Osamu Tezuka’s “Metropolis”

I really don’t know where to start with this one honestly. This movie is truly a masterpiece of the anime art form, from its breathtaking scenery to its rich storytelling. That is, of course, a given since it is based off an anime which drew inspiration from the 1927 silent film Metropolis. The character design evokes a feeling of nostalgia from the manga art style of the 1950’s through 60’s. If you are familiar with that style then you will immediately notice how the character design is reminiscent of the work of Shotaro Ishinomori.

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Characters from Shotaro Ishimori’s “Cyborg 009”.

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The subterranean level of Metropolis.

Much like the 1927 Silent Movie, Metropolis takes place in the not too distant future. In the grand city of Metropolis, humans and Androids live side by side. However, there is great hatred for the machines, especially from the lower class humans who became unemployed because of the Androids and have to live in the subterranean level of the city. This hatred has given rise to an anti-machine vigilante party known as Marduk. Things seem to be on the breaking point.

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The upper city and the skyscraper Ziggurat.

During all of this turmoil however, the upper city holds a huge celebration. The festivities are inspired by the completion of Ziggurat, the portentous skyscraper constructed under the oversight of the enigmatic Duke Red who promises that it will expand the power of Metropolis over the entire world. It is amid these celebrations and under the Orwellian gaze of looped recordings from Duke Red’s momentous speech that Private Detective Shunsaku Ban and his nephew Kenichi arrive in Metropolis to pursue Doctor Laughton, a criminal accused of trafficking in Human Organs. They are unaware however that Duke Red has commissioned Dr. Laughton to build a special android named “Tima” in the image of his own deceased daughter. With the help of a Metropolis Police Android Shunsaku and Kenichi pursue Dr. Laughton, totally unaware of the larger series of events they have unwittingly stumbled into.

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Tima Stares up at the Sun pouring down into the depths of the subterranean city.

Artistically speaking, every aspect of this film is amazing and conveys a message. The Soundtrack is an exceptional selection of New Orleans-style Jazz Music. Some notable tracks from the movie include Atsuki Kimura’s cover of “Saint James Infirmary Blues” and the Ray Charles cover of “I Can’t Stop Loving You” from 1962. The Soundtrack really sets the atmosphere of a Steampunk world where things seem so fantastic yet also so familiar. It really evokes a feeling similar to nostalgia. The combination of the music and the visuals is really powerful.

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The above ground city where the wealthy work and live.

The visuals themselves help convey a strong message about the society of Metropolis. In Metropolis there is a drastic difference in the quality of life between the rich and poor. Those who live on the surface enjoy a paradise of beautiful buildings, fresh air, and sunlight. Those underground though live in squalor, inhabiting buildings in various states of disrepair. The disparity between the wealthy and the poor is highlighted from the start and the scene at the end where the roof of the subterranean city collapses is a sort of symbolism for the collapse of the divide between the rich and poor, a pretty heady symbolic message for any film.

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Shunsuke Ban, Kenichi Ban, and the Android Detective from Metropolis PD.

The interpersonal relationships between the characters however are pretty basic. This disappointed me really. On one side you have the healthy familial relationship between Shunsaku and Kenichi. Shunsaku’s concern for his Nephew is highlighted by his time-consuming pursuit of Kenichi after he disappears. He even stays in a Hotel in the subterranean city which is nothing more than a bunch of abandoned train cars.

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Duke Red and his Adoptive Son Rock

On the other side, there is the exploitative relationship between Duke Red and Rock. Rock serves in Marduk, the anti-machine party secretly funded by his adoptive father Duke Red in his pursuit of power. Rock is blindly loyal to Duke Red and craves his approval. Duke Red however is only obsessed with the pursuit of power and his deceased daughter, and he only views Rock as another means to achieve his goal. This only becomes apparent to Rock when Duke Red disowns him and casts him out into the streets upon learning of Rock’s efforts to destroy Tima.

Metropolis, in my opinion, stands alongside Akira and Ghost in the Shell as groundbreaking classics of the anime film genre. It blends the elements of a classic film story, stunning visuals, and a stimulating soundtrack into an unforgettable experience. Indeed time and time again I have found myself compelled to watch this film again and again because it never really gets tiresome to me. I am not sure how it compares to the 1927 classic from Fritz Lang but it has left a powerful impression on me. I highly recommend you grab a copy of this masterpiece on DVD or Blueray and experience it for yourself.

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2 thoughts on “Osamu Tezuka’s “Metropolis”

  1. Yeah, visuals and animation is amazing. It still holds up today as well, but the story is really bogged down with so much negative that it puts me to sleep. When this came out though, I was seriously in love with it. I still remember the dancing scene, since it’s one of my fave.

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