Detroit Metal City / Detoroito Metaru Shiti
d.  Toshio Lee / Japan / 2008 / 104 mins
Viewed at: A3.03 @ UEA (Norwich, UK)

The two faces of Ken'ichi in Detroit Metal City

Like an extreme version of the Hannah Montana franchise, Detroit Metal City wears its satirical heart on its satanic sleeve. Country boy moves to the big city with dreams of becoming the next cutesy indie-pop sensation, only to become the lead bad-boy in a cult death metal band.

Trapped between two personalities – Soichi Negishi (the ultra polite, gentle popstar wannabe) and Johannes Krauser II (the foul-mouthed, misogynistic hellhound that fronts the titular death metal combo) – this is classic dual personality guff, made all the funnier by a ridiculously excellent performance from Ken’ichi Matsuyama – he of the Death Note films, and star of an upcoming adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s brilliant novel Norwegian Wood.

There is, of course, a sizable nod to KISS here. DMC borrow plenty of their make-up and mannerisms from Gene Simmons and Co. (although makeup is also a hallmark of the death metal scene itself), and the film’s title is adapted from that of KISS’s 1976 track Detroit Rock City. And that’s without even mentioning Simmons himself, who takes up a cameo role as the American hard-rock elder-statesman Jack Il Dark.

Aside from the KISS links, there is more than a hint of This is Spinal Tap (1984) in Detroit Metal City, as well as a hefty dose of Richard Lester’s classic Beatles film A Hard Days Night (1964), particularly in a late scene where Krauser jogs to his gig followed by a massive hoarde of teenage fans. There are also, however, shades of more generalist music films, particularly School of Rock (2003), in which the musical stage becomes a transformative space, blurring the boundaries between the ‘ordinary’ and the ‘extraordinary’ personas of its main character/s.

The downfall of many music-based dramas, Detroit Metal City works, I think, precisely because of its innate ability to nail the various musical styles it sets out to parody, whilst heightening their respective excesses (of fashion, style, lyrical content etc) to ridiculous, and ridiculously amusing, levels.

It’s not a faultless film, by any means, it threatens to boil over into dangerously unfunny pastiche/farce territory a few times, and it never seems to want to settle on an conclusion (perhaps a symptom of its origins in a long-running manga series), but it is undeniably enjoyable and Matsuyama’s central performance simply has to be seen to be believed.


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