Detective Shunsuke Ban and his nephew Kenichi have come from Japan to the bustling super-mega-city of Metropolis in search of a missing criminal. They arrive just in time to observe the opening of the celebrations for the inauguration of a new skyscraper-research center, called the Ziggurat. The Ziggurat is the creation of multi-trillionaire Duke Red, who also supplies funding for the Marduk Party, an organization devoted to keeping down insurrectionists among Metropolis' service-robot population. Rock, a young orphan whom the Duke raised, is a highly-placed official within the Party, who has been seen going around Metropolis for reasons unknown.
Shunsuke and Kenichi have evidence leading them to believe that the Duke or someone in the Party is engaged in dealings with the renegade scientist they're chasing. But what is the scientist working on? What is the real plan for the Ziggurat? What are the conditions of the worker robots below Metropolis' city streets? And who could have imagined a film of this scale?
In the past, we have certainly taken a few of our digs at the films directed by Rin Tarou. While some of his earlier works were more than adequate, like Galaxy Express 999, other films, such as Harmagedon, Dagger of Kamui, and the much more recent X the Movie have proven less than satisfying, due to horrendous pacing problems. That's what we call the "bad Rin Tarou".
So it is with great pleasure that we here at THEM announce that the "good Rin Tarou" has entered the room.
Metropolis is a splendor to behold, with high-level computer artwork displaying an incredibly realized world that accentuates a powerful, gripping story that will leave you breathless. And while we enjoyed Princess Mononoke, it is Metropolis that is far more accessible to a cosmopolitan world audience, with cultural references primarily drawn from influences outside of Japan. The obvious comparison of the Ziggurat to the Tower of Babel is made early on, but many other references, some more obvious, some less, are made throughout this film.
But this film is hardly just about references. With a host of well-developed characters, centered around the enigmatic Tima, this film deals with the tangled relationship between the humans and their near-human creations, the robots, in a way that, while dealt with before in many other titles, is treated here with a depth and human understanding that is rarely paralleled, and even more rarely surpassed, in serious science-fiction, whether in novels or anime. And while the human characters constantly try to assert the lack of emotions or feelings in robots, the robots exhibit a conflict between loyalty and a wish for independence, that is reminiscent of racial and social revolutions within our own history. Even the supposed non-sentients are hardly automatons - they ask questions of their creators, much like the children they really are. Very impressive story-telling, and told through mostly from the point of view of the earnest and innocent Kenichi, who in his own questions of why humans act the way they do, seems to fall in more with the robots than with the adults.
An important thing to note is that this film is touted as Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis, which is an important preface to note. Tezuka's art style is realized to a level rarely even imagined in modern film since his passing in 1989 - only the Black Jack OAV series comes close stylistically to Tezuka's visual intent, which is "cartoonier" and old-fashioned. No big-bosomed fan-service girls here - the character designs are a throwback to Tezuka's original inspirations in Walt Disney and Max Fleischer films of the 1930s and 1940s, and the setting is a stunning example of Art Deco taken to its extreme, with streamlined buildings and statuesque figures in every conceivable location - even in the slum underbelly of Metropolis. And the technology, while superficially similar to 1930s design, shows hints of modern influence, especially in the computer systems and circuitry of both the robots and the Ziggurat itself.
The music, very jazz-oriented, and quite reminiscent of the Art Deco era, does take some getting used to for many reasons, including the use of peppy jazz for ironic purposes during key points in the plot. While this might ring foul to some viewers, we found it an interesting choice of soundtrack, and it's quite well-done. You may probably recognize some of the songs, especially selections from Ray Charles and Cab Calloway.
I won't spoil anything, other than saying that Tima is the lynchpin of the whole story (anyone who looks at the movie poster can figure that out), but watching just how this story unfolds reminds us just why we do this in the first place. With an all-star cast of creators (Otomo Katsuhiro wrote the screenplay, and Kawajiri Yoshiaki was one of the animation directors), and even cameo homages from figures like Go Nagai, this was one dream project that we are proud to call a success. And only the biggest anti-establishment anime snobs will come out of this one disappointed.
Recommended Audience: Some violence, but relatively bloodless and mostly implied. No sex, nudity, or strong language at all.
Version(s) Viewed: 35mm theatrical print, Japanese with English subtitles; R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Metropolis © 2001 Tezuka Productions / Metropolis Project
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