Metropolis (Metoroporisu) (2001)
Directed by Rintaro

Artistic Value: * * * *
Entertainment Value: * * * * ½

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Metropolis is set sometime in the future in a colossal city governed by a wealthy elite. The city itself is maintained by hordes of robots, but many workers have been displaced by the machines, and there is unrest as a consequence. Gangs of vigilantes destroy any robot which fails to adhere to its programming and the unemployed poor languishing in underground slums plan a revolution. Having arrived in the city with his uncle, a policeman from Japan searching for a fugitive, a young boy, Kenichi, inadvertently becomes involved in various political intrigues when he comes across a mysterious girl who appears to have lost her memory.

Inspired by Osamu Tezuka's manga, Rintaro's animated Metropolis is a visual masterpiece, though it is flawed in a number of other ways.


From its first moment until its last, Rintaro's film really is breathtakingly beautiful and remarkably unique visually. The style in which the characters are drawn is inspired by Tezuka's original artwork and resembles that found in animation from the 1920s and 1930s. The city itself is rendered in fantastic and lavish detail by means of computer generated images, and the two dimensional characters are skillfully integrated into this world. Toward the end of the film, some of the computer animation used is of inferior quality, but such moments are brief. Overall, Metropolis is a visually stunning work.

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In fact, Rintaro has managed to conjure up a vision that is every bit as marvellous and as fascinating as is that realized by Fritz Lang in his 1927 movie. Rintaro's Metropolis has, consequently, been given such life that, like the Metropolis of the earlier work, it is itself a major character in the film. Sadly, the movie's other characters are considerably less engaging. The protagonists, in particular, are virtual non-entities. Some of the minor characters are both relatively complex and intriguing, but none are as brilliantly realized as is the city in which they live.


A number of the characters are, however, made more interesting than they would otherwise have been by their resemblances to characters appearing in Lang's work. For example, Duke Red, a powerful industrialist, mirrors Joh Fredersen, and Dr. Laughton, a mad scientist who creates a robotic being, resembles Rotwang. By referencing Lang's masterpiece, Rintaro is able to awaken in the viewer memories he may have of that film and, consequently, the emotions he associated with the characters featured in it. While both Duke Red and Dr. Laughton are unique individuals, and the former is an engaging character in his own right, by connecting them with Fredersen and Rotwang, respectively, Rintaro enhances their capacity for eliciting an emotional response from the viewer.


I should note, however, that the superficial similarities of the two films' characters and the themes common to both movies, such as the hierarchical social systems of the cities, the revolutionary activities of the poorer classes, and the conspiracies of the wealthy to dispose of such threats, do not lead to many narrative similarities. These various elements are incorporated differently into the stories, which themselves move in radically different directions. Rintaro's film is by no means a remake of Lang's. It is, in truth, a unique work.


Regrettably, whatever its virtues, Metropolis is hardly without faults, some of which are severe. The greatest of these is, undoubtedly, the movie's propensity for maudlin sentimentality. Many of the robot characters are overly adorable and consequently grating, and the film's climax is so weakened by its unfolding to the song "I Can't Stop Loving You" that the director wastes much of the sense of drama and tragedy he had evoked up to that point. Instead of being moving, the music is manipulative, inappropriate, juvenile, and silly.


While Rintaro's film is flawed by the presence of such elements, and by its less than fascinating protagonists, it is, nonetheless, so astonishingly beautiful that it is an impressive achievement.

Review by Keith Allen

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