Detroit Metal City follows the rise of DMC aka Detroit Metal City, a death metal band fronted by Johannes Krauser II. He spews songs of hate, murder, rape, filth and depravity. DMC’s army of fans chant the lyrics ritualistically, believing Krauser is the true god of evil, who spends his time raping ten women in one minute, ingesting any available drugs, and killing his friends and family. But behind all the make-up and demon armour hides Soichi Negishi, a timid country boy with a mushroom hair cut who has aspirations of becoming a trendy pop star, singing songs that inspire people to dream, and living a happy life in Tokyo. Ashamed of what he has become, and refusing to accept that he is actually good at it, he hides his true identity from his family, friends, and the girl he loves, Yuri Aikawa, a writer for a music magazine who despises DMC and all things death metal, and who is also being wooed by a local designer. As Negishi struggles to maintain some normalcy in his life, DMC’s foul-mouthed manager sends them on a destructive spree of national battle of the bands events, hoping to finally challenge Jack ill Dark, the reigning Demon God of rock.
In the 1980’s, Takeshi Kitano was hard at work making Japanese audiences laugh. Granted from time to time he still does, but those early years saw Kitano and his comedic genius in its prime. Or was it really his comedic genius? There was a man, the man behind the man so to speak, who helped create some of the absurdist humour that we know only too well from that period. That man, Toshio Lee, finally made his leap into motion pictures almost two decades later. But could Toshio Lee, a man known for such insane comedic humour, translate his particular form of comedy to the silver screen? And could he take an incredibly popular manga, and please its legion of fans and newcomers alike?
Detroit Metal City is based on a rather simple idea and, in the wrong director’s hands, could have quickly become a redundant and repetitive film, spoofing contemporary pop culture and the death metal music scene. But in Lee’s hands, the film becomes an inspired piece of mad cap cinema. Structured similar to a comedy variety show, something Lee is obviously familiar with, DMC is built around a series of utterly insane comedic set pieces, the climax of which is a showdown between Jack and Krauser. The always egotistical Gene Simmons plays Krauer, who travels with a demon bull and plays an electric guitar designed by Yoshihiro Nishimura, the special effects genius behind Tokyo Gore Police (2008). Needless to say, even if the climax did not feature a plethora of explosions every time Gene Simmons moved his lips, it would still be a sight not soon forgotten.
Because Detroit Metal City is structured in a format that Lee is so familiar with, it still manages to flow beautifully, behaving less than a series of set pieces and more like a unified film. It also helps that he brings more to the film than just his comedic sensibility, instilling it with a message, albeit a cheesy one, about inspiring people to dream. This, along with Ken’ichi Matsuyama’s performance, helps ground the film, and gives it cohesion and unity. However, it is Ken’ichi Matsuyama’s performance that is the real heart of the film. Not only does he switch with such ease between the vile, foul-mouthed Krauser and the socially awkward Negishi, sometimes in the same scene, but he is a master of physical comedy, and you will not laugh harder than when seeing Negishi run, dance or play the guitar.