Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis

Studio: Mill Creek Entertainment

Nov 07, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Osamu Tezuka is arguably one of the most important figures in Japanese anime and manga, creating the very groundwork from which the mediums would come to define themselves. Throughout his awe-inspiring career, he would create some of the most iconic characters and stories that exist in the medium, including Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion. Extraordinarily prolific, even his ill-fated battle with stomach cancer in 1989 wasn’t enough to stop him from creating - his famous last words being, “I’m begging you, let me work!”

Early in his career, responding to publishers clamoring for stories other than junk food-esque comics, Tezuka would create an epic science-fiction graphic novel in less than a year. His resulting 1949 single-volume manga Metropolis was pieced from numerous inspirations including Les Misérables, Superman, the 1936 film The Invisible Ray, and several of Tezuka’s other works (published and unpublished). Interestingly enough, though he was directly inspired by an iconic production still of Brigitte Helm in Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece of the same name, Tezuka claimed that he had never seen the film and that it had a nonexistent impact on his story. When published, Tezuka’s Metropolis (and likewise its creator) became so significant, a new wave of profoundly talented mangaka, including Susumu Nemoto and Yoshihiro Tatsumi, were inspired to join the industry.

Despite its meteoric rise in popularity, the manga remained unadapted for nearly fifty years; the possibility directly denied by Tezuka throughout his life. However, a decade after Tezuka’s passing, director Shigeyuki Hayashi (aka Rintaro), who had worked for Tezuka at Mushi Production, would sink roughly five years into the ambitious feature adaptation. It was penned by the legendary Katsuhiro Otomo, the writer/director of the groundbreaking feature film Akira (as well as that film’s source manga), and the production was produced by the indomitable studio Madhouse. With over a $15 million budget, it remains one of the most expensive anime films ever made.

The film is centered in the megacity of Metropolis, where a schismatic divide between humans and robots defines everyday existence. Duke Red (Tarô Ishida), official benefactor (and unofficial ruler) of the city, has just completed work on the Ziggurat, a colossal skyscraper. While the city’s upper levels celebrate, awash in culture and wealth, Shunsaku Ban (Kōsei Tomita) and his nephew Kenichi (Kei Kobayashi) arrive to track down and arrest Dr. Laughton (Junpei Takiguchi), a wanted black market scientist. However, Duke Red has hired Laughton to construct a cutting-edge robotic recreation of his deceased daughter Tima (Yuka Imoto); in turn, confusing and infuriating his obsessively devoted adopted son Rock (Koki Okada), who leads the city’s violently anti-robot Marduk Party. As each branch of the story begins to collide, Metropolis is increasingly shrouded in the growing anger of the city’s discarded underclasses, and underscored by an existential debate as to whether robots can be considered alive.

Unlike the manga, Rintaro’s vision for Metropolis is far more influenced by the original German film, and distances itself from its source manga through several significant liberties with the plot, characters and settings. Some changes are so considerable, Rintaro has stated that Tezuka would have probably hated his and Otomo’s vision of the story. As a result, not only is there a veritable typhoon of expressionist imagery and breathtaking artistry, but also when buttressed by a rambunctious New Orleans jazz/swing soundtrack by Toshiyuki Honda, it becomes a piece wholly unique unto itself. Also, the score is quite possibly the best aspect of the film, and one of the best theatrical scores of the 2000s (and it is readily available in its own separate release, which everyone should get and appreciate).

With a sublime grace unmatched for its era, the film exudes a meticulous elegance when combining its traditional two-dimensional animation with computer graphics, producing a rich and vibrant world. The striking backgrounds and ambient action heightening the effectual character designs and action sequences, produce a visual experience completely one-of-a-kind. Regardless on opinions surrounding any other aspect of Metropolis, what is certain is that the film is down-damn-right gorgeous. However, the film stutters when transitioning between many sequences, unable to master a concise rhythm. This is partially due to the scattershot narrative that slips in and out of plot holes with regularity, relying on sublime visuals and inferential dialogue to a fault. Though the characters explore lofty themes, snatching at many multifaceted perspectives in an attempt to say something distinctive, they end up being more flash than bang; the breadth of their arcs concluding somewhat superficially (and marginally disappointing).

Upon its release on April 26, 2001 to generally positive reviews but a lukewarm commercial response, it would secure an international theatrical and television run in the US. Though still financially disappointing, it would garner further acclaim (notably from Roger Ebert and A.O. Scott) and be among those first-ever anime films shortlisted for an American Academy Award for Animation. It would lose the nomination (and eventual win) to Hayao Miyazaki’s classic Spirited Away, released just a couple months later.

Mill Creek Entertainment has re-released the film in a special steelbook Blu-ray/DVD combo, equipped with HD presentations (sporting both Japanese and English dubbed audio tracks) and a handful of supplementary features. The featurette documentary The Making of Metropolis, interviews with Rintaro and Otomo, and a mass of concept art and animation comparisons round out the release; all aspects are accessible through a satisfyingly kinetic menu, sampling footage and music from the feature. However, one major oversight is the constantly nagging absence of subtitles for the Japanese dub’s background voices, as well as translating the film’s opening titles and ending credits. Not a complete deal-breaker, as the rest of the package remains quite enticing, but it is something that should have easily been corrected.

Stunningly innovative (even by contemporary standards), and enriching as a visually striking spectacle, Metropolis stands one of the most ambitious undertakings in anime history, that ended up lost in its own majesty.

(www.millcreekent.com/osamu-tezuka-s-metropolis-steelbook.html)




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