Satanic death metal band Detroit Metal City is quickly on its way to super stardom, with lead guitarist and vocalist Johannes Krauser II at the center of the spotlight. Krauser sings of rape and murder, much to the delight of the band’s rabid and loyal fanbase. He is a truly a force to be reckoned with.
But underneath Krauser’s ghost-white face paint and abrasive lyrics lies something unexpected: Soichi Negishi, a shy, unassuming twenty-something who dreams of one day finding success as a trendy pop singer. Negishi, repulsed by DMC and all the band stands for, chooses to keep his alter-ego a secret from everyone. After all, what would his mother or the sweet girl he has a crush on think? Yet while he only finds failure as a pop musician, he has a brilliant knack for crafting menacing death metal tunes, making it all the more difficult to do anything other than embrace his role as Krauser.
Detroit Metal City’s premise is ripe for hilarity, and when accepted at face value the film delivers in spades. The character of Krauser definitely deserves top billing, with his best moments coming when the plot finds a way to insert him into everyday settings, such as an amusement park or a farm. I absolutely love one scene in which Krauser encounters a folksy pop singer in a restroom and asks him to give an impromptu performance, only to begin dancing and providing supportive praise. “Nice tambourine!”
Before being made into a live-action feature film, Detroit Metal City was a manga and anime series. I hadn’t been exposed to either, but I was very curious to see how they stacked up to the movie and I sought them out to make a comparison. All things considered, I was pleasantly surprised to find that director Toshio Lee and Studio Toho did an excellent job of staying true to the source material. While the film obviously lacks the depth of the lengthier manga and anime, it captures the spirit of both, especially in its perfect presentation of Krauser.
Sadly, Detroit Metal City runs out of gas at a few spots, particularly when attempting to portray Negishi’s emotional struggle to accept his role as Krauser. These melodramatic scenes grind the movie to a halt and last far too long. Furthermore, at times Detroit Metal City feels like it borrows a page from Mrs. Doubtfire’s book, with Negishi frantically switching back and forth between being himself and dressing up as Krauser, often getting mixed up in the process. Imagine Fred Flintstone sprinting back and forth between a fancy dinner with his wife and his championship bowling game, yet nowhere near as clever. Thankfully, these low moments don’t bring the entire film down by any means, and it’s worth powering through them so as to reach the electrifying climax.
And speaking of the finale, a word of warning should be made about foul language. An abundance of “f-bombs” are peppered throughout the movie, particularly in the epic closing moments. Since the only language option available on the DVD is Japanese, the use of this particular English curse word stands out all the more. In addition, the band’s crude manager repeatedly states that heavy music makes her “wet.” However, I have a feeling the bad language and sexual humor will probably only increase the movie’s appeal to teens, and the questionable content is likely tamer than what they’ve already been exposed to elsewhere.
When all is said and done, Detroit Metal City is corny, crass, and clichéd. It’s also a lot of fun. Teenage boys, in particular, will appreciate the premise and humor, though the film is enjoyable enough that it should be able to attract a wider audience as well. If you can push past the slower moments of the movie, you may just find yourself joining in on the DMC hysteria as one of Krauser’s most devoted fans.