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The terrifying relevance of ‘Death Note’

Light Turner finds himself pursued by a famous detective known as L.

Help her,” exclaims the eight-foot-tall spiky creature whose fiendishly fiery eyes are the only things visible in the shadows he hides in.

Light, the high school brooder who chances upon the leather-bound notebook while exchanging longing glances with the cheerleader he knows he can never have a chance to date, only needs to write down the name of the bully whom he sees from the window of the detention hall harassing another student in his peculiar notebook. He knows the consequences of writing the name: The name’s owner will die in the manner of Light’s choosing, which he also needs to write. Despite that knowledge, he still writes the name, and interestingly, he chooses decapitation. In an ingeniously spectacular sequence that is reminiscent of the many freak deaths that made Final Destination and its sequels so irresistibly enjoyable despite the repetition of the formula, the bully is viciously decapitated by a speeding ladder that falls from a truck. The death and its morbid consequences are all in the name of Light’s desire to help.

Adam Wingard’s adaptation of Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s 12-volume manga is a misshapen piece of work.

Death Note is now available to watch on Netflix.

His film does many things at once, from relocating the entire plot from Japan to Seattle to cherry-picking from the narrative the many key sequences that hold the lengthy original material together amid the basic conceit of a rules-laden notebook that grants its wielder the power to anonymously kill. While Wingard’s version is undoubtedly a clunky mess, it is still very clear what it wants to echo from manga and the hugely popular Japanese anime that it spawned. The film is obviously not interested in the suspenseful battle of wits between Light and L, which Wingard and his team of writers reduce to a series of uninspired expositions and conversations.

What Wingard is more interested in is the material’s portrayal of the complexities of both good and evil. He turns the original Light from the almost perfect wielder of god-like powers to a kid whose above-average mental prowess is countered by his susceptibility to the emotional upheavals of any other teenager. This Death Note is less an intellectual affair that delves into the mindsets of people gifted with both human and supernatural powers who are engaging each other in a game of cat-and-mouse, and more a character study of a morally confused do-gooder and his efforts to be the lesser evil in a world his simplistic perspective believes is ridden with monsters deserving of death. This film is almost a love story with its desire to include a romantic angle that will inevitably cloud Light’s decisions and introduce to his power-wielding another mind that is less conscientious and more self-serving than his. In a way, Wingard’s version, despite its glaring faults and issues, is closer to this world, since its conflicted protagonist feels like he can be any one of us.

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In a way, this most recent reiteration of Death Note feels like a morbid parable that strives to present the inexplicable quandary that our world is being divided by the fact that there are so many evils and so little goodness to choose from.

We live in a world where the power to decide the fates of millions lies in the hands of very few. Some are overwhelmingly elected into power. Some are born into it. Some grab it forcefully. Some have appearances of propriety and control. Some wield their power with immature boorishness, directing people with insensitivity and expletives that add spectacle to policies that dangerously cross the borders of what is ethical and, more importantly, what is human.

It is not entirely difficult to imagine these leaders being egged on by demons to write their morally questionable directives with the same word that convinced Light to commit his first murder: “Help.”

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