] Brian Tallerico for gave the film one of four stars, stating that the changes that Wingard had made from the original work did not serve any artistic or thematic purpose, nor captured the cat-and-mouse game between Light and L that was core to the original work, and because the producers "refused to make Light the antihero he needed to be", the addition of Mia as a love interest "[left] the project hollow at its center", but mainly praised the performances of Stanfield and Dafoe.[36]

Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, the original creators of Death Note, have praised the film, with the former stating, "In a good way, it both followed and diverged from the original work so the film can be enjoyed, of course by not only the fans, but also by a much larger and wider audience".[37]

Possible sequel[edit]

In an interview with Heat Vision, director Adam Wingard stated that Netflix has wanted to make at least two films, if enough people watch the first one. He said: "There are definitely lots of places to go, and we know generally where we would take it. Hopefully people will watch it and Netflix will order a sequel. They definitely are ready to. They just need people to watch it."[38]


  1. ^ "Death Note – PowerGrind". The Wrap. Retrieved August 29, 2017. 
  2. ^ Trendacosta, Katharine (August 28, 2017). "Why Netflix's Death Note Is Really an Origin Story and Where a Sequel Could Go". io9. Retrieved September 10, 2017. 
  3. ^ Kitty Sensei (January 14, 2007). "Here're a few hints of the second and concluding part of Death Note the movie, The Last Name". The Star. Archived from the original on August 2, 2009. Retrieved September 1, 2009. 
  4. ^ "Warner Brothers Acquire Live-Action Death Note Rights". Anime News Network. May 1, 2009. Retrieved May 1, 2009. 
  5. ^ Fleming, Michael (April 30, 2009). "Warner brings 'Death' to bigscreen". Variety. Retrieved May 1, 2009. 
  6. ^ Weintraub, Steve (November 22, 2009). "Exclusive Interview: Zac Efron and Richard Linklater on ME AND ORSON WELLES; Plus Zac Addresses DEATH NOTE Rumors". Collider. Retrieved April 10, 2016. 
  7. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr (January 13, 2011). "Warner Bros Taps Shane Black For Japanese Manga 'Death Note'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved January 14, 2011. 
  8. ^ Loo, Egan (November 2, 2011). "Shane Black Describes Changes He Opposed to Warner's Death Note". Anime News Network. Retrieved April 10, 2016. 
  9. ^ Connelly, Brendon (April 24, 2013). "Shane Black On His Death Note And Doc Savage Movies". Bleeding Cool. Retrieved April 10, 2016. 
  10. ^ Whitehead, Donna (July 10, 2014). "{TB EXCLUSIVE} Gus Van Sant Takes Over "Death Note"". The Tracking Board. Retrieved July 10, 2014. 
  11. ^ Kit, Borys (April 27, 2015). "'Guest' Director Adam Wingard Signs On for 'Death Note' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 10, 2016. 
  12. ^ Goldberg, Matt (February 22, 2015). "Exclusive: 'Death Note' Movie Rating and Tone Revealed". Retrieved April 10, 2016. 
  13. ^ Sneider, Jeff (April 6, 2016). "Adam Wingard's 'Death Note' Jumps From Warner Bros. to Netflix (Exclusive)". TheWrap. Retrieved April 10, 2016. 
  14. ^ Kroll, Justin (April 6, 2016). "Netflix Lands Adam Wingard's 'Death Note' Starring Nat Wolff". Variety. Retrieved April 8, 2016. 
  15. ^ "In Production". Creative BC. May 10, 2016. Retrieved May 12, 2016. 
  16. ^ Mirchandani, Amar (June 3, 2016). "Live-Action Manga Movie 'Death Note' Filming in Vancouver". 604 Now. Retrieved June 3, 2016. 
  17. ^ Idea, Nimfa (June 8, 2016). "'Death Note' Live Action Pic: Netflix Set to Kick Off Production in Metro Vancouver This Summer". Movie News Guide. Retrieved June 8, 2016. 
  18. ^ a b Trumbore, Dave (June 30, 2016). "Adam Wingard Shares His Notes on 'Death Note' as Production Begins". Retrieved June 30, 2016. 
  19. ^ White, James (September 29, 2015). "Nat Wolff Finds Death Note | News | Empire". Empire. Retrieved September 29, 2015. 
  20. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr; Hipes, Patrick (November 12, 2015). "'Death Note' Movie Sets Margaret Qualley As Female Lead – Update". Retrieved November 15, 2015. 
  21. ^ Kroll, Justin (June 10, 2016). "'Short Term 12's' Keith Stanfield to Star With Nat Wolff in Netflix's 'Death Note'". Variety. Retrieved June 11, 2016. 
  22. ^ Barkan, Jonathan (June 30, 2016). "Adam Wingard Starts Writing His 'Death Note'". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved 30 June 2016. 
  23. ^ Sneider, Jeff (August 2, 2016). "Willem Dafoe to voice the Shinigami in Netflix's 'Death Note' (Exclusive)". Mashable. Retrieved August 2, 2016. 
  24. ^ Brian Drummond [@BrianDrummondVO] (August 3, 2016). "Sorry to not be playing that apple lovin' Shinigami again, but what a great choice! @WillemDafoe" (Tweet) – via Twitter. 
  25. ^ Abrams, Natalie (November 17, 2016). "Hawaii Five-0: Masi Oka exiting after seven seasons — exclusive". Entertainment Weekly. 
  26. ^ Leon, Melissa (September 30, 2015). "Hollywood's Anime Whitewashing Epidemic: Nat Wolff to Star in 'Death Note'". The Daily Beast. Retrieved April 10, 2016. 
  27. ^ Jaworski, Michelle (November 13, 2015). "'Death Note' whitewashing accusations grow as it casts female lead". The Daily Dot. Retrieved April 10, 2016. 
  28. ^ Sanchez, Miranda (June 29, 2017). "How Netflix's Death Note Alters the Original Story With Its American Setting". IGN. 
  29. ^ Opam, Kwame (March 22, 2017). "Watch the first trailer for Netflix's live-action Death Note movie". The Verge. 
  30. ^ "'Death Note' Reviews Are in, and They're Not Great". Inverse. Retrieved August 26, 2017. 
  31. ^ a b "Death Note - Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved August 26, 2017. 
  32. ^ "Death Note (2017)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 20, 2018. 
  33. ^ "Death Note reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved September 6, 2017. 
  34. ^ Catsoulis, Jeanette (August 24, 2017). "Review: In 'Death Note,' When Danger Calls, Reach for a Notebook". The New York Times. Retrieved August 30, 2017. 
  35. ^ Debruge, Peter (August 24, 2017). "Film Review: Nat Wolff in 'Death Note' on Netflix". Variety. Retrieved August 30, 2017. 
  36. ^ Tallerico, Brian (August 25, 2017). "Death Note". Retrieved August 30, 2017. 
  37. ^ O'Connell, Sean (August 17, 2017). "What The Original Death Note Creators Really Think About The Netflix Remake". Cinema Blend. Retrieved August 18, 2017. 
  38. ^ Couch, Aaron (August 25, 2017). "'Death Note 2': Netflix Sequel Will Happen If People Watch First Movie". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 26, 2017. 

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