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article imageMovie Review: ''Metropolis''

By Gilbert Seah     Jan 26, 2002 in Lifestyle
“Metropolis” (Japan 2001) ***
Directed by Rintaro
“Metropolis” arrives a little late but still hot on the heels of “Princess Mononoke” and “Perfect Blue”, two successful Japanese films released in North America in the past two years. Both were eye-openers, Princess Mononoke” blending ancient folklore with anime (the term for Japanese animation) and “Perfect Blue” dealing with modern teen angst, identity and violence. “Metropolis”, however, is classic manga (comic) in the true sense of the word returning to the roots of a futuristic setting.
Though this “Metropolis” is quite similar in theme to the classic 1926 Fritz Lang German silent masterpiece of the same title, it is actually based on 1940s Japanese comic created by Osamu Tezuka (famous for “Astro Boy”) and adapted by veterans Katsuhiro Otomo (“Akira”) and Rintaro (“X” and “Galaxy Express 999”), “Metropolis” is the grand city populated by humans and robots, co-habitants of a segmented society. The slaves of Lang’s “Metropolis” are now replaced by robots in this Japanese version. Other similarities include the creation of Tima, a beautiful young girl soon to an important piece of the Ziggurat, which the filmmakers liken to the biblical Tower of Babel.
Into this familiar story enter Kenichi and his uncle, Detective Shunsaku searching for rebel scientist Dr. Laughton to arrest him and seize the illegal Tima, his creation. But a more powerful figure (a ruler who goes by the name Duke Red) and his adopted son have other plans in mind.
“Metropolis” initially falls into identical problems of Japanese anime films – confusing plot, one-dimensional characters, stodgy movement of figures and a lifeless storyline but the film actually improves as it progresses. Otomo’s script has the sense to combine humour, fear and finally some jolting emoting by the last reel.
For anime lovers, the futuristic setting, shootings (though most of the victims happen to be robots in this case), style, overuse of shadows, loud music and flashy animation will not fail to satisfy. The violence is rather minimal, true in spirit to a robot’s saying: “Why do humans use violence to resolve their problems?” (Even the pet robot Fifi comes back to ‘life’ at the end.) But the “Metropolis” with its multiple layers of zones (Zone 1 is city level bearing a closeness to say, the district of Shinjuku in Tokyo; Zone 2 is the subterranean world comprising the factories etc.) and highways, labyrinth of passages, zooming vehicles and images of ‘actual’ miniaturized skyscrapers is nevertheless, impressive and the combination of the jazzy score and 50’s music makes the trip, even for the anime uninitiated, to this “Metropolis” worthwhile.
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