134: Metropolis Review

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Ambition feels like such a double-edged sword. You can be respected and admired for how far you take your project, but if it doesn’t entirely work out, all of that ambition will fall flat, due to execution. I’ve seen a lot of Japanese animated films, and that tends to happen to many of them. They might have great visuals, a grand scale in their themes, and so on, but due to either not a good director or writer, you end up with a films that feels clunky in their presentation. This is something I heard a lot about with Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis. Directed by Rintaro, and written by Katsuhiro Otomo, this film was based on the late creator’s manga that was inspired by the famous sci-fi film of the same name. It’s noteworthy as well for being one of the first animated features to be submitted to the Oscars for Best Animated Feature in 2001, but didn’t make it, Instead, that awful Jimmy Neutron movie got nominated. With a list of talent like Rintaro directing, Tezuka’s original manga, and Otomo’s writing, this should be a slam dunk. It did get rave reviews, calling it one of the best animated films from Japan, and I do agree with that. However, let’s dive in and see what else we can find.

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Our story takes place in, where else, Metropolis! It’s a high tech city, filled to the brim with humans, rich and poor, having to live with robots that do a mass majority of “lower-class” work. The city is in a bit of a complicated moment in time, as the President, dubbed by Steve McGowan, is presenting a new massive tower, along with Duke Red, dubbed by Jamieson Price, who might have an alterior motive other than just showing how rich he is. At the same time, a detective named Shunsaku Ban, dubbed by Tony Pope, and his nephew Kenichi, dubbed by Brianne Siddall, arrive in the city to bring in a scientist named Dr. Laughton, dubbed by Simon Prescott. The scientist also happens to be working for Duke Red to make a special project for him. On the day that Shunsaku and Kenichi arrive in the city, and with the help of a robot detective named Pero, dubbed by Dave Mallow, they end up getting caught in a much bigger scheme. Dr. Laughton is then shot by an underling working for Duke Red named Rock, dubbed by Michael Relsz, and his lab is destroyed, with only a mysterious young girl named Tima, dubbed by Rebecca Forstadt, surviving. Why does Duke want her? Will the robots and humans find a way to not get into a revolution against one another? What motives does the President have in terms of the massive tower?

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The major complaint I heard about this movie is that the film is very busy. You not only have Tima and Kenichi, the mystery of Tima’s purpose, the lower class revolution, the discrimination against robots, Duke Red wanting to be a God, Babylon references, government corruption, and yeah, when I list all of that, so the film is busy. I don’t know if they wanted to adapt the entire story of Tezuka’s manga, since Tezuka wasn’t alive anymore when this film was made, but it does come off like that. There are different points in the second half where it seems like time skipped ahead, and nothing is filled in. You see the beginning of the revolution, but then it cuts to the end of it a few minutes later. It definitely feels like they could have cut some characters, because some of the motivations for how certain characters, like Rock and Duke Red, act are not fully explained to the audience. It definitely could have used some fine tuning in the writing, as the huge philosophical elements come off as wonky in the final product. Nothing wrong with combining religion and philosophy on what makes you human, but it does make the film overly complicated. It should have stuck with the story focusing on Tima and Kenichi, because while I do think their bond is strong, I wish there were more scenes with the two.

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I know it sounds like I might hate this movie, and I know some people do, but I really love it. I actually love quite a lot about this film, and I do still agree it’s one of the best and most important animated films from Japan. If you watch any clip of this film, you can tell that the combination of 2D animation and CGI is gorgeous. I love seeing Tezuka’s retro designs on a film budget. This entire film is brimming with beautiful animation, a lot of detail, and personality that makes the city of Metropolis thrive and feel alive. It definitely stands out among the animation seen in more modern day Japanese-animated films.

I also love its jazzy New Orleans-style soundtrack and orchestrated score by Toshiyuki Honda and Atsuki Kimura. However, the best song in this entire film is the Ray Charles version of I Can’t Stop Loving You. It makes the ending so much more emotionally powerful as you see what happens with everyone. It’s a song that always sticks in my mind, and I am actually addicted to it right now as I type this. As for the English dub, it’s pretty sweet, and they have a powerhouse of voice actors for the English dub. You have Brianne Siddall, Rebecca Forstadt, Tony Pope, Jamieson Price, Michael Reisz, Steve Blum, Dave Mallow, Simon Prescott, Dan Woren, Doug Stone, William Frederick Knight, and Barbara Goodson to name some of the best talent you can find in anime. Even though some characters could have been fleshed out more, I still felt for them, and was invested in the overall story. The main heart of the film is definitely when Kenichi and Tima are together. They have some of the best scenes and interactions together. Even if I think this film doesn’t handle philosophical themes well, I still admire that it wanted to be more than just another animated film. It’s at the very least, more than you can say about studios like Blue Sky and Illumination, which I would argue have no ambition to be more than just animated features.

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I find myself constantly coming back to Metropolis. I have seen it probably five or so times now, and I still love it despite its flaws. Unfortunately the original DVD release of this film is entering the $30 range, and I don’t think I would recommend doing that when Mill Creek Entertainment is about to put out a new steel book Blu-ray release of it. If you love animation, the works of Osamu Tezuka, and Japanese-animation history, you should definitely check out this film. For now, let’s take a break from Japanese animation, and move on over to what might be Netflix’s best animated feature since The Little Prince with White Fang. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!