During the early 2000’s I remember seeing many previews for this movie both in English and in Japanese, they hyped this movie up as being “the most spectacular anime in motion picture history” and even so much as receiving praise from film director James Cameron. While it’s hard to take the hyperbole behind this movie seriously it’s certainly a movie that while it’s been overlooked in recent years and one that deserves more notice not just for its story but what could be its “Ground-breaking” achievement in animation and design that show how gigantic this movie is in different perspectives.
Based loosely off the Manga by Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, Black Jack) that ran in 1949, Metropolis tells the story of one of the most highly technologically advanced cities ever constructed. In this city its population consists of robots and humans coexisting, however the majority of the human population have been rendered unemployed, homeless and living in terrible conditions due to the rise of the robot population. During construction of one of the most largest skyscraper’s called the Ziggurat, Duke Red the unofficial ruler of the city has secretly hired a scientist named Dr. Laughton (who has been wanted for illegal organ trafficking) to build a highly advanced robot modelled after Duke Red’s recently deceased daughter Tima. However Private detective Shunsaku Ban and his nephew Kenichi arrive from Japan to arrest Dr. Laughton for his crimes, but as he is eventually murdered by Rock (Duke Red's adopted son and the head of the Marduk Party, a vigilante group whose aim is to calm anti-robot sentiments) Tima comes online and is lost and confused in the labyrinthine city until he comes across Kenichi. Unbeknownst to everyone involved Tima plays a huge role in the survival of the city and with Rock on her trail and Duke Red’s plans for the Ziggurat coming into play the fate of the humanity is at a huge risk.
When people normally think of Metropolis, people instantly think of the famous silent film from 1927 directed by Fritz Lang and normally would forget about this one, whilst this movie does borrow similar aspects and tropes from the 1927 film the anime adaptation deals strongly with the theme of Xenophobia. The mistrust and cruelty that robots have to endure under their human masters, who see them as nothing but disposable trash with little sympathy and compassion is given to them throughout this apart the main leads Shunsaku Ban and Kenichi who understand the importance of coexistence and compassion. Apart from the mistreatment of robots this film also displays how the arrogance of humanity’s obsession with technological advancements and industrial societal progress how the city has been broken down into zones for the humans and robots that live the different social classes. The rich and powerful living on the surface to the poor and unemployed living at the bottom and film manages to move ahead very well with that, all while being thrown into a political power struggle which affects the world these people live in.
This film’s cast is huge with a wide array of interesting and unforgettable characters. The main leads being the robot Tima and Kenichi, Tima comes across as kind but a little bit naïve and oblivious of the world around her and unsure of who or what she is. Kenichi comes across as kind and sympathetic and willing to help Tima find out more about who she is, when these characters meet they build a strong friendship that shows that even robots and humans can be friends regardless of who or what they are. Duke Red’s character is portrayed as a powerful and arrogant ruler that doesn’t display many qualities that would make you hate him as an antagonist until you then discover the truth of Tima’s character and what Duke’s plans are for her, Shunsaku Ban’s portrayed as a caring and strong uncle making sure he sees justice done but also make sure his nephew is safe.
The character of Rock really is the most complex out of everyone though for what he represents, his role as a member of the head of the Marduk Party and his strong unending hatred for robots is shown rather fanatically how much he loves his adopted father and how much he wants to protect him from robots, but at the same time how very little love Duke Red has for Rock and sees him as nothing more than his “right hand man”. As shown the hatred and cruelty subjected to robots is carried out rather viciously by the Marduk when the robots are not obeying their assigned commands or are in the wrong area, no one however carries out more violently than Rock. The rest of the supporting cast offer a huge amount to the story and don’t waste any time in moving the story to its conclusion, their presence leaves something there for the audience to invest in.
Production for this movie is huge, directed Rintaro (Doomed Megalopolis, Galaxy Express 999, X/1999) & written by Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira, Steamboy) this movie came out around the post “old school” era of anime when CG was building itself more and more and traditional animation was slowly diminishing. This movie has a history of being 5 years in production with over 150, 000 cel animations all costing around ¥1,500,000,000, this movie is a hybrid of 2D and CG moving along with each other. The characters and how they move and emote being hand drawn animation whilst the backgrounds (whilst some of them are matte paintings) are mostly done in CGI, the scope of this movie as well is gigantic once you take a step back and see it. As the city is split up into different zones you see how each zone looks different based on the living conditions everyone has, the main city up above is very clean and very well kept and down below everything looks gritty and grungy and the further below is out of control that it’s uninhabitable for the human occupants that the robots have to do the work in those areas. What also stands out about this movie is that it’s use of the Diesel-punk genre, this movie from its vehicles, architecture, character designs and even its music feels like a throwback to the 1950’s with how everything moves and operates in a dated (but futuristic fashion). Having the look be loosely influenced by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis every bit of technology and equipment that would appear dated has a use in this movie and the world it’s set in, it manages to combine both the old and the new rather well.
From an Audio perspective, the soundtrack is a strange combination. A tiny bit of bombastic orchestra but the majority of the soundtrack is heavily based around New Orleans-style jazz music composed by Toshiyuki Honda, the jazz music is very energetic during the action scenes and slow and moving when the characters are either walking, plot exposition is being delivered or even when nothing is really happening, music in this particular movie really sets the tone for what is happening. The main theme song to this “There'll Never Be Good-Bye” performed by Minako "Mooki" Obata is played throughout this movie constantly in different ways which shows the bigger importance of this song by the end of the movie, another insert song which is used in the film’s climax is "I Can't Stop Loving You" by Ray Charles which can be used to describe the love between Tima and Kenichi.
The English Dub by Animaze is a rather satisfying one with an all-around, well assembled, all-star ensemble cast. Rebecca Forstadt as Tima plays her as kind and gentle but by the end of the movie distraught and broken, Brianne Siddall as Kenichi plays him as she normally played little boys (which was why she was normally type casted as these kind of voices) except her she plays Kenichi rather well which makes the character very likeable as a leading hero. Jamieson Price as Duke Red gives of a commanding and fearful persona to the character, the kind of antagonist that may come across as caring and sympathetic but underneath it displays all the range of viciousness and arrogance one can encapsulate in a character. The late Tony Pope did a rather good job portraying Shunsaku Ban, playing him as a friendly but at times stern father figure that made his character rather supportive as the film pushed on. Finally Michael Reisz as Rock really displays an emotional range that gives you an idea of how broken and how desperate he is to protect his adoptive father and kill anyone who gets in his way. The rest of the voice cast are well established here, names like Steve Blum, Peter Spellos, Dan Woren, Simon Prescott, Doug Stone, Barbara Goodson, William Frederick Knight and even Scott Weinger from Disney’s Aladdin have something special to bring to this movie that leave a rather big impact on each character they play.
Overall while this movie is nowhere near as close to being on the same tier of impact on the industry like Ghost in the Shell or Akira, it’s one that really deserves the amount of attention that it needs. Metropolis at the very centre of it all is about the xenophobic and violent behaviour we display one people (or in this case) robots who we deem as inferior or just not worth the effort to care about, but it’s also a story about the importance of coexistence and how through so much chaos and political turmoil friendship and love can prevail and can be used for better purposes. One of Osamu Tezuka’s best works that this movie managed to do a great job of upholding a rather important legacy to an important figure of the industry and one had a huge amount of commitment and effort put into.
A great movie about robots, but also what it means for a robot to have feelings.
Sami Sadek is a lifelong Transformers and Anime fan, and can often be found propping up bars or appearing in the background of Auto Assembly vids. He has also talks on Youtube, Tumbls on Tumblr, Tweets on Twitter, doodles on Deviantart and is a regular co-host on this very site's Cyberritz. He has never had a swordfight atop a church whilst a crow watches. Honest.