Death Note

Death Note ★★

Adapting “Death Note” into a feature-length American movie was always a colossally bad idea — Tsugumi Ohba’s manga ran 108 chapters, and there’s a good reason why the only decent riff on the original was an anime series that ran for 19 hours — so neglecting to include any Japanese-American actors among the top-billed members of the cast just made things that much worse. It was a bad decision on top of a festering pile of bad decisions, but it was also the kind of mistake that reveals the wrongheadedness of an entire project.

Whitewashing is never a purely aesthetic act; it’s always an indication of a deeper rot. In this case, it pointed towards an inability or unwillingness to meaningfully engage with the source material. The only reason to take such a uniquely Japanese story and transplant it to Seattle is to explore how its thorny moral questions might inspire different answers in an American context, so for this retread to all but reduce America to its whiteness indicates an absence of context more than anything else. It’s the most glaring symptom of a film that utterly fails to investigate its premise, a film that wastes a handful of goofy performances and a gluttonous degree of hyper-violence in the service of a total dead end. Why go through all the trouble of setting “Death Note” in America if you’re not going to set it in the real one?