Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis (2001)
Writer: Katsuhiro Otomo
The first thing that attracted me to this anime film is that it was heavily influenced by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and seeing an anime version of one of my favorite science fiction films ever was too tempting to ignore. Fritz Lang’s classic silent film inspired this film from inception, right down to when it was first conceived as a manga way back in 1949 by Osamu Tezuka; who by the way is also the creator of Astro Boy. You see, Osamu Tezuka saw a still image from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and that was enough to spark his imagination. He then wrote and drew his own sci-fi opus which he also called ‘Metropolis’, I guess as a homage to the landmark film. According to Tezuka, he wasn’t inspired by the film itself, which he hadn’t seen. I’ve never read the manga, but supposedly it doesn’t share plot elements with the film, save for the fact that part of the story is centered around a female robot. So anyway, fast forward to 2001 where to anime juggernauts, Rintaro and Katsuhiro Otomo, decide to join forces to make a film based on Tezuka’s classic manga. Rintaro is the director behind the classic anime films Galaxy Express 999 (1979) and The Dagger of Kamui (1985). It was Rintaro who took over the directing duties for Metropolis, while Katsuhiro Otomo, the director behind Akira (1988) and Steamboy (2004) took care of writing the screenplay. What was the result of joining these two anime legends on one film? Nothing short of brilliance!
In Metropolis, the people of the city are celebrating its magnificence! According to the architects of this advanced city, it represents the culmination of mans knowledge and intelligence. The city wide celebrations are due to the creation of a huge structure called “The Ziggurat”, a giant building that, unbeknownst to the people of Metropolis, is also a giant weapon. But, in the midst of this celebration, a rebellion is brewing and it’s all about Humans vs. Robots. You see, the rebels want to destroy the robots because according to them; they are taking their jobs away. So there’s a strong anti-robot sentiment throughout the whole city. Meanwhile, Duke Red, one of the wealthiest men in Metropolis is secretly orchestrating a coupe de tat by building a robot that will rule the entire city (and eventually the world) from a robotic, mechanical throne. Will he achieve his goals? Will his robot end up controlling the world?
The interesting part about this film is that while Osamu Tezuka said he wasn’t influenced by Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent film when he created his Metropolis manga, the filmmakers behind this 2001 film were. If you’ve seen Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) you will see parallels between both films, some images are extremely similar. It is obvious that the filmmakers were not hiding the fact that Fritz Lang’s film was inspiring them. And if you ask me, that’s awesome because Lang’s film is an amazing film to be influenced by. Yet, while there’s no denying the similarities between both films, Rintaro’s Metropolis is actually very original in its own way, it’s not a rip off or carbon copy of Lang’s Metropolis (1927) because while Lang’s Metropolis centered around classist issues, Rintaro’s Metropolis is more about power and who ends up controlling it. It’s more about what makes us humans. You see Tima the robot is always questioning what makes us human, why we are the way we are. She is this films Pinocchio, she wants to be human, but ultimately can’t. It’s also about mans obsession with destroying and controlling each other. That thirst for power, the obsession with controlling the masses. It asks the question: should all that power be bestowed upon one person? Metropolis shares this ‘abuse of power’ theme with Akira (1988), which makes sense since both films were written by the same guy. As you can see, this is a film that can’t be blamed for being shallow.
At the same time, it’s visually dazzling. It never stops amazing us with its imagery. Rintaro went for something different, which was mixing traditional Japanese style animation with computer graphics. Now normally, I don’t like this mix because to me the two don’t mix. Something feels off about movies that mix traditional animation with computer graphics, to me they just don’t go together visually. For example, Ghost in the Shell 2.0 (2008), which took the original Ghost in the Shell film and added computer animation and backgrounds to it, didn’t exactly work in my book. I'd much rather watch Ghost in the Shell in its original traditionally animated form. To me, animated films should either be in traditional animation, or computer animation, but not a mix of both. Still, in the case of Metropolis I think it was handled beautifully. The film has a unique look to it, things feel retro, yet there’s robots and advanced technology. The whole film uses jazzy music, which gives an old fashion air to it. They even use Ray Charles’ ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’ during a climactic scene, so there’s this merging of the old fashion with the futuristic. Another interesting visual aspect of Metropolis is that while the backgrounds are rendered in a somewhat realistic fashion, the films characters are done in an extremely cartoony style, paying homage in this way to Osamu Tezuka’s original manga. This Metropolis is a world on its own, a very unique looking film. So anyhow, in my book this is another amazing milestone in Japanese animation. If you ever feel like watching some of the best anime has to offer, you’d do good in including this one on your list.
Rating: 5 out of 5