Chad — noun. A white male, usually of American origin, who uses his white privilege to vindicate any and all of his actions. The male version of a Becky.
Netflix’s Death Note, the uh… “film” based on the Japanese anime of the same name, is scalding hot garbage. If I left this on the curb Tuesday night, I’d wake up Wednesday morning to it having been thrown on my doorstep with a hefty fine from the county slapped on my front door. This movie wouldn’t spot you two bucks to pay for parking at the concert after you just paid for dinner. This movie is every Facebook post with “That moment when…” This movie threw up in your sink and Ubered home without telling you. This is one of the most uninspired, tasteless, disrespectful anime adaptations that Hollywood’s ever had the pleasure to shoot out of its ass. And like Trump’s approval rating, the bar for American anime adaptations has never been very high.
The original story is about Light Yagami, a well to-do high school student with a superiority complex who happens upon a supernatural notebook that allows him to kill anyone within his sight by writing their name in it. With the death god Ryuk in his corner, Light seeks to become a deity himself while avoiding capture by the mysterious detective known as L.
Now this Americanized version takes several creative liberties to differentiate it from the Japanese version. One of the glaring changes was making Light a white kid, changing his name from Light Yagami to Light Turner, played by Nat Wolff. Now, they already messed up by whitewashing the character, but it’s par for the course when Hollywood decides to colonize Japanese properties. To be honest, I actually would have been fine with Light having his skin match his first name if the actor could actually embody the character properly. But the stalking, shrieking, tantrum-throwing Twitter egg in a wig they tried to pass off as Light Yagami made me physically ill. “Chad” Yagami was the complete opposite of the cold, calculating, unassuming killer we all know and love.
The OG Light was a star student that no one really paid any mind because he was so squeaky clean. He wasn’t bullied or praised to a large amount; his public persona was pretty neutral. His problem was that his life was too perfect, and he grew tired of the repetitiveness of his high school existence. He wanted to have the power to change the world but felt like his human limitations kept from doing so until Ryuk just so happened to drop the Death Note nearby, and he was curious enough to pick it up and use it. This was the story of a more than competent human being given the power of a God purely by chance, and what they’d do if they had the chance to act on their innermost thoughts.
Chad Yagami was nothing like the original. Now an adaptation that deviates from the source material is not inherently bad, but if you’re going to take a key character component out then dammit, you had better put something of equal or greater substance in. That is why I am taking the hammer to this film’s temple. Chad Yagami is a whiny little piss ant who slinks around his school as an outcast with no real reason other than the girl he likes won’t give him the time of day. Had they kicked that sentiment up to 10, he could’ve been giving us domestic terrorist vibes, but the film has him thinking way too small. Before he uses the Death Note, he sees a kid being bullied in front of him and only steps in because the girl he has a crush on confronts the bully first and puts herself in danger. When he starts using the book, one of the first things he does is reveal its power to her to get her attention. OG Light wants to rid the world of evil, Chad does it as long as it gets him some.
But seriously, what is up with Chad just whipping out the book in front of that girl as if supernaturally killing someone is just a cool party trick? Add to that scene the fact that she didn’t even flinch when he showed her that he can kill people just by writing their names down makes for a head-scratching setup. There’s little to no internal conflict between either of these characters, and yet we’re forced to spend most of the film watching them supposedly “bond” over this book. We don’t know much about the girl’s character other than that she’s a cheerleader who smokes and will defend the little guy, but not to the extent of her believing that people who are perceived as evil should be executed with no questions asked. Chad doesn’t even show any initial remorse after killing his first person like Light did.
Yes, the character of Light is someone that believes certain people should be gathered up and executed, but the majority of people are not raised with that mindset. The world is not Texas. The reason we buy Light’s motivation is because he slowly convinces himself that his actions are vindicated. He already sees himself as a higher being than his less intelligent peers, so when he receives the power to choose which of them dies, it makes sense that he comes to this conclusion. In the hands of Chad Yagami, the Death Note might as well be a copy of GTA V with the way he kills people without a second thought.
I’m gonna take a break from getting all up in Chad’s pasty ass to give props to two parts of this movie that actually worked. The strange but brilliant L, played by Lakeith Stanfield was done very well. My guy had the voice, the mannerisms and the constant snacking down pat. I love the fact that he wore all black because black people in all black always looks raw AF, and that he kept himself concealed in public to up his creep factor. He’s supposed to throw you off. Willem Dafoe as Ryuk was also very well done. He put on his best Green Goblin voice and delivered line after sinister line, and Chad’s awful over-the-top screaming during his first scene made his appearance that much better.
But L and Ryuk alone could not save this movie.
I don’t even know if I can call Netflix’s Death Note a movie because it felt like something that was supposed to be a 10-episode series that was crammed into 1 hour and 40 minutes of underdeveloped plot points. But the thing is, the way Chad Yagami was acting had me relieved I didn’t have to suffer through 10 hours of him staring at the chainsmoker cheerleader, jumping 10 feet every time Ryuk shows up (Light did it once and straightened up quick cuz he a G), and basically being a human manifestation of an angry white boy subreddit.
Some people are saying to cut the director some slack for taking the story in his own direction, but this is the FIFTH American anime adaptation since 2008 to fall on its face because it takes part in the long standing tradition of using white dudes for roles originally meant for Asian men. This phenomenon known as Yellowface perpetuates a false assumption that white people are better actors, and reduces opportunities for Asian actors to have their talents recognized. Death Note didn’t have to make a white version of Light; according to Death Note canon, more than one Death Note exists in the world so they could have just created a new character. Or, they could have just made Light Japanese-American because y’know… they exist. Casting a white person instead of finding an Asian was uninspired and lazy, and director Adam Wingard could have done a lot better.
So I don’t wanna hear it. I understand that adaptations are not going to match every single detail of the original, but if you’re gonna make changes that make the story worse just for the sake of being different, then why bother? Death Note is the last of all the straws. Americans are banned from doing live-action films based on beloved anime shows. They’ve shown time and time again that they don’t have the range, and I refuse to support these “good tries” any longer. My heart just can’t take it.
Author: Lorenzo Simpson
Editor: Trianna Nguyen
Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a med student tuned Executive Director of Off Colour!
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From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.