BluRay/DVD Reviews

METROPOLIS

By • Apr 23rd, 2003 •

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Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment release – 109 minutes, aspect ratio 1.85:1, formatted for 16X9 screens. Dolby Digital. Two Discs.

Immense, vivid and haunting, Rintaro’s Metropolis joined the prestigious ranks of the ‘Sci-Fi Super-city extravaganzas’ on January 25th, 2002, at the AMC Empire 25 and Landmark’s Sunshine Cinema in New York. Now, in April of the same year, it has made it’s appearance on DVD from Columbia/TriStar.

Based on the Japanese manga comic by Osamu Tezuka, with a screenplay by Katsuhiro ( Akira ) Otomo, Metropolis sprawls and swarms with technological fervor, political insurgency and social chaos. Offsetting the dark subject matter, our protagonists are rendered in the dwarfed, cutesy style of anime reminiscent of Ko-Ko the Clown and Felix the Cat.

On the trail of a criminal scientist, wanted in Japan for his involvement in illegal organ smuggling and animal experimentation, detective Shunsaku Ban and his coincidentally heroic nephew Kenichi arrive in Metropolis – the most technologically advanced city-state in the world.
Revolutionary sentiment is in the air: robot labor has displaced human workers, civil rights are being ignored, rights to protest have been suspended… Guided by a Robot-Cop – who Shunsaku indicatively nicknames ‘pero’, after a dog he once owned – the investigation leads the three through Metropolis’s class structure to a greater conspiracy which threatens the very existance of mankind.

As with its predecessors ( Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Blade Runner, Brazil, etc…) Metropolis’s city is an exercize in heightened art direction. More like a narrative element than a backdrop, Metropolis – the city – teems with all the particularities and cosmetic minutia that define its inhabitants, reflecting the shortcomings of those who shaped it. The combination of CGI and Cell Animation reflexively indicates its theme of “working class fear of technology,” as the lower class areas are depicted predominantly with cell animation, while the high-end technology and the upper crust areas are CGI dominated.

Rintaro’s direction is fast paced, maintaining a suspenceful drive while occasionally breaking from the story for inspired visual showboating. His characters, despite their respective extreme personalities, exhibit great subtlety, often taking an understated approach to the drama. Rintaro dodges pretentiousness with a quirky sense of humor and the will to not dwell on any one element too long. With respect to this, his timing is impeccable.

Otomo’s screenplay is stuffed to the gills and tight as a drum. Though nothing like Akira, fans of writer/director will recognize elements of his style in Metropolis. Akira-philes might keep a look out for cameo appearances from the cast; I’m almost certain I spotted one, but I suppose it could have been someone else…

Metropolis keeps the energy level revved for 107 minutes. You can feel the accumulated efforts of Tezuka, Otomo and Rintaro, upping the ante at every turn, and at times it can be a bit chaotic. But another of Metropolis’s themes is “chaos indicating a larger order”, and this is true of the occasional madness which converges upon the frame. It’s always a setup for a payoff. Metropolis is eccentric in style, classical in structure. Definitely meaningful on a number of levels, it leaves itself open to interpretation, but not without satisfying the viewer.

The DVD transfer is sharp, though a degree of detail is lost in the shadow areas and, on my system, the mix seemed slightly off balance – lower on the music and effects than I had remembered it three months before on the movie screen.

The ‘Making of Metropolis’ documentary is primarily a high camp examination of Japanese showbiz humility. I came away from it knowing that everyone involved “…was very happy to be involved with the project” and very little else. However, one segment with Otomo and Rintaro comparing U.S. and Japanese animation was interesting, including some amusing insights about Osamu Tezuka and his work. The CG supervisory trio gives a somewhat bewildering interview, the three of them sitting there giggling, unable to stop talking about how Rintaro kept drawing all over their computer screens.

A fantastic work of film art, massive kudos are in order to Tri Star Pictures for taking the gamble to release Metropolis theatrically in Japanese with English subtitles. It really made all the difference. The subtitled function is available on the DVD as well, and is greatly preferable to the dubbing if you’re willing to put in the extra effort.


Special Features:
Disc Two: ‘The Making of Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis; Filmmaker interviews;
Multi-angle animation comparisons; History of Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis Comic Book; biographies; conceptual art gallery.


Credits:
Directed by Osamu Tezuka. Music by Toshiyuki Honda. Screenpay by Katsuhiro Otomo. Based on the comic by Osamu Tezuka. Directed by Rintaro.

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