In a future where steampunk mechanised technology exists alongside advanced robotics and computing, the city-state of Metropolis is both wealthy and powerful. However, beneath its glittering image lies a less utopian reality: because Metropolis has extensively adopted the use of humaniform robots, many people have been displaced from jobs which the government considers could be performed more effectively by non-human workers. Thus, a large portion of the population live as an underclass dwelling in the subterranean levels of the city, where hatred against robots festers and often breaks out into violence. Into this conflicted situation, Japanese detective Shinsaku Ban and his nephew Kenichi arrive in order to arrest a certain Dr Lawton, who has several international warrants for human rights violations outstanding against him. What Shinsaku and Kenichi don’t know, however, is that Lawton has been given asylum by the powerful Duke Red, who has put Lawton to work creating a superhuman robot whom the Duke plans to use and control as his puppet in his plan for global domination. The Duke is opposed, however, by his adopted son, Rock, who is a member of the Marduk Party, which ostensibly opposes robot technology but in actuality acts as a paramilitary force cementing Duke Red’s control. Shinsaku and Kenichi’s investigations lead them into an encounter with Lawton’s creation: named Tima, she possesses human emotions and only wants to understand her own identity. But when Rock murders Lawton, this initiates a series of events in which a failed uprising results in Duke Red seizing power as a military dictator and instigating his plan to use Tima as a world-conquering super-weapon – only for matters to spiral out of control, confronting Shinsaku and Kenichi, not with the prospect of life under a world dictator, but the destruction of the whole of humanity instead…

Ostensibly based on Osamu Tezuka’s 1949 manga (which itself was indirectly inspired by Fritz Lang’s classic 1927 film), “Metropolis” was produced by anime studio Madhouse and given its cinematic premier in 2001. Lavishly animated in a neo-art-deco style the evocatively recalls Lang’s fantastic cityscapes, with character designs reminiscent both of Hayao Miyazaki and early Walt Disney, “Metropolis” features a rich soundtrack of Dixieland jazz and lush orchestration, with Ray Charles’ song “I Can’t Stop Loving You” compellingly deployed during the film’s climatic denouement. Although the narrative departs significantly from Tezuka’s manga, revealing how much more the producers were actually influenced by Lang’s silent classic, in its exploration of the dangers of technology that exceeds its creators’ capacity to control, “Metropolis” fully realises the horror of a post-war Japan living in the shadow of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Likewise, the film articulates a stern critique of the hubris that derives from the mere fact of technological advancement itself, from the dangers that arise when that technology serves the interests of an elite few instead of the common good, and the pervasiveness with which prejudice and indifference to the suffering of others operates in society. Critically acclaimed and commercially successful, “Metropolis” is stunningly beautiful to watch and filled with enough captivating moments to make it worth your while sitting through its near-2-hour runtime.

Text © Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2021. All rights reserved.