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  Directed by
    None Listed
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Japanese: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English: DTS 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
    English, Dutch, Hindi
  Extras
  • 2 Theatrical trailer
  • Production notes
  • Photo gallery
  • Animated menus
  • Interviews
  • Awards/Nominations
  • Multiple angle
  • Filmographies

Metropolis (2001)

Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 104 mins . PG . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Between 1947 and 1949, Osamu Tezuka - the much-loved grandfather of modern anime - released a serialised, 160-page vision of the future; a future in which humans and robots co-exist in a technologically advanced, but ultimately corrupt, utopia. That vision was Metropolis and, soon after, Tezuka’s career went interstellar with the 1951 release of his follow-up: Mighty Atom (Astro Boy). Making the transition into anime, Tezuka enjoyed massive domestic and international success with animated versions of his most loved characters - Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion and Speed Racer to name just a few - but despite interest from many quarters, his early works remained unanimated. In Tezuka’s eyes these early works - his lauded ‘Science-Fantasy’ trilogy of which Metropolis was but one - were deemed unsuitable for the animated medium.

After Tezuka’s untimely death in 1989, acclaimed anime director Rintaro (X – The Movie), an animator who breathed life into episodes of Astro Boy and other Tezuka greats, took it upon himself to deliver Metropolis to the silver screen. Armed with a script from seminal anime writer Kastuhiro Otomo (Akira), Rintaro and his team at Madman Productions began development of Metropolis - a project that would eventually culminate, more than 40 years after the original manga was first published, in arguably one of the most beautiful animated films ever created.

Tezuka’s plot, based loosely on Fritz Lang’s legendary 1927 film, is a re-imagining of the old tower of babel allegory; a treatise on humanity's tenuous grasp on technology, and its power for social division rather than harmony. In the not-too-distant future, the vast utopian city of Metropolis buzzes with the hum of both its thriving commerce and its largely robot workforce. On the surface, life for the city’s diverse population seems idyllic; the city acclaimed as a world centre for culture and technology. And to celebrate its achievements, the Ziggurat - a giant tower-like structure - has been constructed in the heart of the city.

But all is not as it seems. Displaced by the robot workforce and living hand to mouth on tenuous government welfare, a huge under-class of the poor, the dispossessed and the destitute live in the lower, largely dishevelled levels of the city. And here anger is slowly growing, with calls for the upheaval of the political system and the destruction of all robot labour. Slowly, arms are being gathered and slogans are being written that may sound an end to the city’s apparent idyll.

Into this simmering cauldron comes detective Shunsaku Ban and his nephew Kenichi; travellers from Japan who are seeking to arrest a rebel scientist for crimes against humanity. Locating their quarry in time only to see his secret laboratory aflame, they rescue a beautiful young girl, Tima, from the inferno. But little do they know that in this little girl lies a devastating power that many of the city’s most important figures seek; a power that may spell the end of Metropolis, and of the entire human race...

With one of the most remarkable chronologies of any film production I’ve yet come across, I was immediately intrigued by Metropolis; and certainly, this is no ordinary anime fare. Containing very few of the staple anime elements, Metropolis is a production, seemingly, of another era. Here you’ll find no big-breasted, gun-toting anime babes, and although there is some violence, there’s nothing more than the PG rating implies. Subdued, and in keeping with the old-world feel to the production, any violence we do see is in support of the story rather than as a substitution for it. Freaky huh? But lacking the fast-cut, fast-kill pace that is typical of the genre, Metropolis has a languid, almost Wings of Honneamise feel to it, and I must admit that the pace felt just a little lazy to this particular anime fan (who watches a lot of the aforementioned fast-cut, fast-kill). But despite the pace, Metropolis rewards the patient viewer with some well-rounded characterisations, and a satisfyingly dramatic climax.

  Video
Contract

Right off the bat let me just say – you’ve never seen anything quite like Metropolis. Visually, it is one of the most striking, and one of the most beautiful, animated productions to have ever come out of Japan; a superb conjunction of computer generated images and traditional 2D cell animation. The towering city of Metropolis - completely computer generated and displaying level upon level of mind-blowing detail - has been designed using a very distinctive and very deliberate art-deco style. Inhabiting the city are a collection of deceptively simple, traditionally-animated characters; their designs harking back to the early days of Disney, and reportedly remaining true to Tezuka’s original post-war art-work. While each character displays a deliberate economy of shape and form, character animation is wonderfully fluid. The style of the whole production, very reminiscent of the 1920s, contrasts with the high level of technological advancement displayed by this futuristic civilisation; and it is this contrast that provides the production with a timeless quality.

And did I say that the level of detail was mind-blowing? Oh, my, god. In both the 3D and 2D spheres, the amount of work that has gone into the production is simply astounding. There is just so much detail in every single rendered background, and so much activity in each and every richly-populated shot, that you can’t possibly hope to take it all in. Not in one sitting at least. It’s little wonder that Metropolis took five long years to make.

And so we come inevitably (and by rather the long way round) to Columbia’s anamorphic (1.85:1) digital transfer which is, you’ll be pleased to hear, absolutely superb and apart from recounting its various accolades, there is really little more to say. Displaying no hint of film-to-video or compression artefacts, the sumptuous image is crystal clean and razor sharp; displaying the film’s minutest details without undue aliasing or moire. Although opening with deep sepia tones, the colour palette quickly widens into a veritable kaleidoscope of rich hues which, to quote an overused phrase, literally leap from the screen. Complimenting the colour is perfect black level.

All in all, Metropolis is a superb video experience; a reference-quality transfer and one of the best examples of animation yet committed to our shiny little format.

  Audio
Contract

With Columbia providing Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes in both the original Japanese and English dub, and even more remarkably an English DTS 5.1 mix, the reference quality presentation continues into Metropolis’ spectacular audio transfers. With all six channels almost continuously active, the level of detail to be found in these audio tracks is amazing. Ambient sound is impressive; drawn from the heavily populated city’s airships, sirens, traffic and other sounds of ceaseless habitation. Panning and directional effects abound, with flyovers, strafing machine guns, and layer upon layer of foley effects directed to specific forward and rear channels. The subwoofer too is kept very busy with all manner of throbbing machinery, explosions, and various futuristic vehicles to which to add its singular voice.

The score is an eclectic mix of swinging jazz and bluegrass inspired instrumentals from music director Toshiyuki Honda, combined with a few well chosen blues tunes (such as Ray Charles' I Can't Stop Loving You) to create a startlingly novel and thoroughly evocative musical accompaniment to the art-deco visuals. Mixed beautifully between the front and rear channels, it combines with the other aural elements to create a thoroughly immersive viewing experience.

And while the Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes are wonderful (it’s great to see another six channel Japanese mix in our region), the DTS mix is truly spectacular; displaying vast improvements in channel separation, fidelity, and use of the LFE channel. When the score really gets going, you can actually hear individual instruments targetted to specific rear channels.

In terms of dialogue, which emanates clearly and distinctly throughout, the English dub seems to be a reasonable, if not exact, representation of the original Japanese script; conveying the original intention of the film without plot deviations or shifts in cultural perspective. For you anime aficionados out there, the English subtitles are clear and easy to read; coming neither too fast or too slow and for those with non-anamorphic display devices, displayed in the black bar area

  Extras
Contract

CG animated non-anamorphic menus, accompanied by portions of the film’s jazzy score, provide access to the extras supplied on this two disc set. And some reasonable extras there are too – well for anime releases anyway...

  • Animax Special: The Making of Metropolis: (33:14, Japanese with optional English subtitles) Recounting much of the film’s linear plot and overlaying chunks of completed scenes, it also contains interviews with Rintaro and Otomo, who discuss what attracted them to the project. There is also a superficial look at the dubbing process, we meet the three principal voice actors and some of the propeller-heads behind the mind blowing 3D graphics from Madman Studios. We learn that the 3D rendered backgrounds were hand coloured post-render and a little about how the 3D and cel animation elements were integrated and overlayed to produce the final product. All in all a quite well-rounded look at the production.

  • Filmmaker Interviews: (08:05, Japanese with optional English subtitles) The interviews with Rintaro and Otomo that are presented in the 'making of' are played in a more complete form here. Rintaro discusses his desire to revisit the now out-of-vogue ‘fantasy science’ style of manga through Metropolis, his opinion on 3D versus traditional cel animation and what Tezuka might think of the finished product. Otomo discusses how he reveres Tezuka’s early work, what attracted him to the Metropolis project and his impressions of the final product.

  • Animation Comparisons presents two scenes from the film, namely the ‘wheel room’ and the opening ‘city view’, using the multi-angle facility to concurrently view the image as it is built up from its many constituents. Specifically, for the city view seven angles provide a view of the scene from its initially featureless render, to the final finished product; each angle building up more components of the 3D image. For the wheel room scene, a total of nine angles provide a similar set of views with the addition of a final layer of traditional cel animation for the characters.

  • History of Metropolis: 11 pages of text recounting the history of the original Manga, and the journey undertaken by Rintaro and his team to realise Metropolis as we see it today.

  • Filmographies: 11 more pages of text recounting the careers of and collaboration between Rintaro and the legendary Osamu Tezuka.

  • Photo Gallery: Initial character designs for Tima (eight), Kenichi (three) and a host of supporting characters (21), as well as images giving art direction to the creators of Metropolis’ teeming erm, metropolis.

  • Trailers: Metropolis gets the The most spectacular anime in motion picture history treatment from that annoying American voiceover guy. We are also treated to the trailer for Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles of all things; presumably because it’s more of Columbia’s property. Actually, it doesn’t look half bad…

  Overall  
Contract

One of the most stunning animated productions I have ever seen, with its reference quality audio and visuals Metropolis holds you transfixed for the duration. Although with its slow pace and old-world feel it won't be everyone’s cup of tea, I would recommend everyone at the very least rent Metropolis (at least before considering it for purchase). Only once in a blue moon does a production come along that bursts through the envelope and advances the animation art form. As such, Metropolis should not be missed.


  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=2083
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      And I quote...
    "...arguably one of the most beautiful animated films ever created."
    - Gavin Turner
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Toshiba SD-2108
    • TV:
          Panasonic TC-68P90A TAU (80cm)
    • Receiver:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Amplifier:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Speakers:
          B&W 602
    • Centre Speaker:
          B&W CC6 S2
    • Surrounds:
          JM Lab Cobalt SR20
    • Subwoofer:
          B&W ASW-500
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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