Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Metropolis (2001) - Robots and Humans Learning to Live Together

Metropolis: You Have to Watch Out for Those Trippy Robots

Metropolis original film poster
"Metropolis" (2001) is a Brandai Visual Company animated film based on the 1949 manga of Osamu Tezuka, a legend among artists, and not just Japanese illustrators. Stanley Kubrick wanted him to help with the artwork on 2001: A Space Odyssey, for instance, and he headed the prestigious "Mushi Productions" animation studio which brought animation to television. He had a western orientation that led him to adapt Disney and other  works that were not traditionally Japanese. This film, "Metropolis," is one such adaptation, of the classic 1927 Fritz Lang German silent film of the same name.
Metropolis 2001 The Ziggurat
The Ziggurat

In Metropolis, humans and robots maintain an uneasy coexistence. Robots are generally poor, while many people are unemployed and blame the robots. Duke Red (Taro Ishida) is a human leader who has built the "Ziggurat," a massive building designed to make life easier for everyone. Duke, though, has a secret: there's a superweapon hidden in the Ziggurat.
Metropolis 2001 Kenichi
Kenichi wa?

Rock (Koki Okada) is Duke's adoptive son. He protects his father, but when he learns that Duke has hired Dr. Laughton (Junpel Takiguchi) to build an advanced super-robot, Tima (Yuka Imoto), based on his own deceased daughter whom he dearly loved, he is horrified and shoots the robot's builder and burns down the laboratory.
Metropolis 2001 Tima showing circuits
Tima revealed
Meanwhile, a private detective investigating Dr. Laughton, Shinsaku Ban (Kosei Tomita), and his nephew Kenichi (Kei Kobayashi) find Laughton before he dies. Laughton gives him his plans for Tima. Kenichi, meanwhile, finds and rescues Tima, who is complete, and they bond and (eventually) fall in love.
Metropolis 2001 Tima with dove
Tima with a dove

Rock finds out what happened and hunts down Tima and the others. A revolution fails, and Duke assumes dictatorial powers. Rock tries to kill Tima, but Duke - who has transferred his love for his daughter to Tima - then disowns him. Duke then takes Tima back to the Ziggurat, but Rock follows and deactivates Tima. Shinsauku reactivates her using Laughton's plans, and there follows a confrontation at the top of the Ziggurat between everyone after which Tima becomes power-mad, loses her memory and tries to destroy humanity. Kenichi, though, tries reasoning with her based on their earlier relationship as the world collapses around them.
Metropolis 2001 cityscape
Futuristic cityscape
 A lot of top talent worked on this film. Akira creator was a screenwriter, and the director was Rintaro, famous in anime circles.  There also is an English version voiced by Robert Axelrod, Steve Blum, William Knight and Dave Mallow (among many others). The soundtrack is old-fashioned jazz music composed by Toshiyuki Honda that gives the proceedings a retro and, for western audiences, comfortable feel.
Metropolis 2001 building interior
The visuals really hearken back to the 1927 original

Everybody seems to like the film, though it did not make much money by Hollywood standards. That may have been partly caused by the unfortunate coincidence of its release soon after the September 11 2001 attack, to which some scenes bear an uncanny resemblance. The story is fairly predictable, but the animation is of the highest caliber.  There is a mix of 2D and 3D, with the 3D used sparingly. The colors change from pastels in the peaceful opening scenes to dark and vivid colors as things get desperate.
Metropolis 2001 main characters
What a motley crew!
Character are drawn with realistic detail, though peoples' heads are usually very round. There is some violence, which got the film a PG-13 rating. People in the business know this is a truly epic animation film, despite its lack of renown.
Metropolis 2001 street scene
Vibrant, dark, edgy colors
The film differs a bit from the original manga. The look of the 1927 film is emphasized, and the idea of class struggle from the earlier film is used. The robot, Tima, is made more conventional than in the manga (in which it could, among other things, fly and change its gender).
Metropolis 2001 ziggurat and other buildings
Looks a bit like NYC already does, actually
"Metropolis" is for fans of animation, as opposed to animation films that will make you laugh at all the funny, cuddly creatures with strange eyes and witty quips. It is a serious film, full of surprising emotion, alone in a sea of Pixar and DreamWorks comedies. It becomes incredibly sad at the end. As such, it may seem even more alien than it is. The music, though, will draw you in. If you are interested in a serious animation film, or just want to see an interesting story told in spectacular fashion by all-star talent, this is a good evening's view.

Below is one of my (and probably everyone's) favorite scenes from "Metropolis." It is a very poignant sequence, to the strains of Ray Charles' "I Can't Stop Loving You" (not on the soundtrack).



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//PART 2