Death Note is one of the many anime/animations Superman and I used to enjoy on the adult swim site before it was geo-locked (whereby streaming content is blocked to IP addresses accessing websites from outside particular geographical areas – grrrr.) We were barely through the first season of this anime but in Asia has already been treated to two live action films. The first of those live actions is about to be released in over 300 theatres in the states in it’s Asian form, no doubt with dubbed English, and most likely because a third is about to produced, it seems, with American money. The third movie will be directed by Ringu and The Ring Two (and soon to be Three) director Hideo Nakata and so will most likely be too much horror for me but I will be sorely tempted to see if and how they Americanize this one. That the first Death note movies are going to be shown only dubbed suggests to me that there will be limited adjustments, perhaps even that they plan to continue to use the same actors for the two main characters – why else would they introduce them to the american public rather than make the third movie a new origin story as they usually do?
So how is it that Death Note seems, so far, to be escaping the usual Amercanization treatment? I think the plot itself may actually be providing somewhat of an immunity in two main ways.
First, the storyline is based in pagan religion – something I doubt any American Production company would dare bring to American shores, at least not for something they are hoping to make quickly and easily and then reap the fast-horror-bucks. Without giving too much away, the “Death Note” of the title is actually a notebook which is the property of a Japanese Shinigami, or god of death, any human who finds the book and follows the instructions on its use can kill anyone they like, in any manner they like as long as they know their real name to write in the book. The shinigami becomes both visible and bound to whoever is using his book and must stay with that person until their death and so our anti-hero also gains a bizarre, often amusing, confidante of sorts in the form of this pagan god. The shinigami can just be made out as a shadowy shape in the background of this poster to the right – it is he who likes apples 🙂 I’d imagine that this film would be as popular as things such as The Ring and so details would quickly leak out and I can see protests across the very christian and increasingly fundamentalist nation – I would think american actors’ agents would be treating this one with great care.
Of course, the shinigami element could probably be removed (thought the poster above suggests it will not be) and have the book be simply a mystery that just … works – maybe hint at witchcraft or some slightly less controversial supernatural function – but even then you’d have the very delicate matter of the vigilante hero and the complexity with which the story deals with the concept of justice. There is no escaping the fact that the main character is a teenager killing people even if they are convicted criminals. Americans prefer their vigilantes to have superhero complexes (“hey he just fell into that vat of acid when he was lunging to kill me – I didn’t touch him”) and this simply is not possible here. The discussion of the concept of justice is far from black and white there is little hope of Tobey Maguire’s agent allowing him to follow up Spidey with such a role (though I must say I can actually see a younger Di Caprio in either of the lead roles in this case…) The script-doctor in me says that the obvious solution would be to make ‘L’, the mysterious teenage genius to whom the police entrust the hunt of our vigilante, the main character but if that were done it would turnt he film into a simple man hunt and really would not be Death Note anymore.
I guess I’ve disproved my own argument – Death Note is not immune to being stripped bare and americanized at all. Could it be that someone out there just has the guts to leave the guts in this story…? I hope so. Time will tell.