Article

METROPOLIS


VOICES OF: Jamieson Price, Toshio Furukawa, Dave Mallow, Scott Weinger

2001, 107 Minutes, Directed by: Rintaro


Description: Adapted from Osamu Tezuka's 1949 manga. Evil Duke Red (voice by Taro Ishida) plans to rule the world from Ziggurat, his newly completed art deco tower. A new robot is being developed by his henchman Dr. Laughton (Junpei Takeguchi) to control all the machines in the world from Ziggurat. Japanese detective Shunsaku Ban (Kousei Tomita) and his nephew Kenichi (Kei Kobayashi) arrive in Metropolis in pursuit of Laughton and are plunged into Red's plot. When the duke's maniacal adopted son Rock (Kohki Okada) attacks Laughton's hidden lab, Kenichi and the waiflike android Tima (Yuka Imoto) flee into the city's subterranean slums and fall in love.
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Class divisions threaten to tear apart a future city that looks suspiciously like what people back in the 1920s thought the future would be like one day. These divisions aren't necessarily between the rich and poor, but also between humans and their robotic slaves.

Scottish sci-fi writer Iain Banks argued in his so-called "Culture" novels that as a society becomes more technologically advanced, the more socialism as a system becomes inevitable. Let's suppose that one day all labor - and we do mean all labor - is performed by highly evolved machines.

What is there left for people to do then? Basically, we all work to produce something so that we can buy things we need which are in turn produced by other people. And so on. But let's suppose all production (even that of more machines!) is by machines? Machines don't need anything - they are not markets. Hence a state-controlled economy with looking after its citizens as its goal becomes a necessity according to Banks.

"If you're an architectural fetishist you'll go gaga over Metropolis!"

This, however, is not such a society. Mechanization has exacerbated the divisions between the rich and poor. The poor have become poorer as they are unable to find any work that isn't done by machines. Throw into this explosive mix an ambitious politician leading a quasi-fascist group intent on controlling (usually with violence) the movement of robots and you have the plot of Metropolis.

Metropolis is one of the few anime (or Japanese animation) movies to get a mainstream release outside Japan. One can see why: Metropolis is an astounding piece of work on a purely technical level. It mixes traditional 2-D animation with some amazing computer-generated imagery (or CGI). It is the melding of two different worlds since the 2-D character designs are deliberately of a retro kiddie design popular in the 1940s. Add to this a great ragtime jazz score and the results are stunning. Even regular anime viewers would be hard-pressed to name another anime movie with a look and feel similar to Metropolis.

It should come as no surprise that Metropolis is in fact based on a popular manga (Japanese comic book) published shortly after World War II, which was in turn inspired by the seminal 1926 movie Metropolis directed by Fritz Lang. Lang's movie was a favorite of Hitler's (who didn't really catch it) and inspired the likes of Star Wars, Blade Runner and The Fifth Element. It was a hugely influential movie, but never before has its art deco designs been copied so blatantly as in this namesake.

Harrison Ford once complained that while working on Blade Runner he merely served as an object in front of director Ridley Scott's expansive sets so that the cameraman can adjust the focus. The same could be said of Metropolis. The plot is overcomplicated and vague (as is sometimes the case in anime) and the characters and their motivations not clearly developed. It is a case of style over substance, yes - but what style! Sheer candy for the eye!

If you're an architectural fetishist such as myself who loved the likes of Batman and Dark City merely for their production designs then you'll go gaga over Metropolis. If you're a fan of both animation and science fiction then Metropolis has a lot to offer. After Akira (whose director wrote the script) and Ghost in the Shell, Metropolis is the anime movie to check out for the anime newbie . . .


 



 

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