TIFF Review: DETROIT METAL CITY
Sometimes the ridiculous can be truly sublime but surprisingly rare is the film that manages to latch on to a particularly silly concept and work it to its potential without pounding it to oblivion in the process. Toshio Lee’s Detroit Metal City? Brilliantly silly concept definitely in place, no doubt there. And there’s also no doubt as far as Lee’s ability to work his concept to their absolute maximum effect. This is glorious, absurd perfection.
Kenichi Matsuyama is Souichi an awkward, clumsy, gentle country boy on his way to the big city of Tokyo both to pursue his dreams, dreams of pursuing a ‘trendy’ lifestyle and making it big as a pop musician, playing his sweetly naïve, saccharine sweet songs. The idea of Souichi ever being trendy is laughable in and of itself – with his mushroom hair cut and hick town clothes he’s as far away from trendy as can possibly be. And the chances of a boy so gentle his mother tells us he was often confused for being a girl when younger surviving at all in the big city seem slim at best but Souichi somehow manages to find a niche, settling in with a group of similarly minded friends through college, friends who adore the sweet simplicity of his songs and adopt his slogan of “No Music, No Dreams” as a worthwhile motto for life. They encourage him to pursue music professionally and that’s where it all falls apart …
School ends, Souichi drops a demo off at a talent agency and soon is signed up and being groomed as the leader of Detroit Metal City, a death metal act in which he must play a demon from hell, in full make up and costume, singing songs about rape and murder while shredding his guitar with his teeth while enduring the abuse of his foul mouthed, chain smoking, label boss. He hates it but sees no way out. Worse, he’s actually good at it, spawning a growing legion of fans who hang on his every word, aping his antisocial behavior. How could life be any worse for a simple boy who just wanted to be trendy while inspiring others to dream?
Metal can be a funny thing, no doubt about that, and costumed metal even more so. Getting a peek behind the costume and makeup? Absolutely priceless, particularly when the real person is so wildly at odds with his stage persona and that is the comic gold mine that Toshio Lee digs deep into. On stage he’s absurd enough, spouting obscenities at a public appearance even moreso. But what about the costumed metal monster in a public washroom? Or on a date? What happens when – horrors! – he goes home to visit his mother? It’s such a simple concept with so much potential and Lee works it to absolute perfection.
A favored moment: Souichi finally has enough and returns home, planning to pack it all in, only to discover when he arrives that his meek younger brother – who has no idea that Souichi is his metal idol - has become a major fan and become rude, abrasive, treats his mother horribly and has essentially dropped out of both school and domestic responsibility. What to do? Why, put in an in-character appearance, of course, arguing that there can be nothing more ‘metal’ than listening to his parents. Taking care of cattle on the farm? Learning to command lesser beings? A vital skill when the revolution comes! Cutting the grass with a scythe? Excellent practice for when you need to cut a man’s throat! It’s utterly absurd and utterly brilliant.
By the time the finale rolls around – a death metal shred-off between DMC and a legendary American metal icon played by KISS’ Gene Simmons – the film has shifted into self-empowerment / triumph of the underdog mode and it’s impossible not to exit the explosive finale with a great big grin on your face. Very, very fun.