© 2001 Tezuka Productions / Metropolis Project
Based on Osamu Tezuka's 1940's manga, Metropolis has garnered almost unanimous praise from critics world-wide. It's unique style of jazz-era science fiction gives it a certain charm not found in many modern anime. And with a screenplay by Katsuhiro Otomo of Akira fame, and animation by Mad House, this film boasts some impressive credentials.
Set in an alternate future, the city of Metropolis is a modern utopia built on the backs of robot labor and filled with a brimming, diverse populace. The surface of the expansive city bustles with excitement, as a loud speaker proudly proclaims Metropolis the world leader in culture and technology. To celebrate the achievements of this grand city, the Ziggurat, a giant, tower-like structure has been constructed in the heart of Metropolis. This monumental event has attracted participants from the entire city, and among them are Detective Shunsaku Ban and his nephew, Kenichi. Detective Ban is in Metropolis to locate and arrest a scientist wanted in Japan for human-rights violations, with Kenichi along for the ride. Being out-of-towners, Detective Ban enlists the aid of the local authorities. Their aid comes in the form of Pero, a robot detective programmed for investigative work.
While Kenichi and Ban tour Metropolis, another plot is brewing. Wealthy getabout Duke Red has commissioned the very scientist Detective Ban seeks to construct a robot named Tima. Tima is unlike other robots, whose designs are purely mechanical in nature. Tima, however, is almost perfectly human, a synthetic re-creation of Duke Red's deceased daughter. While Duke Red yearns for Tima's activation, others are not so charitable. Rock, the leader of the Marduks, a vigilante-like police force, possesses an almost pathological hatred of robots and covets Tima's destruction.
Still more unrest is brewing beneath the surface of Metropolis, where the poor and destitute dwell. There are cries for an upheaval of the political system and the ousting of all robot labor, which is blamed for taking jobs from human workers. Shadowy political figures begin making moves behind the scenes, as if to prepare for the imminent and inevitable clash.
Metropolis is a film of remarkable beauty. Pero seems to double as both detective and tour guide as he leads Ban and Kenichi through the vast city; a vastness fully realized by the stunning visuals. Beautifully rendered backdrops and dazzling 3D animation bring the city to life and create some marvelous locales. Ban remarks he can't tell East from West in Metropolis, and it's no small wonder why. Characters are dwarfed by huge structures, machines, and gear works. Lavish attention is spent on rendering all the settings in Metropolis in utmost detail, a feat fully appreciated on larger screens. Contrasting the city backdrop are the characters themselves. The character artwork is very reminiscent of Tezuka's style, with characters sporting all manner of exaggerated features from Duke Red's giant nose to Tima's saucer-like eyes. Everyone is quite distinct, and the film follows Tezuka's practice of re-using character designs from his other works. The look of the characters might be jarring to some, especially anime fans weaned on modern works. Complimenting the visuals is the aural component of the film. A mixture of traditional instrumental pieces and nifty jazz infuses Metropolis with life and energy. Some musical choices are a little suspect (such as Ray Charles' "I Can't Stop Loving You" during the movie's climax), but overall things are well done.
Plot and character-wise, Metropolis has a lot going for it, but still suffers from a few rough edges. Focus on Tima's awaking and discovery of the world around her is where Metropolis succeeds the most. Much time is devoted to developing Tima, and Kenichi and Tima's burgeoning friendship provides some enjoyable and poignant moments. Ban seems pulled from an old-fashioned detective story and is a nice contrast to the science fiction elements in the film. For an antagonist, Rock is one of the more interesting characters of the group. While his hatred of robots is not properly explained, he proves to be a believable and even sympathetic figure. Other elements, unfortunately, such as the revolution and political upheaval seem half realized. The revolutionaries are given far too little screen time for one to fully appreciate their plight. A similar fate befalls the political movers and shakers. The resulting story lines surrounding these two sides seem like an afterthought tacked on for additional depth.
There's a lot to like about Metropolis. The interesting characterizations, intelligent plot, and unique, artistic flair make this film enjoyable on several levels. At the same time, it suffers from trying to do too much, and its unique style may turn off as many as it attracts. But for those who aren't afraid to try something fresh, I can't help but recommend Metropolis.
The Verdict: * * * * (good)
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