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METROPOLIS

Review by Michael Jacobson

Voices:  Jamieson Price, Toshio Furukawa, Dave Mallow, Scott Weinger
Director:  Rintaro
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  See Review
Length:  109 Minutes
Release Date:  April 23, 2002

“It takes light to make shadows, I guess…”

Film ****

Metropolis is, quite simply, the best anime film I’ve ever seen.  It’s a movie that’s technically rich in miniscule detail and overly abundant in imagination and concept…yet very surprisingly, never loses touch with the very basic human emotions on which the story is built.

Like Fritz Lang’s 1926 silent masterpiece, this movie takes place in the future where a marvel of steel, glass and technology is a human’s paradise above ground.  Under the surface, in zone after zone, are levels of waste and refuse, and the systems that keep the overworld operating.

That’s where the similarities end.  Based on the popular manga series by Osamu Tezuka, Metropolis is also a world where man has created robot in his own image.  Robots are made to do the work people don’t want to do, and they do it efficiently and without complaint.  But in an overpopulated world, even menial jobs can mean life or death for the overlooked.  The robots for some become a symbol of everything wrong and oppressive about modern life.

This political turmoil is set against the backdrop of a celebration, as the city unveils its monumental new ziggurat.  It’s a testament to technology and mankind’s mastery of it, and a symbol of pride…a Tower of Babel for the new world.  And while the workers are planning their revolution, a fascist named Duke Red has plans of his own.

That plan involves a world conquest, which he hopes to do with the aid of a revolutionary new robot, modeled after his dead daughter.  That robot, Tima, is a blend of human being and machine, and was created simply for the purpose of bringing the best of both worlds together by joining with the computerized central nervous system of Metropolis, thus advancing the power of the city’s technology further than had ever before seemed possible.

Duke Red’s adopted son, Rock, is an avowed hater of robots, and wants his father to sit on the “throne” rather than Tima.  When he learns of Duke Red’s plans, he destroys the lab where Tima is being perfected.

She gets away, however, but has no idea who or what she really is.  She befriends Kenichi, the son of a detective who came to Metropolis to arrest the scientist who was creating Tima for performing illegal experiments.  The two become fast friends, like any two kids might.  Neither understands at first the forces working against them, but before long, Tima’s new friends are trying to protect her from the father who wants to use her and the son who wants her eliminated.

The finale is an eye popper.  Friendship or no, Tima begins to learn who she is, and respond to urges (ie, programming) she had no control over.  She may just assume her position of power, but no one, not even Duke Red, can imagine the full consequences of that action.

The beauty of Metropolis is in the details, and every frame is filled with so much information that you could watch the film a second time just to pay attention to the margins.  The craftsmanship is stunning from beginning to end, as the animators under the direction of Rintaro bring to life a world that could not have possibly been visualized in any other medium.

With its combination of visual flair, intricate detail, and basic humanity at its heart, Metropolis is certain to be considered a landmark in the history of anime, as well as animation in general.

Video ****

I mentioned the level of detail several times, and that was possible because of this stunning anamorphic transfer from Columbia Tri Star.  Most animation looks great on DVD, and Metropolis deserves an avalanche of superlatives.  From its wildly expressive color schemes to the most miniscule of detail, this film is a visual cornucopia, and recreates this imaginative world flawlessly for your home theatre.  Blacks are deep and true, whites are bright and clean, and every tone and shade imaginable renders with no grain, bleeding, or compression distortions. 

Audio ****

The audio is no less impressive…for starters, you can hear the original Japanese track in Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS, and the English dubbed version in Dolby Digital.  If the visuals are a smorgasbord, the soundtrack is, too…the sounds of the futuristic city spring to life in every corner, with amazingly smooth and plentiful crossovers from front to back, back to front, and every direction imaginable as the cars, planes, and other bits of action come to life.  The .1 channel stays active almost constantly, supplying the city with its mechanics and the punchier scenes with more bottom end.  The dynamic range is strong on the Japanese track; the English one is slightly more leveled out, but maintains the integrity of all crossover effects.  The music is impressive, too, and includes a couple of surprising American numbers during key sequences.  Reference quality all the way.

Features ***1/2

This is a double disc set, so you know the extras are plentiful.  Disc One features the trailers…a video trailer for this film, plus bonus ones for other Columbia Tri Star animated offerings.  Disc Two is actually a “pocket” disc…smaller than a regular DVD, but one that will fit nicely into the inner impression on your player’s loading drawer.  It contains a number of good extras, including the 33 minute “making of” featurette (in Japanese with subtitles), multi angled presentations on the development of two key sequences, a history of Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis, bios for him and director Rintaro, a conceptual art gallery, and interviews with the filmmakers.  A nice package overall.

Summary:

Metropolis is easily the best anime film I’ve ever seen, and more than that, one that ranks easily amongst animation’s most prolific achievements worldwide.  It’s an imaginative, visually stunning, yet wonderfully human piece of science fiction that takes its art form, and we the audience, into bold and brave new worlds.  This reference quality DVD is a definite must own.