I wasn’t expecting my first two film reviews in this Halloween week to be related in some way. Katsuhiro Otomo, the guy who wrote and directed the Akita film, also wrote the script for this film. Otomo has a natural talent for making cities feel alive. They feel the same from a writing perspective and this Metropolis film also under performed at the box office. That’s not the most important when it comes to trivia in this review though, but do remember that fact. The major trivia winner here is this film is based on the Metroplois manga written by one of the few gods of Manga, Ozamu Tezuka. He based this manga on the original, German black and white science fiction film. That’s a lot to base an anime movie around isn’t it? Yeah, that’s a good reminder that no piece of culture exists in a vaccum because almost all media is global. Anyway, I think I bored you all enough with trivia. Let’s talk about the film now.
Would you be shocked to learn that the movie Metropolis takes place in a massive 1920’s style city by the name of Metropolis? The city itself is the star of the film because it really feels like hustling and bustling place. Who it does this is by having people walking all over the place doing something in background shots, having multiple layers and areas from the top layer where the public walks and works and special robots are only allowed to be around to the deeper and deeper unground reaches of the city where mostly robots work. As you can tell, there is some deep racism against robots in this movie from how they are regulated to being in certain locations to distinct hate groups against them.
Why? One reason is because a number of city jobs are being taken from workers because the existence of robots and they are being blamed for it. That is realistic considering that robots are taking jobs from people in real life right now making that feeling legitimate. At the same time, that’s not all there is to this robot racism aspect. It’s immediately apparent that robots have humans like personalities in this film which means it’s going for something deeper. Yeah, there’s definitely an allegory for some late 1920’s and 1930’s rise of fascism going on here. I know that it’s one of Tezuka’s themes, like in Astro Boy, but this film is hitting a lot of powerful points and topics that we are dealing with once again considering what our political climate is like right now. Yeah, I said it.
With all of that comes the plot where all of this comes into action. In the beginning of this film, we meet the Mayor of Metropolis and Duke Red, the unofficial ruler of Metropolis, announcing the start of the celebration for the finished construction of the Ziggarut. What is that? A massive skyscraper in Metropolis city that will secretly have the power to spread Metropolis’ power across the planet. We also meet some visitors to the city from Japan, Private Detective Shunsaku Baku and his young nephew reporter, Kenichi, who are looking for a Doctor Laughton who escaped from Japan to this city. There was also an incident during the celebration of the Ziggarut with unregistered robots making to the top portion and then instantly gunned down by Duke Red’s adopted son Rock, leader of the anti robot Marduk party. This is where everything starts to connect.
Then from the start, everything element plot element connects together. Duke Red, the founder of the Marduk party, hid Professor Laughton in the lower decks for a secret project. A robot girl named Timathat will be able to sit at the throne of the Ziggarut building to take over the world. That leads to Private Shunsaku and Kenichi searching the lower decks of Metropolis with a robot investigator the two named Pero for their investigation. The three do find Professor Laughton, but after he was shot dead by Rock for even creating Tima in the first place because he wants Duke Red to sit on the throne. Rock also set the lab on fire, but of course, Tima was able to escape and started hanging out with Kenichi. The Ziggarut went off causing robots to destroy things and resulting in a quick revolution from the workers that failed and resulted in Duke Red taking over the city.
From that point forward everything pretty explainable. Things happen that separate the group of three with Tima which results in Kenichi and Tima build a very quick relationship and Detective Shunsaku getting over his anti robot biases with explaining tha Pero. Rock is completely fired and disowned from Duke Red for killing Doctor Laughton and trying to kill Tima, Kenichi and Tima are thrown in Duke Red’s prison cell after they meet together, and the rest is history really. I think I laid out all the plot details enough where you can at least make a conjecture of what happens probably. So I am just pulling my usual sort of shenanigans here because I want you to watch this movie at some point. Even if you know how it ends, it’s still a great movie and something that you should watch anyway.
Remember earlier when I said that the city of Metropolis is the star? Yeah, that plays into a lot of aspects of this film including the characters. Duke Red and his adopted son Rock are the most well explored characters in this film because at least you know about their dumb hatred of robots, though their reasons are never fully humanized. There is a small amount of characterization toward Detective Shunsaku, Tima, and Kenichi, but only enough to allow the themes of acceptance of all people and races to radiate and be explored through out the film itself. They are mainly point of view characters. That works for me, considering that this is a two hour film and never had enough time to fully characterization everyone in the film anyway. Making a fictional city feel real is hard work for a piece of fiction and I think that the film being able to do that at least allows some short comings in characterization to be over looked in my eyes.
Speaking of the city of Metropolis, the visuals behind this film to make it look real are astounding. For a 2001 anime movie, it’s just completely beautiful. I haven’t seen a lot of anime media, including films, that pay that much attention to people in the backgrounds recently. Believe me, that’s saying a lot. It’s fantastic to see Tezuka’s character designs move with more modern animation techniques as well. I know that I can say that for a lot of media again, but there is something about the way everything animated that makes everything feel special. There are some short cuts for all of this animated splendor. CG takes up a lot of visual space in this film too. Half of isn’t that bad because they are farther in the background and doesn’t look like cg, but then there are some cg parts in foreground that are just too complex to feel natural, so they are awkward as hell and are completely noticeable in that bad sort of way. Its something that can take one right out of the experience the film depending how long those are on screen. On average though, the visuals are exceptional
I think all you readers know how I am going to sum up my experience for this film. I honestly can’t recommend it enough for a lot of reasons. Still, there are some moments that confuse my feelings towards this film. For instance, I don’t know how to feel about the finale of Metropolis. Not because it looks bad. No, the whole scene is gorgeous. It’s the fact that it almost cuts out all sorts of background sounds and character voices for jazz ballad song still leaves me confused. The song is thematically relevant to that moment, but it’s so out of nowhere that it sort of takes you out of the movie for a bit. You will have to wait until you see it to fully understand it though. That doesn’t hurt how I feel about the film completely though. With it’s flaws and all that I already talked about, it’s a good experience. Maybe not completely necessary viewing, but you won’t be disappointed by what you see.
I guess my Halloween special’s themes are sprawling cityscapes, unhappy people protesting on the streets, with some science fiction elements on the side. Now isn’t that the most 2019 sentence possible? Don’t know how I did it, but I think I captured the essential 2019 experience in two movies. Next episode will focus on something that I have never watched before myself, because I at least have to find stuff that I haven’t seen before either. I hope it’s good. I really have no complete idea right now. See you then.