Metropolis (2001)

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Minor Spoilers
It’s been three days since I watched this stunning film, and I  cannot get it out of my head!  The imagery, the music, my god – what music! And the themes which run through it – have seared themselves on my mind.

The film is not the Fritz Lang version, but an anime film directed by Rintaro , and written by Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira) and is based on the original works of the late Osamu Tezuku, who is regarded as the godfather of Japanese Anime.

The story is set in a futuristic city, where tall towers overlook a city which is very similar to Fritz Lang’s vision melded with Blade Runner. There are several layers to the city called ‘Zones’, with the lowest being populated by robots who do the works which humans do not want. And there’s a robot human divide with the humans very critical towards their artificial counterparts who they blame for taking their jobs.

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In this vast dystopia, a private detective Shansaku Ban, and his nephew Kenichi, arrive to investigate the works of a scientist Dr. Laughton,  who is on the eve of creating a super robot; Tima – a girl modelled on the dead daughter of the city’s unofficial leader, Duke Red. He wants the robot to be a replacement for the daughter he lost (and ultimately become ruler of Metropolis), but his son Rock (who we learn early is adopted) does not take to the idea lightly and goes about trying to stop the scientist finishing his creation. But Tima, along with the detective’s nephew, escape into the underbelly of the city. They come across human insurgents who want to overthrow the rule of Duke Red but at the same time Rock is hot on their trail.

The animation is truly exquisite, a blend of CGI and traditional cel animation. It may seem a little dated by today’s standards, but it is still mesmerising stuff. The film has a really immersive, almost hypnotic feel to it. And the story has a lot of themes running through it, such as father and son relationship. Rock yearns to be appreciated by his father, but he is too preoccupied with retrieving his daughter and oblivious to his plight. It mirrors the the father son theme in Blade Runner where Roy Batty also longs to be accepted. There’s also the clash of two different races, and the fear of ‘the other’, in this case robots. There’s some really touching interractions between the two, first when we see a gentle waste disposal robot who brings food to Tima and Kenichi, and the robot detective who accompanies the main detective and his nephew;  His last moments juxtaposed with the flight of a bird and a look of fear on his face says so many things. And the towering skyscrapers are shown as a parable on the Towers of Babel, with the famous biblical incident getting a name check in the film. But at heart, the film is about innocence, the wonder of childhood, love and acceptance.

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The visual details of the film is a masterclass by the creative team, from the cluttered almost claustrophobic settings of the lower levels to the sprawling cityscapes above. Not only does it call to mind Blade Runner, but also the world of Mega City 1 in the Judge Dredd comic strip, both of whom must pay inspirational debt to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. The influence of Lang’s film on science fiction cinema as a whole, is immense.

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And of course the music for the film is so powerful. An influence of Jazz, and by the end, “I can’t stop loving you” by Ray Charles, as destruction rains down upon the Tower of babel and Kenichi tries to rescue Tima. It is a potent coming together of music and imagery, and the result is unforgettable.

Metropolis is a beautiful masterpiece, It is a fitting love letter to Osamu Tezuku, and I’m certain it is a film he would’ve been proud of.

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