Review by Ed Sizemore
Soichi left the family farm and headed to Tokyo with dreams of being a pop music star. Five years later, Soichi has found some notoriety as a singer and songwriter. However, it’s as Johannes Krauser II, the leader of Detroit Metal City (DMC), the most infamous of the death metal bands. He has just reconnected with his college sweetheart, Yuri, the editor of a pop music and fashion magazine. She lives the life that Soichi has always wanted. Will Soichi’s burgeoning romance be the impetus he needs to put DMC behind him? Will DMC’s domineering manger let him leave the band?
Detroit Metal City, the movie, is loosely based on the first two volumes of the manga by Kiminori Wakasugi. Soichi is played by Kenichi Matsuyama, whom the press packet called a ‘chameleon actor’. It’s an apt description, considering the same actor played L in the Death Note movies. He plays both Soichi and Johannes Krauser II perfectly.
I wish the adaptation of the manga was as impressive as Matsyama’s performance. The biggest problem with the movie is that in attempting to make DMC accessible to a general audience, the writers stripped out much that made the manga appealing. For the movie, they chose to make a feel-good film about the power of dreams and how music inspires people to create their own dreams. That’s a radical departure from the tone and focus of the manga.
They made the film upbeat by focusing more on Soichi and his time away from DMC. The problem is that Soichi isn’t a very likeable character. He’s a whiner. He complains about writing death metal, he complains about the way the manager treats him, he complains about being Krauser, he just complains. Furthermore, he lets people walk all over him. Just look at how he lets DMC’s manager and his romantic competitor for Yuri belittle and mistreat him. Krauser and his antics are a welcome break from Soichi lacking the guts to actually change his situation.
Unfortunately, they ruined our retreat into Krauser and DMC. They cut out most of the outrageous antics of Krauser, especially his concert theatrics. Instead, they chose to show those times when he might be dressed as Krauser but is acting like Soichi. So we get the scene where, as Krasuer, Soichi is helping the singer of Tetrapod Melon Tea get over his nervousness before performing. We never get the joy of those pure Krauser moments that make the manga so rude yet addictive.
The major problem with subsuming Krauser under Soichi’s personality is that it robs the movie of the emotional and psychological tension that is the true core of Detroit Metal City. In the manga, Krauser isn’t simply a stage act but almost an alternate personality sharing the same body with Soichi. Soichi may claim to hate DMC and Krauser, but he can’t excise himself of this dark persona either. Krauser literally takes over Soichi at times. The question at the heart of the manga is whether Soichi can continue to control Krauser or will he be consumed by him? The movie feels empty without this foundational conflict.
Other members of the cast get shortchanged, too. The base player, Jagi, is reduced to a slimy yes-man. The drummer, Camus, is just stage dressing. DMC’s manager is toned down. She never waxes eloquent about how aroused the music is making her. That’s the cruelest change. With every volume of the manga, I stand in awe of her lascivious declarations. The character came across as a hollow shell for me.
I was disappointed in the screener sent by Viz. It didn’t include a full listing of the credits in English. I wanted to know who wrote the music and who the musicians were, especially the singing voice for Krauser. (Wikipedia says that Matsyama did the singing. Which, if true, just makes me more impressed at the actor’s talents.) The press kit was nice for basic information about the major players, but it also lacked full English credits. I hope Viz will correct this oversight in future screeners/press kits.
The only reason to watch the DMC movie is to see the characters of manga brought to life as real human beings. Matsuyama is brilliant, acting out all of Soichi’s odd mannerisms: the weird dances he does singing Swedish pop music and the exaggerated facial expressions. The casting director did an amazing job finding actors that look just like the manga characters. The costume department got the clothes and DMC costumes perfect. It’s a shame the script wasn’t as faithful.
Fans of the Detroit Metal City manga would do well to rent this film and see it once for the cast and costumes. General moviegoers should just skip the film all together. There really isn’t any way to make a feel-good film about a death metal band. The sappy and lifeless movie is proof of that. (This review was written while listening to KISS’ Double Platinum album and is based on a screener DVD provided by the publisher.)