review by Gary Kacmarcik, 25 January 2002
Courtesy of

All 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.

The 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.

Into 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 city.

But 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.

Rushing 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.

In this Japanese animation version of Metropolis, director Rintaro and Screenwriter Katsuhiro Otomo have  done a masterful job of converting Tezuka's story into film.  The  combination 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 themselves.

The 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).

Rintaro 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 (animation).  Otomo (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 1982-1993.  Otomo's  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 gunshot wound).

Comparisons 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.

One 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.

Directed by:
Tarô Rin

Jamieson Price
Toshio Furukawa
Dave Mallow)
Scott Weinger

Written by:
Osamu Tezuka
Katsuhiro Ôtomo

PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may 
be inappropriate for
children under 13.





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