Sunday, September 20, 2009

RE: Metropolis, A Response Review

About a week or so ago, Scott from Green Gravy posted a review of Osamu Tezuka's 2001 film Metropolis. The review was quite a glowing one, calling the film an anime classic and bestowing it a 5/5 star rating. Now, I'm not here to bash that review, it would be stupid to criticise something so subjective as movie tastes; but I would like to, I guess, express a slightly alternative viewpoint, perhaps one not as glowing as what Scott's was (I can't blame him though, I'm sure anything would seem fantastic after you've just watched Elfen Lied in its entirety)*.

Now, let me start this by saying that Metropolis is by no measures bad, it's a very good film; there were, however, a few points that got under my skin. But before I divulge in that, let's highlight what was good.

The Good:
Firstly (and this is a no-brainer), the animation is nothing short of stunning. Studio Madhouse have, again, shown that both they and Production I.G. are truly the leaders in Japanese animation. The looks of this movie rival that of Disney animation classics like The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast, films that would have had a budget larger than Atlas' shoulder muscles (though something tells me Metropolis' budget wouldn't have been too far behind). The film was really one of the first animes to mesh 2d and 3d animation together without it seeming jarring to the viewer. The end result is a film that is an aesthetic polish so high that it's probably worth a watch solely for the visual spectacle.

Another great aspect of this film is the music. Being someone that has played a lot of jazz and dixieland, I'm probably a little bias, but it was great to see this style of music incorporated with the film. The music works surprisingly well with the expansive and isolating feel that the city creates. I know Scott partly criticised the choice of music for the film's climax, I didn't really have an issue with it, though I can see that there will be people who will (parallels between this and the music used during the third impact in End of Evangelion can be drawn). To summarise, Tezuka's choice of music style did surprise me, but in a good way and it really helps give the film a distinct edge.

The Bad:
Okay, so there were more good points than the two mentioned, but, I guess, they were the standouts. Now, there were a few aspects of Metropolis that either didn't sit well with me or plainly annoyed me. Some are quite small and petty, whereas others are more important. Either way, the accumulation of all this was what prompted me to make this post as, while I enjoyed it, I don't consider Metropolis to be a 5 star film. Also, a word of warning that in discussing my grievances, I may inadvertently drop a spoiler or two, so tread with caution.

One of my main irritations with this film was the character of Rock. And no, I don't mean this solely because he's the antagonist and we're supposed to not like him. What I mean is that I struggled to try and figure out the motivation behind this character and why he acts like a dick. Okay, his adopted father is somewhat cold and he's trying to prove himself to him, I understand that, but why does he hate robots so much? Is it because he's supposed to represent the general contempt towards robots that Joe Anyperson has in the city of Metropolis? I can't see why as, unlike the ex-working classes, his job wasn't replaced by a machine. The only other possible reason I can think of is that he can't stand the fact that his father appears to love a robot more than he loved him, but this argument falls to bits when we see Rock take pleasure in killing a robot before he finds out about his father's apparent love. Maybe I'm missing something here, but, to me, this is never explained and it got on my nerves.

Another issue I had with Metropolis was with Tima. Now before you all denounce me for disliking Tima, I am referring towards the idea of Tima, not the character herself. This is probably more a gripe with the conventional anime plot devices in general, but it makes an unwanted appearance here. Okay so here we have, supposedly, the greatest achievement by mankind ever made, something of which all science and engineering has lead up to, and it turns out to be a fucking 10-14 year old girl who is both clueless to the world and is so impressionable that whoever gets at her first, essentially, has them in her heart forever more. This is our scientific holy grail? This? Elfen Lied, I think, kind of does this as well and I can't help but feel like we're being condescended to if we're expected to take this without a grain of salt. I guess I'm more lenient on Tezuka in this case as the manga Metropolis was based on is over 60 years old and this probably would have seemed a much more fresh idea back in the late 40's.

The above two paragraphs were my main issues with this film, though there is another point that I'd like to discuss relating to the man/machine philosophy that Metropolis puts forward. In general, I was pretty impressed with the points that were being made. The film shows nearly all characters, good or bad, as flawed in some way and that, with the exception of goody-two-shoes Kenichi, the distinction between right and wrong is never overly clear. For most of the film I found myself thinking that the robots were the only really righteous characters, but even that changed by the end of the film. There's a large focus on man's treatment of robots and whether, as AI gets larger and larger, we're still able to treat machines as purely an array of circuitry and metal created for our bidding or not. An old question for sure, but one that I'm always happy to go back to if presented in an interesting manner, which I think Metropolis does.

However, while I thought the underlying themes of Metropolis were well presented, I have seen better, namely that of the Ghost in the Shell universe. Now, this may be seen as a little unfair as GitS has had 2 movies and 2 television series to be able to explain their philosophy and, as such, has the opportunity to go much more in depth than a single film gets to; but hey, I can't just forget that I've seen these things simply because it's 'unfair'. Ghost in the Shell: Innocence remains one of my all time favourites movies so, again, it will be hard to stand up against, but I just found the ideas and themes presented in Innocence to be far more compelling and better executed. I reiterate that what Metropolis does is still good, all I'm saying is that, in my opinion, superior films exist. I do, however, think that Metropolis will probably appeal to a wider audience than Ghost in the Shell, as you don't get the snail-pace storytelling that Oshii occasionally does; something which I like, but not everyone else does.

In summary, Metropolis, while not an 'anime classic', is still a very enjoyable film that I would very much recommend you see. The animation is gorgeous, the music unique and will leave you thinking about it's ideas after the credits roll.

*Sorry, I had to throw that in...


  1. I don't really agree with your main two gripes...

    1. Rock thrives on having power and control, he was a dick to the humans as well as robots that got in the way of his goals. It only multiplied when his adopted father tried to build a robot heir and overlooked him.

    2. Yeah, her father was supposed to be the one who got to her first. His overriding concern was recreating his daughter, which is why her personality is the way it is. He specified exactly how he wanted her made in that aspect. I could understand he wanted her to look like that and not a scientific holy grail.

    But the GitS comparisons are interesting.

    3. I thought GitS took a different angle to this issue than Metrolopolis does. Here we see the effects on the population much more, GitS seems to me more like human stories. Taking an example, I like how Metropolis (without deviating from the story) explained all the underground zones and their purpose. I don't think GitS would do that, but they definitely go into human/robot psyhces a lot more.

  2. I agree with most of everything else you said, especially about the robots being the righteous ones. That scene where Pero confronts the rebellion is one of my favorites.
    Oh and the Elfen Lied girls aren't scientific creations.

  3. Granted I did forget that Red Whatshisface had a daughter that he lost, which does explain why Tima was like she was. At the same time I can't help but feel as if the whole set up is a sort of 'Gee, I sure hope no one else gets to her first or else that could be bad *WINK* *WINK*'.

    I still am a little unconvinced about Rock though. I'm well aware that he'll freely kill any human that gets in his way, but his entire motivation seems to be 'I don't want a robot in charge of the world'. Why? I can understand that most humans probably would feel a little uneasy at the prospect, but is that enough to kill anyone, robot or not, that gets in your way to stop it? I still feel like I was left hanging a little with this one.

    I'm also well aware that GitS and Metropolis focus on different aspects of the man/machine philosophy. I'm not claiming that they both say the same thing but GitS says it better; I'm saying that, of the ideas that the two movies explore, I personally found the ones presented in GitS to be more compelling.