Name That 'Toon

To that end, Solondz conjures up his own critics. Toby's producer (Franka Potente) accuses him of feeling superior to his characters; Scooby's father interrupts his usual rant to attack Toby's subjectivity: "Stop trying to impose your misery on others." (A test audience, meanwhile, responds to American Scooby as though auditioning for the Seinfeld laugh track.) As exploitation turns profitably to tragedy, Toby has second thoughts. "I'm so, so sorry," he tells Scooby. "Don't be," is the sagely cynical reply. "The movie is a hit." It may seem Solondz is giving one of his creatures the last word, but in fact, he's ceding that role to the spectator.

In the world of Japanese anime, Metropolis is a formidable all-star production—a science fiction spectacular directed by Rintaro (Galaxy Express 999) and written by Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira), from a 1949 comic book by "God of Manga" Osamu Tezuka.

Both victim and victim lover: Blair in Storytelling
photo: John Clifford
Both victim and victim lover: Blair in Storytelling


Written and directed by Todd Solondz
Fine Line
Opens January 25

Directed by Rintaro
Written by Katsuhiro Otomo, from the comic by Osamu Tezuka
Opens January 25

Metropolis begins by quoting 19th-century French historian Jules Michelet—"Every epoch dreams its successor"—as well as Triumph of the Will and Blade Runner. Elaborating an early-1900s vision of the year 2000, populating its mega-city with rounded, cartoony figures and an extensive taxonomy of 1950s toy robots, Metropolis is an anthology of 20th-century pulp. (Tezuka himself was inspired by the poster for Fritz Lang's Metropolis; he hadn't seen the movie.) The only comparable American exercise in retro-futurism is The Iron Giant.

Metropolis has been released here with subtitles, like an art film (which it is). The animators not only compose images in terms of shadows, reflections, and camera angles but also take care to distinguish varieties of light—the glowing neon signage has an entirely different quality from that of the candy-colored living billboards. A near perfect fusion of computer and cel animation, Metropolis flaunts its labor-intensive mise-en-scène: marble-patterned floors, brocade robes, long scenes played amid falling snow. The narrative is something else. Duke Red, gangster ruler of Ziggurat, plans to install the female robot Tima on the throne (in fact, she's plugged in), completing a circuit that will destroy the universe. A blond child with big green eyes, created in the image of the Duke's dead daughter, Tima is rescued from the Duke's jealous adopted son by Ken-ichi, nephew of the little Japanese detective Shunsaku Ban.

None of this much matters. Although a social theorist might wonder if Metropolis's merging of past and future expresses a desire to transfigure Japan's static economy, it's the nature of the cyborg that's important. Hopelessly attached to her playmate Ken-ichi, Tima is just another mecha (to use the standard anime term), fixated upon the human. Metropolis is A.I. without tears. In a juxtaposition worthy of Kubrick, Rin scores a world-ending explosion to Ray Charles's plaintive ode to psychological programming, "I Can't Stop Loving You." Inexplicable for much of its running time, Metropolis ends with a grand crescendo of escalating craziness. With Ziggurat wrecked, the humans blasted back to Japan, and Tima a legend for her fellow robots, a lonely red transistor radio is left to wonder, "Who am I?"

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