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Laramie Movie Scope:
(Osamu Tezuka's) Metropolis

Japanimation version of a classic story

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 7, 2003 -- "Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis" is an ambitious animated retelling of the 1927 Fritz Lang classic. Unfortunately, the Fritz Lang film was chopped up long ago and significant portions of it are missing. It will probably never be seen again in its original form. It is sort of like starting with a great novel, and then tearing half the pages out of it and burning them. Do you still have a great novel? I think not. The new animated version, however, is complete and is available on DVD.

While the broad outline of the original story has been maintained in this new version of the film, the details are quite different. That is because it isn't based directly on the original Metropolis. Instead, it is based on a 1949 comic book (comic books are called manga in Japan) created by Osamu Tezuka. That original manga, was, in turn, based on Fritz Lang's film, Metropolis. A couple of new characters, central to the story, are a private detective, Shunsaku Ban and his nephew, Kenichi, who arrive in Metropolis on the trail of a renegade scientist, Dr. Laughton. Another new character is Rock, a fellow who really hates robots. He destroys robots who are outside of their assigned zone in the city as part of an anti-robot vigilante group called the Marduk Party. Zone one is the surface, and all other progressively numbered zones are underground. The deeper the zone, the less hospitable it is for humans. Only robots work in the deeper zones. Rock has an uneasy relationship with Duke Red, the most powerful businessman in Metropolis. Rock considers Duke Red his father. Although Duke Red raised the orphan boy, Rock, he never formally adopted him. Rock has some serious issues with that.

Ban and Kenichi catch up with Laughton just as he is completing his latest creation, a robot who looks human. The robot is made to order for Duke Red and is created in the image of his dead daughter. Rock finds out about the new robot and in a jealous rage, he tries to destroy it. Ben and Kenichi are caught in the explosion, but both escape. Kenichi and the robot escape to a lower level. The robot, called Tima, doesn't know who she is or even what she is, and neither does Kenichi. Once Rock finds out that Tima is still alive, he is determined to hunt her down and destroy her. Meanwhile, Duke Red is also looking for Tima. He has big plans for the robot related to a giant machine he has just built called the Ziggurat. Tima has been built especially to interface with the all-powerful machine. Ban continues to look for Kenichi with the aide of a police detective robot nicknamed Pero (another new character).

Kenichi and Tima become close friends as the two try to escape all the people trying to hunt them down. Meanwhile, larger forces are at work as the city's president (another new character) hatches a plan to discredit Duke Red and remove him from power. The president wants the power of the Ziggurat for himself. Pawns in this political game are the anti-robot and pro-robot factions, as well as workers planning their own rebellion. All of this conflict comes to a head as Tima and Kenichi meet their destinies.

Metropolis is a strange mixture of different animation styles. Some othe characters are drawn in the wide-eyed style from earlier manga and anime days. Others are drawn in a more realistic styles. Most of the characters resemble Europeans, not Japanese. Many have exaggerated features, particularly noses. The most dazzling artwork is in the backgrounds, the buildings and fantastic architecture of Metropolis. Some of the music is unobtrusive, but some of the jazz numbers, and a Ray Charles rendition of "I Can't Stop Loving You," seems wildly inappropriate for the scene in which it plays. It is a very audacious, but beautifully-drawn film. Much of the artwork in the film is stunning. The story, while pretty busy, does make some sense, even to Western viewers. It is also enough like the original Metropolis to be familiar to those who have seen the earlier film. While some of the subplots are very sketchy and the motivations of some of the characters are not clear, it is a journey worth taking. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2003 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)