Film Festival week: Metropolis

Let me take a moment to talk about Metropolis. Metropolis was one of the most notable pioneering sci-fi works released back in 1927. It was directed by Fritz Lang and written by Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou. The film is a classic of the genre, in spite of some scenes being lost, and every sci-fi fan should watch it. Why do I bring this up when it has nothing to do with anime? Well, back in 1949 Tezuka Osamu, who you may know as the creator of Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion, made a manga inspired by the film, also titled Metropolis. In 2001, Madhouse and Tezuka Productions came out with an anime film version. Which is what we’re looking at today.

Story:

The narrative opens in the titular Metropolis with a celebration for the opening of the new Ziggurat. Our protagonists are the private investigator, Shunsaku Ban and his nephew, Kenichi. They’ve traveled to Metropolis to find and arrest a Doctor guilty of harvesting human organs. Little do ther realise that he’s working with the great aristocrat, Duke Red, to create a specialised robot for a specific purpose. They find the doctor’s laboratory burning and Kenichi gets separated from his uncle and stuck in a lower part of the city with the robot, Tima.

The story doesn’t have a bad premise, even though it’s not the one from the original silent film or even close to it. But it quickly becomes riddled with problems. A big one is the romance they have between Tima and Kenichi. It’s incredibly weak with the two characters showing no chemistry nor sharing any substantial moments. They meet and they’re amicable towards each other so it must be love, I guess. The biggest one is probably Duke Red’s ultimate scheme. It reads like a bad silver age comic plot, but without the glorious cheesiness that made silver age comics entertaining. Instead, the film plays it completely seriously. The pacing is all over the place, with some scenes dragging and others getting rushed through.

Characters:

The characters are severely under-developed. Most of them fill a basic archetypal role and never move beyond that. Which is a real problem when they try to get you to sympathise with them. Something bad happened to that guy with three or four lines? Yeah, if you don’t flesh out your characters, we aren’t going to care. The big exceptions are the characters with even less personality. Tima moves well below under-developed and is just very flat and primarily serves the purpose of being obsessive about Kenichi with little if any personality or motivation beyond him. Yes, the 1927 film was somehow more progressive in terms of gender portrayals than the 2001 one. There are other characters like that, mostly ones who appear in only a few scenes, though. Tima is the only major character with that particular problem.

Art:

The artwork is by far the best part of the film. The characters are done in a kind of retro design style reminiscent of other anime based on Tezuka’s work. Which does work very well given the source material. The backgrounds are magnificent. The futuristic tech is really cool looking, although some of it seems like it was deliberately designed around looking cool while being grossly impractical. The fire fighting equipment in particular involves a bunch of small parts that all have to converge and fuse into the main device. It does look cool, but it makes the world seem kind of stupid.

Sound:

The voice acting is mostly pretty competent. The actors all do their work well enough. The big exception is Imoto Yuka who can’t be asked to emote and gives a very monotone performance. It may be a matter of direction, but I haven’t heard her in anything else, this film was the only acting credit I could find for her, so it’s possible that the direction was fine and she was just bad. The music is really good.

Ho-yay:

There really isn’t any in this. 1/10.

Final Thoughts:

This movie is not good but I would hesitate to call it ungood. Visually, it’s a real treat. The music is good and the acting is, mostly, okay. That being said, it has a lot of problems. The story is weak. The characters are bland at best. It’s a film that’s flashy but lacking in any real substance. You might want to give it a watch if you’re really into high quality animation and sci-fi, but if you’re going to want a compelling narrative with interesting characters you’ll want to skip it. As such, I can’t recommend it for most people. Although you should definitely watch the silent film that it’s very loosely based on. My final rating is going to be a 4/10. Tomorrow, we’ll leap to something else. Possibly involving time travel.  

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