Death Note

This week we venture off the beaten path of Hollywood blockbusters and take a listen to the trailer for Netflix’s upcoming feature length film: Death Note. The movie is based on the Japanese manga series by Tsugumi Ohba, which has amassed a passionate fandom who, rightfully, have high expectations. At least from what we see and hear from the trailer, the adaptation’s blend of dark music and surreal colours flavours the unique cinematic aesthetic required to pull off the enigmatic Death Note.

The trailer opens with pathetic fallacy. Grey textures accompany the pitter-patter of steady rainfall as protagonist Light Turner is knocked unconscious in an effort to stop a mugging. Piano breaks the misery at 0:24 when a leather-bound journal falls from the sky. Here, the music is not to be mistaken as hopeful, but rather, as a break in the cycle of hopelessness, replaced instead with ominous potential. As the piano slowly plays through its four-chord progression, Turner opens the book and discovers that it gives him the power to warrant the death of whomever he chooses.

Emerging from the music, a distorted female voice sings “’Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony this life.” From the characters’ perspectives, truer words have never been spoken. The song is a slowed down cover of The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony,” though the name of the performing artist remains a mystery. The singer’s heavily filtered voice comes in at 0:31, complementing the first appearance of Ryuk, a death god. The omnipotent evil presence is voice-acted by the imminently recognizable Willem Dafoe, whose performance is reminiscent of his Green Goblin days. Ryuk’s sinister laugh serves as the character’s leitmotif, reoccurring three times throughout trailer.

The music immediately ramps up in dynamics and instrumentation. Epic strings, synths, and percussion highjack the music, playing disjunct instrumental excerpts so sharp in their attack that they feel as though they have been cut from a more complete recording. The music cuts abruptly and is replaced with a delicate high-pitched piano melody, which digresses into ringing sounds processed through a reverse effect. The lyrics, though faint and almost indistinguishable, sing “million different people from one day to the next, I can’t change.” The trailer sets splashes of neon fluorescents to darkness overtop a modern remixing of a classic song with unexpected intensity and thematic resonance.


– Andrew Sproule