Metropolis (2001) movie poster

(2001) dir. Tarô Rin
viewed: 05/27/02

Tarô Rin’s Metropolis is a Japanese animated science fiction film that envisions the future with distinct elements of the past. Tipping its hat to the classic silent sci-fi film from which it took its name and some of its ideas and owing its story and character design to an artist of a much different era, it is quite unlike run-of-the-mill anime.

I should have read up on this film a little bit more to confirm what I think are some of the aspects of its creation, but I will preface this entry by saying that I don’t know 100% if all of the “facts” that I am offering here are true.

I am not sure of the whole script-to-screen process for this film, but I vaguely recall reading about it when it hit the theaters here that it was adapted from an old Japanese manga by Osamu Tezuka, the “Walt Disney of Japan,” creator of Astroboy and Kimba the White Lion.

Tezuka’s characters are of an older cartoon style (his best known work was from the 1960’s & 1970’s). In fact, they echo back even further to the style of American newspaper cartoons from the 1920’s and 1930’s, though some of them also have a look of the period from which they were originally created. It’s a stark contrast to the ruling style of chracter design in most contemporary Asian animation.

The film poses these retro-style characters against the epynomous city’s digital created three-dimensionality. I am not an expert on animation production, enough to fully distinguish all digital shots from traditional cel animation, but I would hazard a guess that the bulk of the character animation was cel drawings and the backgrounds and settings were largely, if not entirely, digital. The flatness of the characters against the complex machinery of the sprawling mega-city seems entirely intentional.

Metropolis also reckons of the 1927 Fritz Lang Expressionist classic of the same name. The central figure in both is a female robot who will either save or destroy the Metropolis for which she was created. It has been some years since I have seen the Lang film, and so I am hard-pressed to draw any conclusions regarding the connection here. A re-envisioning of that film perhaps? Or merely just “inspired by”?

While the film’s visual background is digital and modern, its musical backdrop is yet another echo of the past. During much of the film, a Dixieland-style jazz music plays in a tinned, almost piped-in muzak sort of way.

It is possible that the very nature of adapting an “old-fashioned” story about a supposedly still-distant future brought the creators of Metropolis to this multitude of “retro” angles on the presentation.

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