METROPOLIS-the anime

commentary by Randy Bowser

March, 2002

Through the magic of internet commerce, I have acquired a DVD of the Japanese Anime, "Metropolis" even as the film is first appearing in the states.

Vocal Director of The Pentacle's upcoming musical "Metropolis", Scott Reichlin, and I, watched this much talked about film together, and in a word we were--"confused."

It would be completely unfair to minimize the mind-boggling visual achievement that this animated feature has achieved. It is the most lavish, most expensive, most sophisticated, most critically acclaimed of all Japanese "anime" and it is probably rightfully said that it moves the rung up challengingly for all anime to follow.

But from my perspective, it just does not do the trick of communicating to and connecting with American audience members (such as myself and Scott) who may not be already familiar with the very particular idiosyncrasies of this anime genre.

Of most interest to me, before seeing the film, was that its inspiration was the classic silent film directed by Fritz Lang. I understood from advance publicity that it was only very loosely based on it, but this animated feature is even more far afield from its source material than I could have anticipated.

To outline some of the story's key points, it sounds like it's more related to the original "Metropolis" than it actually is.

There is a huge Art Deco city, complete with low flying aircraft, conveyer belt sidewalks, and impossibly huge futuristic-Gothic skyscrapers. There is a megalomaniacal mastermind of the city--there is a female robot, and the mad scientist who creates her--there is an oppressed under class. And the hubris of the ruling class's inhumanity to man finally causes the downfall of this Orwellian nightmarish future.

But there are many more plot details which are new, and they unfold with such disjointed and often, illogical inter-cutting, that the final effect is a film that has virtually nothing to do with its source material, and which is tediously complicated to boot.

Preferring to see all foreign films with the sub-titles, so I can hear the original language, I chose to have a sub-titled copy of "Metropolis." To be fair, it is completely safe to say that the overly-literal and awkward translation contributed enormously to keeping the unfolding story almost incomprehensible.

An English dubbed version, while polluting the flavor of the original as any dubbed film does by the very nature of that process---would still most likely make this anime more decipherable.

But with this badly translated sub-titled version, we have to ponder phrases (which fly by) such as "Where have you been on earth?"---thinking the questioner is asking the other person what locations on the planet he has visited. Several other equally awkward sub-titles fly by before we realize the translation should have been "Where on earth have you been?" And so it goes throughout.

The barrier of a bad translation aside, it still would seem that the story telling technique is so different from what we're used to here in the states--and so many completely off-the-wall things happen, that long before the film is over, it has become a tedious onslaught of beautiful visuals swamped in a relentlessly disjointed story with no more than the barest minimum of characterizations detectable.

I suspect that familiarity with anime would make "Metropolis" more accessible. But much of the general American public is unaware of that particular style of animation and story-telling--so I feel that for many people this will end up being a flashy but ultimately tedious bore.

Loved the city. Was perplexed by the saucer eyed children running around excitedly and perpetually falling through space for no apparent reason.

Randy Bowser.