If you like your devastation juxtaposed with jaunty jazz, you might enjoy Rintaro's new anime film Metropolis. Be forewarned, though: I use the term "new" lightly, as Metropolis scavenges the bones of umpteen science-fiction hits of the past, beginning with Fritz Lang's silent classic of the same name.
Like Lang's Metropolis, Rintaro's film depicts class struggles against a glorious visual background. Rintaro's colorful architectural landscapes, palatial offices, and flying traffic immediately recall Blade Runner, especially upon the introduction of Tima, the prized robot-girl destined to sit on the "throne" of the "Ziggurat," a massive tower of power soon to be activated in the heart of the city. Tima causes the requisite sci-fi confusion: is she a machine or a human? Or is she a breakthrough hybrid of (wo)man and machine? (In addition to Blade Runner, the compelling Tima evokes the woman-machine-alien-God of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.)
In a succession of short yet laborious exposition scenes, screenwriter Katsuhiro Otomo (working from Osamu Tezuka's apparently legendary 1949 manga) establishes the hierarchy of this Metropolis, where robots are working-class scabs stealing work from the poor wretches on the ground (and underground). In offices high above the city, businessmen play power politics, influencing city planning to accomodate the erection of the Ziggurat. Regular and portentous announcements herald the massive construct as the promise of a great and successful future of all. Meanwhile, resistance and revolution stir, with vigilantes keeping the robots (who are restricted in their movement) in their place. All of the factions covet the power of the gods.
Katsuhiro wrote and directed Akira, the biggest crossover anime hit, but unlike Katsushiro, Rintaro adopts the big-eyed, bulgy character design associated with Osamu. Unfortunately, this cartoony design is at odds with the often computer-generated "camera" movement (the action is laid out well, with long shots effectively minimizing the cartoony people) and backgrounds which are momentous and elegant and probably account for the film's five-year production. The resulting battle between styles ('50s anime vs. '70s cel animation vs. contemporary CGI) reflects the Brazil-ian, decade-blanding clash of form and function (like clunky gears alongside artificial intelligence). The only pleasure outside of the background animation--don't expect sparkling dialogue or fleshed-out characters--is the score, which blends faux John Williams (note the telescoping Star Wars-esque wipes) with the aforementioned jazz, culminating in the use of Ray Charles' "I Can't Stop Loving You." It's undeniably effective, but so was Kubrick's use of Vera Lynn's "We'll Meet Again" in Dr. Strangelove.
There's pleasure in many of the details here: the propaganda and advertisements (one billboard touts 7-Un), the political allegory (the relentless rush of button-pushing includes notions of martial law and coups d'etat in the face of long-term resistance and threatened revolution), and the oddly lyrical moments as essential to anime as the requisite fiery explosions (dogwalker and clown robots going haywire, sending balloons floating into the stratosphere).
In the end, though, Metropolis--like its iconic leading lady--lacks humanity, disappearing under the crushing machinery of its creator.