Not one but two great manga and anime artists have been involved in the making of this Japanese version of Fritz Lang’s expressionist masterpiece from the 1920s. In 1949, Osamu Tezuka created a manga based on the cult Western dystopia, and in 2001 his pupil, the modern-day anime guru Rintaro made an anime film that develops visual and narrative themes from both Lang’s and Tezuka’s works.
Just like Lang’s silent film, shot in 1927, Rintaro’s Metropolis is set in a huge futuristic city-state with a strict hierarchy, where the poor are relegated to work and tread their miserable existence in the industrial underground, while the upper classes literally live above them. But, unlike in the original story, where workers have been reduced to cogs in the machine, in Rintaro’s film, robots themselves are oppressed and exploited along with the laborers and those left unemployed due to the mechanisation of life.
The story revolves around an anthropomorphic cyborg girl named Tima. Supposedly devoid of human weaknesses, Tima has been modelled after the deceased daughter of the city’s ruler Duke Red as a future heir to his power.
Duke Red's adopted son and the head of the fascist Marduk Party is jealous of Tima and decides to get rid of the perfect robot, but Tima is saved by a boy named Kenichi, who has come to Tokyo with his uncle, a private detective. Kenichi manages to teach Tima human feeling, however, this does not help when the girl realizes she is a robot.
A colorful and fascinating story that will be enjoyed even by the youngest audience, Rintaro’s Metropolis also touches on some of the most serious questions faced by humanity. What do love, hatred, and jealousy have to do with the rise of fascism? What happens if we create artificial intelligence that can overcome human weaknesses? And what can technological progress teach us about ourselves? Translating the masterpiece of German expressionism into the language of contemporary anime, Rintaro also developed Lang’s ideas to reflect on the traumas of the twentieth century and the challenges of the new millennium.
Directed by Rintaro. Japan, 2001. 108 min.