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Anime beauty interprets Lang film for the future

Friday, June 07, 2002

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

The Japanese anime "Metropolis," now at the Harris Theater, is one of the most visually stunning movies I have ever seen. Better yet, there's a brain and a heart behind the beauty of this emerald city.


RATING: PG-13 for violence and images of destruction.

DIRECTOR: Rintaro.

WEB SITE: www.spe.sony.com



The movie takes off from Fritz Lang's German film of the same name, a silent 1926 science-fiction saga that remains a touchstone in cinema history. As in Lang's movie, the animated Metropolis has both a surface level, where the elite live, and subterranean sections, where the workers are forced to reside.

In the new version, directed by Rintaro and adapted by Katsuhiro Otomo from the 1949 comic book by Osamu Tezuka, robots have taken over most of the manual labor, leaving the workers unemployed and simmering.

Above ground, the city is celebrating the completion of the Ziggurat, a skyscraper complex that the city's political and industrial leaders laud as the acme of humankind's scientific achievement and progress.

No one has to tell us that it conceals more sinister motives. It's enough that we know the industrialist known as Duke Red has hired a mad scientist, Dr. Laughton, to create a perfect robot, Tima, in the image of his dead daughter. A detective, Shunsaku, and his nephew, Kenichi, have arrived from Japan in pursuit of Laughton. The orphan Rock, who considers himself Duke Red's son, mistrusts the robots and hunts Tima, who has fallen into a subterranean level with Kenichi.

The heart of the matter, quite literally, lies in the emotions that Tima feels as she and Kenichi traverse this cruel cityscape -- a growing bond with Kenichi, a despair over the violence of the humans and their maltreatment of robots. She doesn't know she is mechanical -- like Haley Joel Osment in "A.I.," she comes to plaintively question her identity and confront her destiny.

Story and characters aside, the movie commands your attention with its intricate cityscapes, which appear to be computer-derived and emphasize mechanical patterns. Yet the streetscapes and the characters look like something Winsor McCay might have drawn. He was the brilliant cartoonist of the early 20th century who created the fantastical dream world of the comic strip "Little Nemo in Slumberland."

While Kenichi and Tima look like standard anime characters with their big round eyes and childlike physiques, Shunsaku looks like a character from a cartoon from McCay's era with his little round head, gigantic mustache and small button eyes.

The soundtrack also employs vintage jazz, including "St. James Infirmary." In a climactic scene of destruction, Ray Charles' lushly orchestrated "I Can't Stop Loving You" offers a stunning counterpoint and emotional underpinning to the moment.

"Metropolis" also contains several references to fascism, from a mention in the dialogue to a public broadcast lauding Ziggurat as the symbol of a nation that will last for a thousand years.

The movie takes its various anachronistic elements and blends them into its own seamless reality, advancing Lang's conception into a new time, place and sensibility.

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