Saturday, March 14, 2009

Detroit Metal City

Devil In The House

Don't worry if you don't appreciate heavy metal music, because this film takes on a rather satire feel of the genre, with its focus firmly rooted in its characters and a key human condition, that about the masks which we put on and the behaviour adopted through the persona on the surface that's donned.

And I felt the filmmakers nailed it squarely on the head with the casting of Ken'ichi Matsuyama, more famously known these days as the teen detective L from the Death Note series. In that film he had disappeared behind a stoic and serious demeanour behind a lithe frame, being quite fleetfooted while snacking on sweet food. Here, Ken'ichi again disappears and in more challenging terms, being on opposite sides of the spectrum from the meek to the flamboyant, and if you're not impressed by his L, his turns here would impress as being a consummate character actor capable of fleshing out characters very convincingly. If it's a chameleon actor you're looking for, look no further than Matsuyama.

As Negishi, his mushroom cut hairstyle sported fits the character to a tee. A mild mannered sissy nerd, he shuffles his feet from his hometown village to the bright city of Tokyo in the hope of fulfilling his dream of being a trendy pop singer. You know, the one who belts out bubblegum pop tunes about first love and sweet kisses. He lives by the mantra of “No Music No Dream”, and inspires his fellow peers to do the same and seize the day. Just so to tell you he's still a straight character despite his effeminate ways, he's attracted to Aikawa (Rosa Kato, who resembles a little like Aoi Miyazaki, who's starring in yet another similar music-based movie in Shonen Merikensack which I am looking forward to). Who wouldn't?

But an unexpected opportunity to join a band, he soon finds himself manipulated by his female boss (Yasuko Matsuyuki) into becoming the frontman for the heavy metal band Detroit Metal City (DMC) as Johannes Krauser, the long haired, pale skinned singer from the depths of hell who sings raged filled songs and preaches satanism, hate, anger, murder and rape. He garners a country-wide following filled with rabid groupies, and is more wildly successful as part of the engineered metal band, than trying to strike out on his own as a frivolous pop singer that's a dime a dozen.

It's an exellent contrast of characters, but more so, an examination of self and the personas we adopt in different situations. It might even be a classic case of Schizophrenia for Negishi, because as Krauser, he's really good at what he does, and almost comes second nature as that sissy man who had found an avenue to unleash his pent up frustration and hit back at the whole world, and get adored for that as well. Cursing and swearing comes second nature, and he can get really confused at times if his interests got mixed – romancing his lady love who abhors metal music, and satisfying his legion of fans with a public appearance. Unlike the Incredible Hulk within whom Bruce Banner disappears, it's interesting here because Negishi has full conscious control over Krauser, but allows himself to cut loose and live up to that masked persona even if it means having to embarrass the woman he loves.

It's about striking a balance between living your dream, and being practical about it. As Krauser, he inspires others into living theirs, even though he doesn't exactly get to do the same. But only because he does what he does best, even though he doesn't exactly subscribe to it. He commands his unwavering fans for whom he inspires, though in some negative ways, but what better than to express one's rage through music and at the concert venues only rather than to hit back in society - we don't see any of the metal fans causing trouble, and the amount of clout one has in influencing his followers (eg. His brother) to live for the better. It's this realization and awakening (thanks to his mother's contribution too) that Negishi understands his calling in life, that he cannot live a life that's for selfish personal interest (in throwing away Krauser just so he can pursue his love) over that of the benefit for the masses and those who adore him.

It's like a superhero story of sorts as well, where the hero disappears into his sanctuary by having an alter-ego within which he can operate normally without the pressures of expectations. We become somebody else very easily when we have ourselves hidden behind a costume incognito, and can carry out feats which we normally wouldn't do for fear of identity, repercussions and of course shame if something goes wrong. The white face makeup is Negishi's secret formula in transformation from geek to devil, without fear of his family discovering his secret (he tells them he works at a floral shop) and disappointed his parents that he's a preacher for hate, in direct contradiction to the gentlemanly ways he's brought up in.

But of course like any other movie, this one is not perfect. There were a number of scenes that were played out purely for laughs, but sometimes fell flat on its face for its repetitive nature. Such as having his boss from hell come trash Negishi's pastel coloured apartment just so that she could awaken the devil in him permanently, and provide for some misunderstanding between Negishi and Aikawa. Or that inexplicable scene of running with his legion of fans for miles before reaching a concert venue. One could actually tell Ken'ichi Matsuyama was panting under that thick makeup and heavy costume.

To no surprise, DMC attracted more female fans than the male ones in the screening I attended, despite having metal music blaring that degrades the female of the species, so that can only attest to the magnetism that Ken'ichi has over his fans. It isn't exactly about metal music, nor is it about the comedy here (which were best provided for by the rabid head banging fan boys sticking middle fingers or stabbing the devil's horns in the air), but it's about self and the masks we all wear. For that, this comes definitely recommended in the dilemmas that we lead our lives under from time to time.

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