Class divisions threaten to tear apart a future city that looks suspiciously
like what people back in the 1920s thought the future would be like
one day. These divisions aren't necessarily between the rich and poor,
but also between humans and their robotic slaves.
Scottish sci-fi writer Iain Banks argued in his so-called
"Culture" novels that as a society becomes more technologically
advanced, the more socialism as a system becomes inevitable. Let's suppose
that one day all labor - and we do mean all labor - is performed
by highly evolved machines.
What is there left for people to do then? Basically, we
all work to produce something so that we can buy things we need which are
in turn produced by other people. And so on. But let's suppose all
production (even that of more machines!) is by machines? Machines don't
need anything - they are not markets. Hence a state-controlled economy
with looking after its citizens as its goal becomes a necessity according
"If you're an architectural fetishist you'll go gaga over Metropolis!"
This, however, is not such a society. Mechanization has exacerbated the
divisions between the rich and poor. The poor have become poorer as they
are unable to find any work that isn't done by machines. Throw into this
explosive mix an ambitious politician leading a quasi-fascist group intent
on controlling (usually with violence) the movement of robots and you have
the plot of Metropolis.
Metropolis is one of the few anime (or Japanese
animation) movies to get a mainstream release outside Japan.
One can see why: Metropolis is an astounding piece of work on a
purely technical level. It mixes traditional 2-D animation with some
amazing computer-generated imagery (or CGI). It is the melding of two
different worlds since the 2-D character designs are deliberately of a
retro kiddie design popular in the 1940s. Add to this a great ragtime jazz
score and the results are stunning. Even regular anime viewers would be
hard-pressed to name another anime movie with a look and feel similar to Metropolis.
It should come as no surprise that Metropolis is in fact based on a
popular manga (Japanese comic book) published shortly after World War II,
which was in turn inspired by the seminal 1926 movie Metropolis directed
by Fritz Lang. Lang's movie was a favorite of Hitler's (who didn't really
catch it) and inspired the likes of Star Wars,
Blade Runner and The Fifth
Element. It was a hugely influential movie, but never before has
its art deco designs been copied so blatantly as in this namesake.
Harrison Ford once complained that while working on Blade Runner he
merely served as an object in front of director Ridley Scott's expansive sets so that the cameraman can adjust the focus. The same could be said of Metropolis. The plot is
overcomplicated and vague (as is sometimes the case in anime) and the
characters and their motivations not clearly developed. It is a case of
style over substance, yes - but what style! Sheer candy for the eye!
If you're an architectural fetishist such as myself who loved the likes
of Batman and Dark City merely for their production designs then you'll
go gaga over Metropolis. If you're a fan of both animation and science
fiction then Metropolis has a lot to offer. After Akira (whose director
wrote the script) and Ghost in the Shell,
Metropolis is the anime movie to
check out for the anime newbie . . .