Austin Performer and Writer
Rintaro and Katsuhiro Otomo's 2001 anime Metropolis peers through a many-faceted cultural prism back at Fritz Lang's seminal science fiction film of the same name. An adaptation of “God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka's Golden-age comic (also called Metropolis), the character design of the anime stays loyal to Tezuka's Disney inspired roots (ironic, considering that Tezuka's "Kimba the White Lion" was directly lifted without credit for Disney's 1994 film The Lion King), but frames the characters in a thoroughly modern anime film. 3D computer graphics are used in some environments, contrasting with decidedly anachronistic sounding music (Director Rintaro himself lends the soundtrack a few clarinet solos) and deco-styled design. The story is a many-times mutated version of Lang's film, with only a few elements recognizable- a "New Tower of Babel" (called the Ziggurat in Rintaro's version), a gynoid robot created by an obsessive mad scientist (Lang's lurid and sinister Maria bears very little in common with Rintaro's sexless and innocent Tima), and a society with a rigid class system (in the new version the divide is drawn between human and robot rather than just worker and aristocrat).
Best known for his film (and preceding manga) Akira, one of the first Japanese animation features to break out and introduce modern western audiences to the genre, Katsuhiro Otomo (screenwriter for this new Metropolis) grew up amidst the student and worker protests of the 60's, and chaos and unrest are his trademarks. Originally aimed at children, Tezuka's simple story has been filled by Otomo with military coups, political struggle and a mighty city built on hubris, primed for a cataclysm.
Rintaro (the pseudonym of director Shigeyuki Hayashi) has had a long and illustrious career in Japanese animation, dating back to the 1960's series Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy in the States) where he worked directly with Osamu Tezuka. When interviewed, Rintaro admits that Tezuka would have "hated the film and will probably haunt me as a ghost."
In the film, a Japanese private eye named Shunsaku and his nephew Kenichi arrive in Metropolis, a geographically ambiguous city-state ruled by Plutocrat Duke Red, searching for a scientist who has been accused of trafficking in human organs. The workforce of Metropolis consists entirely of sentient but totally subjugated robots who have no names or rights. This robot population is used as a prime boogeyman by political forces, and a robot policing militia called the "Marduks" has been created by Duke Red, with his adopted son Rock as its leader (in another twist characteristic to Otomo's hybridized narrative, the character of Rock is not from Tezuka's Metropolis, but from a slew of other Tezuka comics). In their search for the fugitive scientist, Shunsaku and Kenichi discover his creation- Tima, a robot girl designed to take the place of Duke Red's deceased daughter and sit atop the newly built Ziggurat to rule over Metropolis. In protecting the amnesiac Tima from the jealous Rock and the possessive Duke Red, Shunsaku and Kenichi become embroiled in events that may lead to the city's destruction.
Tezuka claimed at one time to have solely been influenced by the poster for Lang’s film in writing his comic book and that he had not seen the film, but Rintaro and Otomo's anime is clearly informed by both works, as well as a long procession of science fiction and anime afterwards (Writer Katsuhiro Otomo's own film Akira is echoed in the anime Metropolis' ending, as is Blade Runner). Reportedly Tezuka considered his Metropolis Manga to be one of his formative, lesser works- unfit for a screen adaptation. It's easy to see how its sci-fi themes and retro-future potential were appealing to the filmmakers though, and the result is an engaging collage of elements unfixed in time or location, but uniquely Japanese.
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