Combustible Celluloid
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With: (voices) Yuka Imoto, Kei Kobayashi, Kouki Okada, Taro Ishida, Kousei Tomita
Written by: Katsuhiro Otomo, based on the manga by Osamu Tezuka
Directed by: Rintaro
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence and images of destruction
Language: Japanese with English subtitles
Running Time: 108
Date: 05/26/2001

Metropolis (2001)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Urban Sprawl

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

An early scene in the new anime Metropolis perfectly illustrates how I feel about this film. A detective named Shunsaku Ban and his young assistant Kenichi from Japan are attempting to hire a guide to help them find their way around the gargantuan city of Metropolis. A man sitting behind a desk begins to explain something to them, but they're completely distracted by a giant fish swimming around in a huge tank built into the wall behind the desk -- a fish that could swallow all three of them plus the desk as an appetizer.

While they're gazing at the fish, they completely miss everything the man says. That's what happened to me as I watched this film.

Metropolis has to be one of the most dazzling films I've ever seen, and not just as far as the technical level of animation. The film's imagination goes sky high, showing us unbelievable buildings, surfaces, catwalks, robots, colors, underground catacombs, and yes, fish tanks.

The problem is that Metropolis is subtitled, and unless my memory fails me, it's the first anime I've seen that way. Most of them are dubbed, which makes sense, since cartoons always get dubbed anyway -- you're not trying to match dialogue with live actors' lips. In addition, most of the signs, banners and printing in the film are already in English. The characters in Metropolis talk a lot and they talk fast, so our eyes dart all over the screen trying to drink in the astounding visuals and absorb all the dialogue as well. Dubbing the film would have been a simple fix, and I can't imagine why the filmmakers didn't do it.

In any case, Shunsaku Ban (voiced by Kousei Tomita) and Kenichi (voiced by Kei Kobay Yashi) have come to Metropolis to track down a renegade scientist, Dr. Laughton (voiced by Junpei Takiguchi), and seize his latest creation, a young girl robot called Tima (voiced by Yuka Imoto). The ruler of the city, Duke Red (voiced by Taro Ishida), has commissioned the doc to make the girl for him, but the Duke's unofficially adopted son, Rock (voiced by Kohki Okada), has other plans. He sets the laboratory on fire, hoping to destroy both Laughton and Tima.

Tima escapes and Kenichi finds her, unaware of who, or what, she is. The rest of the movie basically follows all the various characters as they chase each other around the mind-bogglingly complex streets. Eventually we learn that Tima is no mere love-doll -- she's actually a weapon powerful enough to destroy the world.

But where Metropolis really stands out is in its credentials. Director Rintaro brought us last year's X and 1981's Galaxy Express 999. Screenwriter Katsuhiro Otomo directed the groundbreaking Akira (1988). The whole thing is based on a fifty year-old manga (comic book) by Osamu Tezuka, who also created "Astro Boy" and "Kimba the White Lion," and established the anime style that lives on to this day.

In other words, Metropolis is a superproduction similar to Steven Spielberg's and Stanley Kubrick's A.I. Artificial Intelligence. (It should be noted that Tezuka was inspired by a still or a poster of Fritz Lang's 1926 silent film of the same name, but never saw the entire film.)

Underneath all the razzle-dazzle, though, Metropolis simply holds true to the usual theme of many other anime -- that man's struggle between nature and technology grows ever more complex, and that we now have the power to destroy the world, should we choose to.

It's a story we've already heard, but Metropolis reminds us to keep in touch with our humanity and not let all the cool gizmos overwhelm us.

DVD Details: English and Japanese audio tracks, though the English subtitles don't match the English language track. A second, mini-disc includes interviews, featurettes, biographies, multi-angle comparisons, art and more.

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