The Hollywood Reporter announced on April 27th that Warner Bros. has hired director Adam Wingard to direct the American adaptation of DEATH NOTE, a popular Japanese manga written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata. Horror fans are probably best acquainted with Adam Wingard as the director of films such as THE GUEST and YOU’RE NEXT, and from segments of the horror anthology films V/H/S and THE ABCS OF DEATH. Wingard is also signed on to direct Lionsgate’s THE WOODS, which is scheduled to begin filming this summer. Roy Lee, Dan Lin, Jason Hoffs, and Masi Oka are all signed on to produce the DEATH NOTE adaptation. Previously signed on to direct was Shane Black, and as of right now it is unknown if he will still be involved in the film’s production, and if so to what capacity. Doug Davison and Brian Witten are acting as executive producers on the project, while Niija Kuykendall and Nik Mavinkurve are overseeing for the studio.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Death Note centers around the story of Light Yagami, a brilliant high school student who comes across a mysterious notebook called the Death Note. Inside the book are a list of instructions for how to use the book, stating that the book can allow you to kill anyone simply by knowing their name and face. Light is skeptical at first, but after discovering that the book does indeed have this power, he decides to use the Death Note to rid the world of those he deems as evil. Eventually, Light’s series of murders attracts the attention of the reclusive detective known as L, and the two engage in a battle of wits to try and catch the other in the name of justice.
The series has experience an enormous amount of popularity since its original publication in 2003 and is considered to be one of the most mainstream manga and anime series here in America, having been adapted into an animated series, a series of light novels, video games, several live action Japanese films, and even an upcoming musical (as an editorial note, I cannot tell you how excited I am for the musical, as I believe in the notion that adding “The Musical” to anything instantly makes it better. I may very well be listening to the leaked demos on Youtube as I write this).
While this announcement seems to be promising news for both horror and DEATH NOTE fans alike, in my opinion it’s still very early in the production process to get excited. Wingard’s work itself is considered hit or miss with horror fans; while YOU’RE NEXT is considered by many one of the most entertaining horror comedies to come out in recent years, Wingard’s segment in V/H/S is considered to be one of the one of the weaker segments in the film. In addition to this, Jeremy Slater, the screenwriter for the new FANTASTIC FOUR film and the co-writer of THE LAZARUS EFFECT, wrote the most recent draft of the DEATH NOTE script. Though the FANTASTIC FOUR has yet to be released, the lackluster execution of THE LAZARUS EFFECT doesn’t exactly inspire confidence when it comes to adapting the complex and suspenseful storyline of the long-running series into a 90-minute film. Another concern from fans of the series is the history of whitewashing when it comes to American adaptations of Japanese manga and anime. One example of this was the Warner Bros’ 2014 film EDGE OF TOMORROW, an adaptation of the Japanese manga ALL YOU NEED IS KILL, which cast Tom Cruise as the lead, changing the main character Keiji Kiriya to William Cage to reflect this choice. This isn’t to say that Tom Cruise gave a bad performance, in fact far from it; merely that it shows a pattern in Hollywood casting choices when making adaptations for an American audience. However, despite this casting choice and the film’s underperformance at the box office, the film itself was generally well received by critics and audiences alike, showing that a great deal of care was given when creating the adaptation itself. While there are several American characters that are prominent in the DEATH NOTE series, the majority of the characters are Japanese and several characters are creatures known as Shinigami, which stem from Japanese lore, so representing all these characters properly could potentially be a point of controversy for fans. Still, no casting announcements have been made, so it’s entirely possible that the production team will want their casting choices to adhere to the original series.
What are your thoughts on the DEATH NOTE news? Do you think Wingard and Slater can do the series justice, or do you think Hollywood should close the book on this one? Be sure to let us know @TheMovieChickk!
~ Megan Salinas
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