What if you had the power to kill anyone you wanted, simply by writing their name on a piece of paper? You'd essentially have the power of a god, choosing -- in an instant -- who lives, and who falls before your newfound might. Would you use that power for good... or for evil? This question lies at the heart of Death Note, a classic Japanese manga story originally created by writer Tsugumi Ohba and illustrator Takeshi Obata. The Death Note story has been faithfully adapted in multiple formats since first debuting in 2003, from live-action interpretations to an extremely popular anime series. And later this summer, horror master Adam Wingard (The Guest, You're Next) will bring his fresh take on the material to Netflix.
Earlier this year, CinemaBlend flew to Vancouver to watch Wingard and his cast -- including stars Nat Wolff and Margaret Qualley -- shoot scenes from Netflix's original thriller Death Note. After that process, where we toured sets and examined props, we broke down Wingard's approach to the story, which he knows is beloved by fans around the globe. The director tells us:
For us, this felt like an opportunity to take something that was familiar and to do something new with it. ... [And] because we were taking something that is very Japanese and moving it over to a different country, we realized that not only were there changes that needed to be made, but ultimately, it was a chance to take a new approach to something that you have seen before. And that's what we did.
One of the biggest changes made to Death Note is the setting. The action had shifted to America before Adam Wingard even signed on to the project, as the producers were intending to make a Western version of the classic Japanese tale without replicating any of the previous takes. The original script was set in Chicago, though Wingard told me he moved it to Seattle to achieve a dreary, gritty, rainy kid of atmosphere.
While character backstories shifted and fluctuated to fit this new narrative, the plot of basically the same. The Death Note is an ancient and mystical notebook handed down to strangers over the course of generations. The book has been in the hands of major historical figures over the years, from Napoleon to the vikings. As this story starts, the mischievous Shinigami spirit Ryuk (Willem Dafoe) drops the book into the hands of Light (Nat Wolff), to see how a bored an indifferent high schooler uses this unlimited power.
Adam Wingard was with Death Note when it initially was set up at Warner Bros. He explains that they knew the story had to be rated R from the get-go, and admits that the major studio potentially got cold feet about the material as they got closer to production. A movie about teenage kids using a supernatural notebook to kill a bunch of people tends to do that. Wingard told us that he started to hear rumors about possible budget cuts on the project, or a push to make Death Note PG-13 -- both of which would have been incredibly damaging for his vision. Wingard admits he thought the movie was dead in the water. But in a case of being at the right place at the right time, Netflix stepped in, looking for movies that have a mainstream appeal, that don't do it in a mainstream sort of way. Wingard told us:
That's really the key. We're doing a movie that could play in theaters, but it's doing things that you don't conventionally see in theaters.
Death Note is preparing a big, splashy Hall H panel at San Diego Comic-Con on Thursday, where Netflix will show off the first real footage from the upcoming movie. The latest trailer is here:
We will have plenty more exclusives from our Death Note set visit hitting CinemaBlend this week, and we'll he in Hall H on Thursday to report back what we learn in San Diego. And you will be able to see Death Note when it starts streaming on Netflix on August 25.