review by Gary Kacmarcik, 25 January 2002
Courtesy of Beochan.com
is not well in the city of Metropolis, even though the city has
prospered economically and has created a world free from labor.
All of the labor is performed by robots and an unflagging
sense of utopianism is everywhere.
Unfortunately, the benefits are concentrated in the wealthy
"haves", while the displaced "have-nots" occupy
the subterranean lower zones of the city and subsist on sporadic
government handouts. Even
the middle-class is not content and there are constant rumblings
about the robots taking their jobs away.
robots, however, have things much worse. Their movements are
severely restricted and
they are hunted down by vigilantes if they stray outside
their assigned zone. While no one seems to care if a robot is
destroyed by a human
(and these scenes are repeated throughout the film), the robots
themselves appear to be bound by Asimov's First Law of
Robotics, where they are
prohibited from causing harm to a human.
this backdrop enter Japanese Detective Shunsaku Ban and his nephew
Kenichi, who have come to Metropolis to track down the
fugitive scientist Dr.
Laughton. Dr. Laughton
is wanted for performing illegal experiments
with human organs and is reported hiding out somewhere in the
by the time Detective Ban and Kenichi catch up with Dr. Laughton,
his secret underground
lab is burning -- Rock, who is Red Duke's adopted "son"
(actually more of an adopted henchman), has sabotaged the lab
after discovering that
Laughton was working on creating an advanced robot replica
of Red Duke's deceased daughter Tima, at the behest of Red
Duke himself. Worse
still, Red Duke apparently plans on placing Tima (a robot!) on the
throne once his plans to take over Metropolis are complete.
into the still-burning lab to find survivors, Detective Ban is too
late to save Dr. Laughton, but Kenichi finds Tima and they
escape to, and are
quickly lost in, the lower levels of Metropolis. Soon, they are being pursued
throughout Metropolis by Rock and his anti-robot vigilante group,
the Marduk Party.
this Japanese animation version of Metropolis, director
Rintaro and Screenwriter Katsuhiro Otomo have
done a masterful job of converting Tezuka's story into film.
of traditional cel and computer generated (CG) animation is for
the most part seamless and the film doesn't suffer from the
dreaded Beauty and
the Beast effect in which hand-drawn and computer animation
don't work in tandem, but instead clash on the screen, as if one
were fighting for supremacy over the other (think of the ballroom
scene at the end of Disney's film for an example of how jarring this
combination can be). While
there may be one too many "fly through the CG cityscape"
scenes in Metropolis, this is easily
forgiven due to the detail and beauty of the scenes
character designs are true to Tezuka's original designs and Mad
House (the animation
company) implemented the characters cleanly and smoothly so
that they blend well with the CG backgrounds.
Mad House, whose work is most
accessible to US audiences via the Card Captor Sakura
TV series, has worked
with Rintaro on many projects since 1993, including the Final
Fantasy OAV series (1994) and X (1996).
was well prepared to interpret Tezuka's work -- he worked (sometimes
using his real name: Hayashi Shigeyuki) with Tezuka in the
60's as an animator and
director for Tetsuwan Atom (Atom Boy) and Jungle
Taitei (Kimba, the White Lion). These are two
of the series that made Tezuka
well-known both in and out of Japan, and also established him as the
father of modern manga (comic-book series)and anime
(like most animators in Japan) is also great admirer of Tezuka. He
is best known for his film Akira(1988), which was
based on his manga. of the same name, serialized from
screenplay is fast-paced in order to tell the story in the
allotted running time,
but the story flows well and there are no significant incongruities
(other then Detective Ban's surprisingly fast recovery from a
of this version of Metropolis with Fritz Lang's 1928 film are
inevitable. Director Rintaro does seem to have been influenced
somewhat byLang's imagery,
but the story in this animated version is based solely on (and
modified slightly from) Tezuka's 1949 manga.
While the narrative of Ranga and Tezuka seems as if he had
lifted the plot from Lang and his co-writer (and later Nazi
sympathizer), Thea von Harbou, Tezuka claims that he had not seen
the movie in its entirety. According
to Tekuza, his inspiration for the manga came from
seeing a production still of Lang's robot and (unfortunately a
prescient source of inspiration since the events of September 11)
images of the New York City skyline.
Despite the existence of any potential narrative
similarities, each movie is significantly different in many
respects, mostly in how
they treat the robotic girl. In
Lang's film, the robotic "evil"
Maria is created to infiltrate the workers' rebellion while the real
"good" Maria is held captive. This contrasts with
the internal struggle of Tezuka's
Tima, who from the moment she first appears on the screen is trying
to find her self-identity. She doesn't realize that she is a
robot and simply wants
to be like any other human. How she reacts when confronted with
her provenance is the climax of the movie, told with an
apocalyptic and cruelly ironic Dr. Strangelove-esque ending
sequence replete with the substitution of Ray Charles crooning
"I Can't Stop Loving You" as the mighty city explodes and
crumbles under the weight of its own self-induced hell. It's a
master stroke, one that rivals even Stanley Kubrick and his
utilization of Vera Lynn's version of "We'll Meet Again"
in Strangelove's finale.
final note on the subtitles: they're thin, yellow and you sometimes
lose them when they're
displayed on top of light colored backgrounds.
You'd think by
now that the movie companies would have figured out that adding a
small, dark border around the letters makes them much more
readable, regardless of
the background. Fortunately,
this situation doesn't happen so
often that it detracts from the enjoyment of this film.
PG-13 - Parents
Some material may
be inappropriate for
children under 13.