by KUMI Kaoru


Theatrical Preview

"I am Astro Boy. I became operational at Mushi Production, Tokyo, Japan, on the 1st January, 1963..."

The year '2001' used to be the symbol of the future. And I was one of many people who believed that the commercial space station would go around the earth, the base would be on the moon and the manned spacecraft would voyage toward Jupiter by 2001. Now we are in the real 2001, but disappointingly no one has succeeded in creating HAL yet.

Meanwhile, to Japanese, it is the year '2003' that symbolizes the future; Astro Boy is to be born in 2003. In 1951, six years after the end of WW2, legendary manga artist TEZUKA Osamu (1928-1989) introduced the loveable, one hundred thousand horsepower robot boy to the world. He started serialization of the juvenile sci-fi manga Atom Taishi ("Ambassador Atom ") in the monthly manga magazine Shonen ("Boy") , in which Astro appeared before us for the very first time. In 1952, Tezuka started the manga series Tetsuwan Atom ("Mighty Atom"), which found favor with kids and in 1963, Tezuka brought the popular series to TV. It was the first made-in-Japan 30-minutes TV cartoon show. Astro appeared on TV just when Japan entered the miracle economic growth era in the 60's.

Thirty-eighth years have passed since Astro's debut on TV; now, while Japan has succeeded in making a two-footed walking robot for the first time in the world, Japan has instead become known as the country that is making more animated films, videos, and TV shows than any other country in the world. The year 2003 is coming; new ventures are beginning in the anime industry. Metropolis, released in May in Japan, is just the latest example.

Metropolis is based on Tezuka's very early work of the same title. He was a 21-year-old medical student when he drew this sci-fi classic manga in 1949, two years before Astro's manga debut. The movie version was directed by RIN Taro, who used to direct Astro Boy at Tezuka's Mushi Production and is best known for anime feature Galaxy Express 999. OTOMO Katsuhiro, creator of AKIRA and great admirer of Tezuka (he dedicated his Akira manga to Tezuka), joined the project as the scriptwriter. I was very curious how they would arrange this Astro Boy 's prototype story. Welcome to the super gigantic city Metropolis!

First, let's look briefly at the original manga. After WW2, the comic book boom began in Osaka, the second largest city in Japan, as many manga books were published as a reaction to the wartime regulation of the industry. Young Tezuka, a medical student at Osaka University at the time, rode this manga boom. He released three classic sci-fi adventure manga between 1948 and 1951; The Lost World, Metropolis, and The Next World. Quite a few manga fans, including famous manga artist AKATSUKA Fujio, believe Metropolis is the greatest among them. The title may remind you of Fritz Lang's classic movie, which depicted the people's uprising and the android Malia, who played the great part in the revolution, in a New York-like future city. But Tezuka had not seen the movie at the time; instead still photos of futuristic skyscrapers beautiful metallic androids inspired him to create his vision of Metropolis.

So Tezuka's Metropolis was very different from Lang's. The story is set in the late 20th century. Lord Red, boss of a criminal syndicate, visits Metropolis in order to see Dr. Lorton, who has been studying artificial life for thirty years. Red orders him to make a biological android. He succeeded in having his scientists make slave robots, and his ultimate dream was to get a biological, not mechanical, robot. Dr. Lorton makes a beautiful boy robot called Micchi. Lorton sees his opportunity and runs away with the ronot. Micchi, who is raised by Lorton, does not know who he really is and believes that he will one day meet his parents. He is completely unaware of his own hidden talents, such one hundred thousand horsepower and the ability to fly. Many adventures, plots and so forth occur in the circle of Micchi.

Meanwhile, the movie version is not same as the manga. In the anime version, Lord Red is the greatest power holder in Metropolis and a good friend of the President (at least apparently). He orders Dr. Lorton to make an android like he did in the manga, but his true purpose is depicted more clearly; he plans to control the world with the android that can be connected to the worldwide computer network.

Then, meet the young hero in this movie. His name is Ken'ichi. He came to Metropolis from Japan with his uncle, Detective BAN Shunsaku (Mr. Pompus, Astro's school teacher in Astro Boy). Their purpose is to arrest Dr. Lorton, who is accused of organ trading. Ban and Ken'ichi find Lorton's secret laboratory, but someone sets the lab on fire. They go into the burning lab to rescue Lorton. When Ken'ichi sees a naked pretty young girl, the floor break and Ken'ichi and she fall down to the underground world. She remembers nothing but her name, Tima. Ken'ichi thinks she lost her memory and decides to accompany her till she recalls her past. But a strange young man (Lord Red's son-in-law) chases after them. If you love Nadia : The Secret of the Blue Water, you will also love Ken'ichi and Tima's adventures.

However, I believe the true protagonist in this movie is the super gigantic, ultra cool city of Metropolis itself. Compared to Metropolis , L.A. in Blade Runner looks like nothing more than a local town. The retro-style, futuristic (See the monorail cars running between the skyscrapers!) city is composed of four grounds; the upperground world on which skyscrapers stand, Zone One, Two, and Three. Zone One is the underground downtown world, Zone Two is the energy plant, and Zone Three, deepest ground, is the disposal plant of waste products. You can travel this complex and fascinating city with Ken'ichi and Tima. Excellent art, poor animation and poor script

The Metropolis project started in the fall of 1995, when Otomo and Rin had a talk at a TV special program on Tezuka. They planned to bring one of Tezuka's early works onto screen and Metropolis was selected.

Tezuka, Rin, and Otomo... Super big names in the anime industry joined for the movie, so you will understand how much I looked forward to Rin's movie version. However, I hate to say this, I was very disappointed. It was not because the movie version's story seemed like Miyazaki's Laputa: The Castle in the Sky. I admit I was much impressed by hand-drawn mob scenes, Nagura Yasuhiro's excellent character design work based on Tezuka's Disney and Fleischer-taste manga touch, Dykisieland Jazz tunes used for expression of retro-future taste, and so forth. Rin showed his outstanding musical and visual sense, but he failed to properly portray each character in Metropolis.

Tima is the key person in this movie. She wakes up accidentally and goes through adventures with Ken'ichi, but she does not know who she is. The axis in this story is how she learns about the human world, but you feel dodged a bit if you expect The Love Story; the warm relation between Tima and Ken'ichi (Recall E.T. and Elliot !) is not fully developed. In the climatic sequence at the Ziggurat, Lord Red's skycraper, she finally realizes she is not a human. But her shock and sadness does not come home to you because the process by which she grew up as a human girl was not depicted thoroughly enough. You find it difficult to identify with Ken'ichi and Tima. Frankly, I felt bored in spite of the powerful visuals.

There is more to be disappointed about; the motivation of each of the other character is not depicted thoroughly. Why is Lord Red attached to Tima so much? It is suggested that he lost her daughter in the past and Tima is modeled after her, but that is explained only by Dr. Lorton's dialogue and the pictures on Lord Red's desk, in which you see he and a little girl smiling happily. It is a bit too unkind to the audience.

I felt displeased with description of Metropolis, the mixed up city of Neo Tokyo in Akira and Koriko City in Kiki's Delivery Service. While the background art was excellent, it is too unclear as to where each place, site and building is and how they are related. For example, it is difficult to realize the underground world was composed of three levels, Zone One (downtown and poor quarters) , Zone Two (energy plant) , and Zone Three (disposal plant of waste) without seeing the theater program. Recall Miyazaki's Lupin the Third : The Castle of Cagliostro, in which the hero Lupin parades in a gigantic, labyrinthine, European castle, yet Miyazaki skillfully tells you where each site is situated and related from the view of Lupin; this is missing from Metropolis.

In this movie, people in the Zone One, who were catapulted into employment due to the spread of robots, attempt and fail to carry out a revolution. It reminds you of the various foreign worker movements occurring in cities all over the real world. I wish Rin and Otomo had probed into this theme more thoroughly. The lack of description of the power struggles in the Metropolis political world is quite dissapointing. In a word, Otomo's script is poor. In addition, the animation looked dull while drawn in full animation.

After seeing the movie, I read the original manga again, and I was convinced how much thought Tezuka gave to the 'death' from his youth. In the original manga version, Tima was a biological android, not a robot. In the manga, like replicants in Blade Runner; Tima was an androgynous android created by a scientist who'd dreamed of the creation of artificial life. It seems that this was a reflection of the desire in his heart; it is well known that Tezuka loved to draw scientists who attempted to create life in his manga again and again till his death (See Phoenix saga, medical suspense Black Jack, and his posthumous sci-fi manga Neo Faust). At the same time, Tezuka never failed to illustrate how arrogant it is to play with life. Perhaps his attitude for life is rooted in the fact that he received a medical education, as well as having experienced an air raid and wandered ruined streets of Osaka at the end of WW2. He was the first in Japan to depict such a high concept of 'death' in comic cartoon. The feeling of awe and respect for life is something that underlies his every work (I understand why he loved animation. He wanted to enjoy the feeling of the Creator by animating lifeless objects).

However, this feeling does not come through in the Metropolis movie. The copy for advertisement was "Can the heartless robot awake to love?" but this heartless film failed to awake to life. The Metropolis movie was an ambitious work, but however much digital artwork may have advanced it is impossible to make a good movie without a good script and proper comprehension of the original story and original creator. You can learn such lessons from this retrospective sci-fi movie.
discuss this in the forum (2 posts) |
bookmark/share with: short url
Add this anime to
Production Info:
Director: Rintaro
Screenplay: Katsuhiro Otomo
Music: Toshiyuki Honda
Original Manga: Osamu Tezuka
Character Design: Yasuhiro Nakura
Art Director: Shūichi Hirata
Chief Animation Director: Yasuhiro Nakura
Sound Director: Masafumi Mima
Director of Photography: Hitoshi Yamaguchi
Executive producer:
Tadamichi Abe
Hisanori Hiranuma
Takayuki Matsutani
Ken Munekata
Fumio Nagase
Toru Shiobara
Akihiko Terajima
Ryohei Tsunoda

Full encyclopedia details about
Metropolis (movie)

Review homepage / archives