Metropolis: The Spirit of the Machine

Directed by anime legend Rintaro, Metropolis takes inspiration from Fritz Lang’s 1927 film of the same name and the 1949 manga written by Osamu Tezuka. Telling the story of a boy named Kenichi who meets a robot girl named Tima who is is constructed to be a weapon for the government, Metropolis is a film that deserves praise for taking from its two inspirations and making something that serves to inspire - and crush - the spirits of those who watch it.

Metropolis has a cast of characters who aren’t fleshed out much. However, for the story that’s being told, it doesn’t need every character to go through some massive arc. The movie fully belongs to Tima, with everyone involved being either a help or a hindrance to her finding her own purpose in the world. Tima is a tragic character who has several dilemmas during the film. Her confusion as to whether she’s human or machine - and the fact that she’s constantly pursued by people who are strangers to her - only finding solace in Kenichi’s kindness and influence brings the emotional hammer down as she continues down her inevitable fate. The character Red Duke, a leader of the government who wants full control of the nation, is a villain who sets the entire film in motion due to his wanting the creation of his empire to be in the form of his deceased daughter Tima. While this sets him up to be a somewhat sympathetic character, he proves to be irredeemable due to his manipulation of her and of his “son” Rock, an obsessed child who Red Duke saved years prior. Rock is an interesting character deserving of his own analysis, as his obsession goes beyond his father figure. Rock’s disgust at the robot race that makes up the working class in their society goes to extremes as he thinks they - and by extension Tima - are corrupting his father, leading Rock to try to destroy Tima multiple times. Other characters like Kenichi and his uncle Shunsaku Ban serve as the good men who do good things to progress the plot but have very little depth to them. As they are though, they are good at what they do, giving Tima a sense of self that she otherwise wouldn’t have.

The story of Metropolis takes aspects from both of the previous iterations, such as having Tima be a robot who brings about a wave of change in the society after seeing the way robots are treated (1927 iteration) and Kenichi being something of a savior to Tima against the foil of Red Duke (1949). The moral teachings about class that Metropolis presents is in full effect from beginning to end. The working class robots are discriminated against, subjected to several hate crimes. The humans that inhabit the city all feel that the robots are no good since they’ve replaced humans in almost every job field. Sound familiar? What’s worse is that the robots prove time and again that they are kind and only want to help - a key example being a robot named Fifi that helps Kenichi and Tima escape from Rock’s pursuit. Aside from the man vs machine theme, there is a key element that dominates the film that is relevant today - how far AI can go and the morals behind it. Throughout Metropolis, Kenichi has no idea that Tima is a robot. She is seen as having a heavenly glow whenever she’s in sunlight. In one particular scene she is standing atop a building, glowing, and a bird lands on her shoulder with one wing extended. A citizen remarks that she’s an angel and others agree. Tima is painted as an innocent child, given a sense of free will as she doesn’t even know she’s a robot. It is when she’s separated from Kenichi that she’s seen as a machine by everyone, but still retains a human sense and conscience. Her AI is so advanced that she can’t tell the difference and when the truth is revealed, she snaps. The themes presented in Metropolis are incredibly well handled and the film proves that it can be an excellent science fiction piece with the tools it’s given.

The animation is a marvel to watch, aging extremely well almost 20 years later. The blend of CG and hand-drawn 2D animation make for a viewing that is the epitome of cinematic greatness. There’s a scene where Kenichi and Shunsaku Ban are in an office inquiring the whereabouts of a scientist and a giant CG fish is swimming around. The two are so fixated on it that the man they are talking to gets frustrated. The way lighting is used is also key, with the aforementioned angelic glow Tima has in sunlight shining out for the viewer to admire. The animation for explosions and the destruction of certain backgrounds and buildings in Metropolis is also exciting to see. This coupled with the musical choices the film goes with, giving a true dirty city vibe with a tinge of classic jazz makes for a true sensory experience. The scene that cements this film as being utterly awesome, occurs when the detonation of a building happens and Ray Charles’ “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” explodes out of the speakers. It’s a scene that has the power to make mouths fly open in pure shock and awe.

Metropolis is an incredible film with a lot going for it. It can be confusing in places, but things do clear up if you have the patience to keep going with it. Rintaro is a true artist with a praiseworthy career. Metropolis simply gives him another reason to sit at the table of legends.


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