Sci-Fi Movie Month: "Metropolis" Review

Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Entertainment

Sci-Fi Movie Month: "Metropolis" Review

-- Rating: PG-13 (Violence)
Length: 108 min
Release date: January 25, 2002
Directed by: Rintaro
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Drama

"Metropolis" tells a futuristic story through the Japanese style of animation known as anime. The film is based on a Japanese comic, which was based on a silent film with the same name from a German director in the '20s. The anime was produced by the famous Japanese director Rintaro and written by Katsuhiro Otomo.

"Metropolis" is set in the eponymous futuristic city in which humans and robots live together in a tentative arrangement. Robots, although they appear mostly human, are subjugated and relegated to live underneath the city. If they venture outside accepted bounds, they can be killed on sight. Metropolis is ruled by a cruel leader named Duke Red, who's building the world's largest skyscraper, known as the Ziggurat. The Ziggurat is closely linked to Duke Red's plan for total domination of the world. He has secretly commissioned a robot in the model of his deceased daughter, Tima, to control the tower's power.

Shunsaku Ban is a private investigator who works with his nephew, Kenichi. The pair winds up meeting and taking responsibility for Tima after they arrest her creator, an evil scientist named Dr. Laughton. Tima, Shunsaku, and Kenichi wind up traveling together and outrunning those who wish to hunt down and destroy or use Tima for her power over the Ziggurat.

While "Metropolis" takes place in a futuristic world and features many strange technologies, the true focus of the story is on the human heart and its various emotions. At the beginning of the movie, Shunsaku and Kenichi are unaware that Tima is a robot. They treat her like a normal human girl and help her learn the basics, such as reading, writing, and speaking. The three grow close and form a bond that carries them through the many trials they face while running from the humans and robots alike who want to harm them.

One of the most important aspects of the movie is Kenichi's bond with Tima. He begins to fall for her, believing that she's a human like him, but his feelings are tested when he learns otherwise. "Metropolis" raises numerous questions about what it really means to be human. Tima herself believes she's human, and the viewers are left to question whether her own belief is enough to justify her human soul in spite of her wires and circuitry.

Unlike many animated movies, there's no stereotypical villain in "Metropolis." While both Red Duke and his son, Rock, fill the role of antagonist at different points in the film, they're still complex and nuanced characters in their own right. Red Duke cares deeply about his kingdom and about the memory of his deceased daughter. He genuinely loves Tima and, in spite of his poor treatment of the other robots, he has high hopes for her. This seeming hypocrisy draws parallels to real life, and audiences are left to decide whether Red's love for Tima is enough to redeem his character. His son, Rock, is another sympathetic antagonist whose only goal in life is to please and honor his father. He will stop at nothing to fulfill his father's wishes, even if that means hurting others in the process.

While "Metropolis" is driven by a compelling story, the animation is a crucial part of the film's success. Although this is an older film, the stylistic choices made by Madhouse Studios, the animation team behind the film, make it visually relevant even today. The highly saturated colors and exaggerated features of the characters, Tima in particular, make it easy to become immersed in the film's futuristic setting.

"Metropolis" shines as a thoughtful commentary on the human condition, evaluating what it truly takes to be a person. Tima, the film's main character, often seems far more human than the people around her. The struggle between robots and humans to coexist is also a strong and relatable element within the film. The humans resent the robots for taking their jobs, while many robots resent the humans for their enslavement. Audiences will sympathize with the robots' desire to be autonomous and respected, but also with the humans' desire not to become obsolete in a world that's constantly changing.

"Metropolis" has numerous strengths, from an innovative storyline to visually stunning animation. Kenichi and Tima are relatable characters who represent different aspects of humanity. The supporting characters are well rounded, and the story is a fast-paced gem that leaves you wanting more. With beautiful animation, compelling storytelling, and an intriguing futuristic setting, it's no wonder that "Metropolis" is one of the most popular classic animated films of all time.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5