Friday, August 21, 2009

NY-Tokyo: Detroit Metal City

It is a clash between ultra-cute Hello Kitty-venerating J-Pop and satanic death metal. May the best musical sub-genre win. The prize in this case is the soul of a want-to-be pop idol in Toshio Lee’s Detroit Metal City (trailer here), which had its New York premiere last night as part of New York-Tokyo’s regular Nippon Eiga film series.

Souichi Negishi always wanted to be a “trendy” pop star, singing syrupy sweet love ditties. Instead, through the perversities of fate, he finds himself assuming the persona of the demonic Johannes Krauser II to front a hardcore metal band, Detroit Metal City (DMC). Repulsed by their violent satanic lyrics and intimidated by his leather-clad dragon lady “Boss,” Negishi is profoundly uncomfortable with his DMC gig. However, the band seems to be catching on, since Negishi keeps delivering the wild heavy metal goods on-stage, usually through an accident involving slapstick physical humor.

Suddenly, some cuteness returns to Negishi’s life when he encounters Yuri Aikawa, his old college crush, now a writer for a “trendy” pop magazine. Of course, he inadvertently does everything possible to sabotage her unlikely romantic interest. Adding further anxiety for the broken hearted loser is an upcoming battle of the bands with Jack Il Death, the reigning American king of death metal on his farewell world tour.

To be blunt, Kenichi Matsuyama induces such cringing as the overly sensitive Negishi, it is nearly impossible to take a rooting interest in his pathetic plights. However, DMC deserves credit for going for broke in its metal scenes. The band’s lyrics are fearlessly over-the-top and their KISS-inspired makeup and costumes are hilariously spot-on. Lending further metal cred, KISS’s own Gene Simmons appears as the sinister Jack. Yet, DMC’s true highlights all involve Yasuko Matsuyuki’s outrageous turn as the scary but striking Boss. Whether terrorizing the emasculated Negishi or extinguishing lit cigarettes on her tongue, she has perfect comic timing and an intense screen presence.

Based on a popular manga series which Viz only recently started publishing in America, DMC has some inspired moments of metal madness. Unfortunately, Matsuyama’s Jekyll and Hyde act is too extreme, inspiring little sympathy from the audience. Still, Lee maintains an impressive energy level and you have to dig those manga-inspired opening credits. If prefer broad physical comedy to dry wit and speed metal over sophisticated jazz, DMC is your cup of dark satanic tea, but non-fanboys may find it more difficult to relate to. Expect more screening opportunities if the manga starts to catch on with American audiences.