Metropolis

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Metropolis

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Metropolis' pedigree should impress any serious anime fan: It was scripted by Akira writer-director Katsuhiro Otomo, working from the 1949 comic by the father of modern Japanese manga, Astroboy creator Osamu Tezuka. It was directed by Rin Tarô, the ambitious visual stylist behind the X movie adaptation, and it shares themes and plot specifics with Fritz Lang's classic silent Metropolis. But in spite of its star-studded lineage, the new Metropolis is a fairly standard genre exercise, packed with light, detail, color, noise, and motion that add up to relatively little. Like Lang's film, the animated version centers on a female robot created by a crackpot genius to replace a dead girl in the heart of a rich industrialist, and to consolidate that industrialist's control over the working class that populates the hidden lower levels of his shining, layered city. In this case, the manufacturer is the grim, coldhearted Duke Red (voiced in the dubbed version by Jamieson Price), whose recently built mega-skyscraper is both a focus of civic hubris and a base of operations for a series of sinister plots. It also serves as a Tower Of Babel motif that further connects Tarô's Metropolis with Lang's. And it's intended as a throne for Red's robotic "superbeing," which is meant to rule the world. Red's most faithful adherent, a boy named Rock who desperately wants to be considered Red's son, jealously attempts to destroy the childlike robot, which winds up wandering the city's bleak lower levels in the company of a young boy named Kenichi. Where Lang's movie was a sweet romantic melodrama packed with striking sets and cautionary politics, Tarô's version delves into anime's ongoing obsession with the man-vs.-machine conflict. But Lang's class-conflict fairy tale doesn't blend well with Otomo's high-tech technophobia and his warnings against world-engulfing dehumanization. The dubbed script comes out muddled, repetitive, and enigmatic: It's particularly unclear why Duke Red wants to raze the world and replace it with a robot-ruled paradise, considering his evident hatred of robots. Tarô, meanwhile, moves away from X's overwhelming visual fireworks in an attempt to emulate Tezuka's antiquated character design, which makes Duke Red look like a scruffy parrot, while Kenichi resembles a puffy refugee from Disney's Silly Symphonies. Technologically, the film is impressive, and it readily overwhelms the senses with frenetic computer-generated activity, an apocalyptic grand finale, and a bombastic jazz score. But unlike its classic predecessor, it doesn't leave much in its wake but ringing ears and unanswered questions.

Filed Under: DVD

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