New Netflix film Death Note arrives on the streaming service tomorrow, but not without controversy. You see, ever since it was first revealed that the on-demand company was remaking the classic Japanese manga series with a US cast, the project has been lambasted for “whitewashing” the story, ie casting largely white actors like Paper Towns star Nat Wolff as what were originally Asian characters.
In this debate Death Note has been lumped in with the likes of Ghost in the Shell and Doctor Strange, two more films that cast white actors (Scarlett Johansson and Tilda Swinton) in previously Asian roles, and overall the debate has slightly overshadowed the release of all three properties.
Now, Death Note director Adam Wingard has addressed the whitewashing criticisms – and he tells RadioTimes.com in an exclusive video interview (below) that he believes most of the furore has come from a misunderstanding.
“I think we just came out at a time when the whole Ghost in the Shell thing was blowing up,” Wingard told us.
“I think even the term whitewashing has kind of lost its meaning, it kind of means something completely different now. But ultimately, you can’t put rules on the way you adapt something, just because it comes from a certain country.”
Going on, Wingard gave examples of other films with a similar background that he felt hadn’t come under such scrutiny, many of which had been worked on by one of his Death Note colleagues.
“One of the producers on it, Roy Lee, he adapted the Ring remake, the Grudge remake and The Departed for the US, all of which are Asian properties brought over to America for a Westernised retelling,” Wingard said.
“And he never had anything like this before come up. So it really is a thing of the moment where it just comes off that way.
“But also I think we kind of got lumped into that a little bit too because there was an early misconception that we were just taking white actors and putting them in the Asian…. making them as Asian parts. But that’s just not the case of what we’re doing.”
Rather, Wingard told us, the appeal of making Death Note was the property’s unusual story (which sees a demon give a schoolboy a magic notebook that allows him to kill anyone he can name) as well as its mishmash of tones and genres, which he cited as an appealing prospect for any director.
“To me it was just an opportunity to be able to do a film that exceeded all genre boundaries,” he said. “It has a little bit of everything, from being like a teenage film, a horror movie, action, drama, suspense, detective story, there’s a musical moment in it.
“So for me as a director it was really a playground for me to be able to explore all different facets of style and tone.”
Whatever the truth, fans will get to make their own minds up when the film becomes available tomorrow – and no matter what happens, we’d say the release is bound to be notable.
Death Note will be available to stream on Netflix from Friday 25th August