THE BLACK MOON
ART, ANIME, AND JAPANESE CULTURE
WEBLOG KIMONO BACK TO FILM REVIEWS JAPANESE COOKING LINKS

Original Japanese Poster for "Metropolis."Original Japanese Poster for "Metropolis."
Original Japanese Poster for "Metropolis." Original Japanese Poster for "Metropolis."
M E T R O P O L I S Reviewed by Mark Vallen - August 2001

Based 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.

METROPOLIS is 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.

Director 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.
METROPOLIS 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.
Ken-ichi
Ken-ichi
Ken-ichi
Ken-ichi

Ken-ichi 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.

Some 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 areas.

In 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 unexpected event.
Ken-ichi and Tima with Che Guevara Poster
Ken-ichi and Tima with Che Guevara Poster
Ken-ichi and Tima with Che Guevara Poster
Ken-ichi and Tima with Che Guevara Poster
Tima's fiery birth
Tima's fiery birth
Tima's fiery birth
Tima's fiery birth
As 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.

Combined 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.

Rintaro 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.

Ken-ichi
Ken-ichi
Ken-ichi
Ken-ichi

The 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 early 1920s.

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.

As 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 his
Three Penny Opera
.

Tima
Tima
Tima
Tima

The 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."

While 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 wondrous film!

This site is owned & operated by The Black Moon Copyright. All rights reserved
WEBLOG KIMONO BACK TO FILM REVIEWS JAPANESE COOKING LINKS