As soon as the “Death Note” movie was announced, controversy came with it.
The Netflix original film drew early ire for relocating the Japan-set story to the United States and casting a largely white group of actors in the main roles. Whitewashing claims have dogged the picture ever since, so it’s no surprise that director Adam Wingard was eager to show the film to fans.
“This has been a long time coming,” Wingard said, speaking before a secret screening of “Death Note” at Comic-Con Thursday night. “I’ve been on this film for a better part of two years. This is a film that’s had a lot of assumptions and expectations built on it, and the best thing we can do at this point is just show you the goddamn movie. I think we’re very proud of the film.”
Reaction in the room was moderate, considering the setting. Cheers and applause greeted the cast and crew when they took the stage, and the film sparked intermittent laughter throughout. The ending, while rather abrupt, was met with sparse clapping that built into modest applause, giving the impression the crowd was nonplussed.
Per Netflix’s official synopsis, “‘Death Note’ follows a high school student who comes across a supernatural notebook, realizing it holds within it a great power; if the owner inscribes someone’s name into it while picturing their face, he or she will die. Intoxicated with his new godlike abilities, the young man begins to kill those he deems unworthy of life.”
Before the premiere, producer and former “Heroes” actor Masi Oka made sure to tell the crowd that creators Tsugumi Ohba, who wrote the original manga, and Takeshi Obata, who drew the illustrations, approved of the film.
“The greatest moment for me was going to Japan and showing the film to the senseis,” Oka said. “We had a private screening for the senseis, and when the senseis came out and said, ‘Thank you. We love the film,’ it brought a tear to my eye.”
“Having the senseis be proud of the film, it made me proud and will hopefully make the fans proud, as well,” Oka said.
Star Nat Wolff also noted how important the original “Death Note” was to the production, though he kept his statement open-ended enough to allow for changes.
“We all were huge fans of the source material, and we tried to honor it as much as possible,” Wolff said. “But we tried to do something original with it and with a different take on it.”
Earlier in the day, Wolff, Oka, Wingard, Margaret Qualley, Lakeith Stanfield, and producer Roy Lee took part in a Netflix panel that screened limited footage of “Death Note.” The only major talent not to appear was Willem Dafoe, who voices Ryuk, the supernatural spirit who distributes the murderous notebook.
“For us, it was an opportunity to take something with a great premise and to breath new life into it,” Wingard said on the panel. “It allowed me to do something that wasn’t pinned down by one genre — it encapsulates all genres. In a lot of ways, it’s the ultimate genre mash-up.”
“The fact that there hasn’t been a satisfying Manga adaptation made in the U.S. is why we wanted to do it,” he said.
To prepare for the role, Wolff said that he created his own “death note” notebook to see how he personally would handle the situation. “I thought, there’s no way I’m going to think of any names. But as soon as I made it, names were just flying out of my pen.”
While the film may encapsulate many genres, horror is definitely a prominent one, which led one fan to ask the panel who scared them. Wingard’s politicized answer: “The President of the United States.”
“Can’t top that,” Oka said.
Reviews of the film were embargoed out of the screening, but reporting that Willem Dafoe makes for a downright adorable angel of death was not expressly forbidden.
“Death Note” premieres on Netflix August 25.