Back in 2017, writer Tsugumi Ohba and illustrator Takeshi Obata saw their seminal classic, Death Note, adapted for live-action by Netflix.
The film wasn’t particularly popular or well-received critically either. Netflix received flak for botching the original’s tight pacing and visual language, while several anime and manga fans rested easy, confident that live-action remakes of their favourite franchises were doomed to fail.
You’d think that this brief, uneventful experiment with Death Note would have taught Netflix to stay away from the series. Rather, five years on, the company and its longtime Stranger-Things-collaborators, The Duffer Brothers have announced yet another take on the series, among a few other projects.
In an industry largely shaped by profitability and projected popularity, is opening the Death Note formula — after such a disastrous feature film run — a good idea for Netflix?
For starters, the future project’s showrunners have one of streaming’s greatest hits under their belt with Stranger Things — a similarly left-field series that owing to its supernatural elements and ’80s nostalgia, required plenty of foresight, when it came to balancing its bold visual language, horror elements, and well-loved characters. Death Note also relies on these three cornerstones — layering in great twists and turns between extended mind games, philosophical musings, dark ‘underworlds’, and plenty of inexplicable deaths.
While the 2017 film had a $40M budget to work with, it also suffered from serious pacing issues, resulting in a style-over-substance flick that aimed to compress far too much than it really had the scope for. Consider the original anime for instance— at 19 hours long, it allowed for nearly thirteen times as much room for character development and pacing.
A new full-length show would be able to tell Death Note’s compelling story with much more finesse and breathing room. Most importantly, it would be a show that the twin-brother showrunners would be deeply excited to work on, given that it has a common theme that fits their brand-new company, Upside Down Pictures.
“[We] aim to create the kind of stories that inspired the Duffers growing up — stories that take place at that beautiful crossroads where the ordinary meets the extraordinary, where big spectacle co-exists with intimate character work, where heart wins out over cynicism,” said Netflix in a statement.
The Netflix-isation of Death Note aims to adapt deeply localised source material for audiences around the world. Meanwhile, the bigwigs behind Netflix’s doors have already started to roll the ball in the opposite direction.
Netflix’s regional interests — largely its Spanish, Korean, and Indian branches — have been responsible for scouting and green-lighting dozens of successful shows in the last few years. While early efforts seemed geared towards a more localised audience, Netflix’s international-language content serves as a window into multiple worlds on a global scale, both culturally and contextually.
The result is that shows initially created for certain countries have picked up interest elsewhere in the world, enough for Netflix to consider full-scale remakes with different characters and different spoken languages.
The first of these is Money Heist, the 2017 Spanish hit. While the original follows a very localised plot involving the Spanish Royal Mint, the Korean-set Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area, which released earlier this June, offers a different twist on the same themes.
It follows the same premise and plot of the original, while also incorporating Korean culture and politics by making its protagonist — previously a runaway thief — into a North Korean ex-soldier, among other changes.
We’re yet to see an Indian show get adapted internationally as Netflix India continues to test the waters with new adapted content. Spanish teen-drama-thriller, Elite was slated to be in works for an Indian reboot and Korea’s Squid Game also is currently undergoing the desi treatment.
It’s not too late for creators form the country to put their best foot forward, though. Netflix’s Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos directly addressed this earlier in March, telling producer Siddarth Roy Kapur that he saw great potential for international adaptions of Indian works.
“I think it’s inevitable. Look at projects like ‘Delhi Crime’, [which] just won the International Emmy for best television series, which is phenomenal. I think that is an inevitability given the rich storytelling culture in India and the distribution platform that we can offer that ‘Squid Game’, that ‘Money Heist’ could definitely come from India next.”
(Featured Image Credits: (Netflix)