M E T R O P O L I S
Reviewed by Mark Vallen - August 2001
on the manga by the late Tezuka Osamu (the
renowned "Father" of manga and anime), METROPOLIS
tells the story of an enormous futuristic city-state
ruled by indifferent elites, a society deeply divided
along class lines where robots and androids do all
the work but are kept strictly apart from humans.
The omnipotent leader of the megalopolis is Duke
Red, a figure so drunk with power that he hopes
to rule all the world and harness the energy of the
cosmos. However, his plans are thwarted by a beautiful
female android of his own creation.
a masterpiece of animation that will certainly become
known as one of the greatest animated movies ever
made. I was privileged to see the film's U.S. Premier
on August 17, 2001 when it was screened at
the world famous Hollywood Egyptian Theater.
Rintaro (aka, Hayashi Shigeyuki), is one of
the most renown animators in all of Japan, and he worked
closely with Tezuka on projects like Astro Boy and
Kimba The White Lion... but he also gave us classics
like Space Pirate Captain Harlock, Galaxy Express
999, Record of Lodoss War, and X/1999.
The screenplay for METROPOLIS came from Otomo Katsuhiro,
famed for being Director of the now legendary Akira.
The collaborative effort of Rintaro and Katsuhiro took five
years to complete at a cost of 12.5 Million Dollars. Though
a few details have been altered from the original, their
adaptation of Tezuka's manga is faithful in its spirit.
opens with Detective Shunsaku Ban and his young sidekick
Ken-ichi (right), entering the city to arrest a deranged
Scientist named Dr. Laughton. They find that the
Mad Scientist had created a super-being... the childlike
Android, Tima. They also discover that Tima's creation
was brought about at the behest of Duke Red in order to
satisfy his lust for world dominance. Red intended to use
Tima as the "robot brain" of a new super computer
the likes of which the world had never seen. Things go awry
when Rock, the leader of an anti-robot fascist militia
loyal to Duke Red and determined to see him as supreme ruler,
murders Dr. Laughton and destroys his laboratory... inadvertently
allowing Tima to escape into the maze-like city.
befriends Tima and the two make their way through the
bowels of the city, constantly avoiding the malevolent
Rock, who is determined to destroy the beautiful android
girl. The hunted pair hide in a subterranean restricted
zone meant only for robots, where they meet Fifi,
the most engaging mechanical being to grace the silver
screen since C3PO of Star Wars fame. Fifi
and her fellow robots protect their human guests until
eventually Ken-ichi and Tima encounter members of a rebel
underground movement, who take them in and care for them.
have compared Tezuka's Metropolis to Fritz Lang's
1926 Expressionist masterpiece of the same name. Actually,
Tezuka claimed not to have seen the German director's
pre-World War 2 film, although he admits to seeing a still
photograph of the robot woman from Lang's production,
and that inspired him to write his story. Rintaro's animated
adaptation of Tezuka's work bares some resemblance to
Lang's movie, but it makes a radical departure in several
its day Lang's METROPOLIS was considered extremely
controversial because of it's politics. His movie told a
tale of power, subjugation, oppression, and worker's revolution...
but he was encouraged to soften the storyline and did so
by having the ultimate outcome be one of reconciliation
between the workers and their oppressors. Rintaro's work
has a much different outcome. In his METROPOLIS there
is no reconciliation between the rebels and the ruling
elites. Though the revolutionaries ultimately fail in overthrowing
Duke Red and his minions... their dream of bringing about
a new social order takes place anyway, due to a totally
with his Astro Boy story... Tezuka's focus in METROPOLIS
is on the struggle for self-identity. In this sense METROPOLIS
has more in common with Ridley Scott's "Blade
Runner" or Steven Spielberg's "A.I."
than with Fritz Lang's film. The Android character Tima (pictured
at right) is "born" into a strange world without
knowing who or what she is. Destined to live out a preordained
role as a tool for the megalomaniac Duke Red... she slowly
becomes self-aware, until finally, she bolts against her fate
and becomes the ungovernable force that brings down an apocalypse
upon the Empire.
with the tour de force script is an aesthetic so startling
it takes your breathe away. Not only does the animation
style of METROPOLIS harken back to the "golden years"
of Tezuka's classic 60's anime, but it's fused to the very
latest in computer generated Illustration effects. The meticulously
detailed background paintings are so lavish and opulent
as to defy description. The magnificently animated labyrinth
of a city will dazzle you with its riotous, psychedelic
explosions of color. Audiences haven't seen a city presented
like this since Akira, however I'm more inclined
to note the similarity between Rintaro's megalopolis and
the ancient high tech ruins of the alien civilization portrayed
in the MGM 1956 science fiction classic, Forbidden Planet.
creates a picture of a city so large it has become its
own self contained universe. The animation's brilliant
background paintings of the city are especially awe inspiring
in this regard. Like in the aforementioned Forbidden Planet,
certain scenes reveal a city that expands out in every
direction. Looking up, down, or sideways, one sees innumerable
levels of construction. Everything within the city's endless
boundaries is artificial and synthetic, not a single blade
of grass grows in its honeycomb-like canyons of plastic,
steel and glass. It is a neon lit hell.
original music score to the film was composed by the talented
Honda Toshiyuki, and it's one of the most profoundly
innovative scores I've heard in years. Honda's Father was
a Jazz critic... and so, steeped in the traditions of Jazz,
the younger Honda taught himself to play the Alto and Soprano
Saxophone as well as the Flute. Founding the Jazz band Burning
Wave in 1977, Honda went on to become one of Japan's
premiere Jazz composers and performers, and his composition
for METROPOLIS is nothing short of amazing. What
makes Honda's score so unique is that it's almost entirely
based upon classic American Dixieland Jazz of the
energy and force of Dixieland, as performed by the all Japanese
Jazz band, Metropolitan Rhythm Kings, is surprisingly
appropriate for a tale like METROPOLIS. Honda himself plays
Sax on the soundtrack, as does director Rintaro! (who plays
a mean Bass Clarinet). Due to Honda's expertise in Jazz,
one can hear echoes of American greats Louis Armstrong
and Bix Beiderbecke in the score, but I almost fell
out of my seat when the soundtrack offered a faithful rendition
of Cab Calloway's signature tune, St. James Infirmary.
Honda's soundtrack is a Jazz lovers delight, and it's an
irony that it takes a Japanese anime to reintroduce Americans
to that most American of art forms... Jazz.
if the use of Dixieland Jazz for a film score was not unusual
enough, Honda combines it with a full classical European
orchestra! While half of the score is performed in the pure
Dixieland 'ensemble style' of Clarinet, Banjo, Saxophone,
Tuba, Drums, and Piano... the other half is neo-Classical
in nature. The result reminds me of the Jazz influenced
strains of prewar German Composer Kurt Weill and
Three Penny Opera.
Oscar Award winning American director, James Cameron
(Aliens, Terminator, Titanic), saw
Rintaro's film and had this to say about it: "METROPOLIS
is the new milestone in anime. It has beauty, power, mystery,
and above all... heart. Images from this film will stay
with you forever."
it's hard to rebuff the opinion of someone like Mr. Cameron...
I would disagree with him on one point. METROPOLIS does
not just set a "new milestone in anime"... it
sets a milestone for ALL animation. Rintaro's production
could well change the face of animation. Henceforth, this
film will be the yardstick by which all animated features
are measured against. Released in Japan (May 26th, 2001),
METROPOLIS opened in selected theaters across the United
States in January 2002. As the greatest pinnacle
in the art of animation, you owe it to yourself to see this
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