Japanese Title: デトロイト メタル シテイ
Romaji: Detoroito Metaru Shiti
Release Date: August 23rd, 2008 (Japan)
Running Time: 104 mins.
Director: Toshio Lee
Writer: Mika Omori (Screenplay), Kiminori Wakasugi (Manga)
Starring: Kenichi Matsuyama, Rosa Kato, Yasuko Matsuyuki, Yoshihiko Hosoda, Ryuji Akiyama, Kazuma Suzuki, Ryo Kato, Yoshiko Miyazaki, Minami, Kaera Kimura, Rumi Hiragi, Yoshinori Okada, Gene Simmons
Meet Soichiro Negishi. He hails from a farm in rural Inukai, Oita prefecture and he is leaving home for the first time to go to Tokyo University. His dream as he states it is to “live in a fashionable apartment in Tokyo, live a fashionable life. Above all I want to be a fashionable musician.”
He really loves fluffy J-Pop and he has songs like Raspberry Kiss (unfashionable and incredibly cheesy). While at university he meets and falls in love with the angelically beautiful and nice Yuri Aikawa, a girl who also loves his twee pop music and she forms a small circle of friends who encourage Negishi to display his musical talents.
“No music no dream!” is his rallying cry and with a CD of his work he walks into the office of Death Records…
Fast forward some time and Negishi is now known as Johannes Krauser II, lead singer of Detroit Metal City (DMC), a death metal band who look like KISS and perform songs about rape and murder at a seedy club called Hell’s Gate. His band-mates are Masayuki Wada aka Alexander Jagi (Hosoda) on bass, and Terumichi Nishida aka Camus (Akiyama) the drummer.
The three are an up-and-coming band with a dedicated following and a demonic manager (Matsuyuki) who has a plan to make them the biggest death metal group in Japan. Sounds great but Negishi is absolutely miserable. Making death metal goes against his J-Pop desires which he cultivates in secret to little love from the public. As a result he leads a double-life as Krauser and the J-Pop loving Negishi, a double-life that gets a lot more complicated when he reunites with Aikawa who actually writes his favourite articles in a music magazine and hates DMC and the music they play. Negishi finds that Aikawa might still be interested in him which means he has to hide his day-job from her.
When infamous death metal artist Jack Il Dark (Simmons) announces a retirement tour DMC’s manager scents a great chance to boost the band’s fame to global levels so she sets up DMC for a battle with Jack. Can Negishi balance his double-life and dreams of pursuing Aikawa and J-Pop?
Detroit Metal City is based on the best-selling manga created by Kiminori Wakasugi. Despite the DMC boys performing death metal with lyrics exhorting people to murder and rape I found the film cheerful and heart-warming with a message about pursuing your dream even if it goes in odd directions. It is hardly an original story but the way it is dressed and the way the actors throw themselves into the action is what makes it entertaining.
The simple script, performances, costumes and film sets all combine well to allow the actors to inhabit their roles. When we first meet Soichiro, or Sou as his mother calls him, he heads to a train station holding his mother’s hand, carrying guitar case and sporting a mushroom haircut. What shines from the get go is that he has nothing but vague ambitions and a good nature. He is hardly a force to be reckoned and as the film progresses we see him struggling. It is only when he meets his manager, a woman with a hard-core passion for death metal who is simply a wardrobe change from being a dominatrix, that he finds his path. Not that Soichiro can see it but he has to face up to the idea that he has to integrate his desires into a wider environment to succeed.
When he does follow her guidance he finds himself dressed up like a member of Kiss complete with black leather costume, blonde wig and fierce face-paint. It is then that he gets the guts to challenge the world and everybody takes notice. With the details all laid out perfectly the film then milks the hell out of this very funny split between Soichiro’s desires (fluffy J-Pop) and what he’s good at (satanic death metal) and gives us the music and performances to match it. This split also serves as the face of a smart commentary on the highly orchestrated and manufactured nature of Japanese pop music where artists are made to fit an image to maintain their audience by management.
Soichiro changing his persona to become Krauser holds a universal message. While we may want to be ourselves it is hard to do and we may have to change to find a way to do it and achieve success in the public realm. As his mother makes clear sometimes this change is for the good of others. It is displayed when we see the DMC boys perform and their legion of head-banging fans in wide-angle shots and sweeping pans that show Soichiro’s dream may not be the exact one he wanted but it is still good and has inspired others.
Whatever the case, the film is funny and it is down to the performances. Matsuyama inhabits the dual roles of Krauser and Negishi. The two are totally different (way different from his turn in Norwegian Wood). As Negishi he wears tight fitting, pastel coloured clothes and has an awkward posture and goofy grin. Matsuyama’s physical performance approximates that of a hyper 12 year old girl from an anime as he jumps on beds and springs from despair to hope flailing about ineffectually. It is genuinely charming and innocent and I could not help but laugh.
There is great situation comedy involving the Krauser/Soichiro act and costumes and how people react to them such as a theme park audience full of kids who see Soichiro in full Krauser mode as he rips apart a Power Rangers display and is ready to split apart a rival in love! The direction has excellent timing, cutting to horrified reactions at just the right moments and displaying actors at their best. I loved the intense close-up where Soichiro as Krauser growls “The strongest energy to produce music isn’t love. Revenge. Hate.”
Matsuyuki is magnificent as a demon manager who puts out cigarettes on her tongue and has an evil cackle. She is sexy as hell as she trashes everything in her path and judges music by how wet she gets but what seems like impulsive and destructive behaviour is actually calculated to get people fired up and moving in the right direction. Tough love. I found it kind of sexy which is worrying…
DMC never takes itself seriously and as a result it is enjoyable. The fact that it finds time to have a heart-warming family get together which allows the theme of following dreams to be explicitly stated does nothing to hamper events. Indeed it made me like the film all the more. That written, the film gets it right when it finds and sustains the comedy in contrasting the world of Krauser and Soichiro. With its direction and a charming lead performance from Kenichi Matsuyama and the rest of the cast I can recommend viewing this as a fun and thoughtful way to spend a night.
I did this as part of a double review with Novroz over at Boku no Sekai. Her great review agrees with mine in its praise of the message carried in the film and Kenichi Matsuyama’s acting. I loved his performance in this and I am becoming more of a fan of his by the film. She also highlights two extremely funny scenes I didn’t mention the memory of which had me chuckling. This is not the first time we have done a double review, our first was The Twilight Samurai. I had fun again (watching Japanese films is always fun) and I can’t wait for the next review.