No, this isn’t a remake of the 1926 German silent classic by Fritz Lang, but rather a Japanese anime explosion inspired by Osamu Tezuka’s 1949 manga comic of the same name. Tezuka (1928-1989) claimed to have based his whole adventure on seeing a single still from Lang’s masterwork. The resulting narrative, set in a sci-fi future, combines detective story action with political intrigue on the way to foregrounding science-vs.-morality issues a la Frankenstein.
As realized by director Rintaro (X: The Movie) from a screenplay by Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira), this new Metropolis is absolutely spectacular. Making use of the latest in Japanese animation, digital technology and an audacious jazz score, it’s a thrill ride that slows down for a meditative or sentimental moment or two, but never stops stimulating the eye via layer upon multilayer upon megalayer of constantly morphing inventiveness. From panoramic cityscapes (crawling with humans, robots, airborne and surface vehicles, and filled with mind-boggling architectural detail) to a wide range of fully realized characters (a mad scientist and his mysterious creation, a maniacal legislator and his murderous assistant, corrupt politicians, fascist troops, labor-saving droids and unemployed humans, a portly detective and his heroic young sidekick), everything is drawn intricately and impressively. The screen becomes a battleground where megaliths turn into towers of Babel; sunshine (actual and metaphorical) contends with forces of darkness, and good old class struggle is the background for a story worthy of ancient Greek tragedy.
Because Japanese anime is in a chicken-and-egg relationship with cyberpunk fiction and late-20th century sci-fi, there are sequences in this new version of Metropolis that resonate with familiarity: Hints of images from H.G. Wells’ Things to Come, Blade Runner, The Matrix and even Dr. Strangelove alternate with apocalyptic scenes right out of William Gibson’s Neuromancer, though none of these outweigh clearly post-Hiroshima Japanese concerns about nuclear madness and absolute power gone awry.
At the core of this colossal vision is a personal story, a tale of innocence that ends in horror. And an unforgettable character — Tima, girl-child in a strange land — who, much like the bride of Frankenstein, is headed for the abyss.
Opens Friday exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-542-0180.
George Tysh is Metro Times arts editor. E-mail him at [email protected].