Blu-ray Review – Rintaro’s Metropolis

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With Rintaro’s towering animated epic, Metropolis (2001), getting a long-awaited Blu-Ray release in the UK, there is no better time to revisit this masterful sci-fi anime.

Metropolis tells the story of private detective Ban, and his young nephew Kennichi, who become entangled in a tale of political corruptness and a mystery surrounding a robot girl named Tima all amongst the backdrop of the soaring, futuristic city-state of Metropolis.

The story is adapted from a 1949 Manga of the same name, written by Osamu Tezuka, who is often cited as the ‘Manga No Kami’ or ‘God of Manga’. Tezuka played an integral role in the creation of manga as he was the first author to use sequential paneling and speech bubbles in his writing, practically inventing the Manga style that is still hugely popular today.

Tezuka’s original story was then adapted by Katurshiro Otomo, a giant in anime cinema himself as the writer of the animated 1988 masterpiece Akira. In fact, huge comparisons could be drawn between the two films – Metropolis is undeniably similar to the Neo-Tokyo of Akira. In both cities, there exists an ambience of corrupt social fragility, flaring right-wing political conspiracies, and of course a disaffected underclass. It is not only thematically that these two films tie together, it is aesthetically too; the skylines of both cities are remarkably similar, with their towering skyscrapers and abundance of neon lighting.

Figure 1: The skyline of Metropolis
Figure 2 Skyline in Akira

At times, Metropolis shares uncanny resemblance to neo-noir cinema, à la Blade Runner. Tezuka’s story owes a lot of debt to the noir genre; our story follows a private detective whose appearance is not too dissimilar to the classic PI’s of Bogart’s Sam Spade or MacMurrary’s Walter Neff. The lower levels of Metropolis, inhabited by the lower echelons of society, reflect the seedy neon-lit towns of classic Film Noir (most obviously the Mexican Border town of Los Robles from Noir’s Epitaph Touch of Evil). As we are shown this area of the city or ‘Zone 1’ for the first time, we hear Uncle Ban say: “Well, well, I suppose light creates shadows”, a quote that almost sounds hand picked from any of the classic Noirs, and a direct nod to the Chiascuro lighting that became such a staple of the original genre.

The influence of American music from the time of the original Manga can also be heard throughout the film. 40’s and 50’s Jazz music dominates the soundtrack with Ray Charles’ classic ballad ‘I Can’t Stop Loving you” overlaying the brilliantly epic final scene, where the destruction of the urban gigantism that had permeated the city of Metropolis is contrasted with Charles’ beautifully romantic and endearing song.

However, the most obvious influence is of course Fritz Lang’s 1927 German silent masterpiece of the same name. Tezuka’s original Manga was clearly influenced by Lang’s film (released over 20 years before), in both works, the lower levels of the city is filled with the poorer classes whereas the richer, upper class citizens all reside above ground in the towering skyscrapers. And both of course analyse in detail the relationship between humans and robots, as well as the potential pros and cons of this coexistence.

Figure 3 A still from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis
Figure 4 The Ziggurat in Rintaro’s Metropolis

Aesthetically, the two films are strikingly linked too; the opening sequence of Rintaro’s film takes us on a whirlwind tour of the city’s tall buildings as the camera soars in all directions, and the golden colour scheme is almost identical to that of Lang’s 1927 film. Ties between Lang and Rintaro’s characterization can also be linked too: the brutal dictator Duke Red is a clear reincarnation of Joh Frederson, Dr Laughton is similar to the inventor Rotwang, and Tima is practically an exact recreation of Maria from Lang’s original work.

Although steeped with influences and nods to previous works and genres, Rintaro’s Metropolis is a masterpiece within the anime genre; it is a fascinating exploration into the perils of technology and greed.

Josh Hall

Animation, Sci-fi | Japan, 2001 | PG | 16th January 2017(UK)| Eureka Entertainment | Dir.Rintaro |Toshio Furukawa, Scott Weinger, Yuka Imoto | Buy: (Limited Edition Dual-Format) SteelBook [Blu-ray]