The Other Side of Animation 134: Metropolis Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Ambition feels like such a double-edged sword. You can be respected and admired for how far you take your project, but if it doesn’t entirely work out, all of that ambition will fall flat, due to execution. I’ve seen a lot of Japanese animated films, and that tends to happen to many of them. They might have great visuals, a grand scale in their themes, and so on, but due to either not a good director or writer, you end up with a films that feels clunky in their presentation. This is something I heard a lot about with Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis. Directed by Rintaro, and written by Katsuhiro Otomo, this film was based on the late creator’s manga that was inspired by the famous sci-fi film of the same name. It’s noteworthy as well for being one of the first animated features to be submitted to the Oscars for Best Animated Feature in 2001, but didn’t make it, Instead, that awful Jimmy Neutron movie got nominated. With a list of talent like Rintaro directing, Tezuka’s original manga, and Otomo’s writing, this should be a slam dunk. It did get rave reviews, calling it one of the best animated films from Japan, and I do agree with that. However, let’s dive in and see what else we can find.

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Our story takes place in, where else, Metropolis! It’s a high tech city, filled to the brim with humans, rich and poor, having to live with robots that do a mass majority of “lower-class” work. The city is in a bit of a complicated moment in time, as the President, dubbed by Steve McGowan, is presenting a new massive tower, along with Duke Red, dubbed by Jamieson Price, who might have an alterior motive other than just showing how rich he is. At the same time, a detective named Shunsaku Ban, dubbed by Tony Pope, and his nephew Kenichi, dubbed by Brianne Siddall, arrive in the city to bring in a scientist named Dr. Laughton, dubbed by Simon Prescott. The scientist also happens to be working for Duke Red to make a special project for him. On the day that Shunsaku and Kenichi arrive in the city, and with the help of a robot detective named Pero, dubbed by Dave Mallow, they end up getting caught in a much bigger scheme. Dr. Laughton is then shot by an underling working for Duke Red named Rock, dubbed by Michael Relsz, and his lab is destroyed, with only a mysterious young girl named Tima, dubbed by Rebecca Forstadt, surviving. Why does Duke want her? Will the robots and humans find a way to not get into a revolution against one another? What motives does the President have in terms of the massive tower?

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The major complaint I heard about this movie is that the film is very busy. You not only have Tima and Kenichi, the mystery of Tima’s purpose, the lower class revolution, the discrimination against robots, Duke Red wanting to be a God, Babylon references, government corruption, and yeah, when I list all of that, so the film is busy. I don’t know if they wanted to adapt the entire story of Tezuka’s manga, since Tezuka wasn’t alive anymore when this film was made, but it does come off like that. There are different points in the second half where it seems like time skipped ahead, and nothing is filled in. You see the beginning of the revolution, but then it cuts to the end of it a few minutes later. It definitely feels like they could have cut some characters, because some of the motivations for how certain characters, like Rock and Duke Red, act are not fully explained to the audience. It definitely could have used some fine tuning in the writing, as the huge philosophical elements come off as wonky in the final product. Nothing wrong with combining religion and philosophy on what makes you human, but it does make the film overly complicated. It should have stuck with the story focusing on Tima and Kenichi, because while I do think their bond is strong, I wish there were more scenes with the two.

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I know it sounds like I might hate this movie, and I know some people do, but I really love it. I actually love quite a lot about this film, and I do still agree it’s one of the best and most important animated films from Japan. If you watch any clip of this film, you can tell that the combination of 2D animation and CGI is gorgeous. I love seeing Tezuka’s retro designs on a film budget. This entire film is brimming with beautiful animation, a lot of detail, and personality that makes the city of Metropolis thrive and feel alive. It definitely stands out among the animation seen in more modern day Japanese-animated films.

I also love its jazzy New Orleans-style soundtrack and orchestrated score by Toshiyuki Honda and Atsuki Kimura. However, the best song in this entire film is the Ray Charles version of I Can’t Stop Loving You. It makes the ending so much more emotionally powerful as you see what happens with everyone. It’s a song that always sticks in my mind, and I am actually addicted to it right now as I type this. As for the English dub, it’s pretty sweet, and they have a powerhouse of voice actors for the English dub. You have Brianne Siddall, Rebecca Forstadt, Tony Pope, Jamieson Price, Michael Reisz, Steve Blum, Dave Mallow, Simon Prescott, Dan Woren, Doug Stone, William Frederick Knight, and Barbara Goodson to name some of the best talent you can find in anime. Even though some characters could have been fleshed out more, I still felt for them, and was invested in the overall story. The main heart of the film is definitely when Kenichi and Tima are together. They have some of the best scenes and interactions together. Even if I think this film doesn’t handle philosophical themes well, I still admire that it wanted to be more than just another animated film. It’s at the very least, more than you can say about studios like Blue Sky and Illumination, which I would argue have no ambition to be more than just animated features.

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I find myself constantly coming back to Metropolis. I have seen it probably five or so times now, and I still love it despite its flaws. Unfortunately the original DVD release of this film is entering the $30 range, and I don’t think I would recommend doing that when Mill Creek Entertainment is about to put out a new steel book Blu-ray release of it. If you love animation, the works of Osamu Tezuka, and Japanese-animation history, you should definitely check out this film. For now, let’s take a break from Japanese animation, and move on over to what might be Netflix’s best animated feature since The Little Prince with White Fang. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 101: In This Corner of the World Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

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With Hayao Miyazaki coming back for one more film, and a huge slew of teen/young adult-focused animated dramas coming out of Japan, Japanese animation is a big deal. There are a few directors that everyone should be following or watching their work. You have, of course, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, but you also have Mamoru Hosoda, Kenji Kamiyama, Hiroyuki Okiura, Masaaki Yuasa, and of course, Makoto Shinkai. There are definitely others that should be on your radar, but I’m going to be talking about one director today, Sunao Katabuchi. His contributions to the anime/animation scene can be considered not as big as some of the others I listed above, but he has left his print on certain products, like the popular Black Lagoon series, the award-winning Mai Mai Miracle, Princess Arete, and a film that is the focus of today’s review, In This Corner of the World. This animated film, based on a manga, was released last year to critical and wide-spread acclaim, bringing home multiple awards, and winning the Jury Prize at the 2017 Annecy Film Festival. It was then picked up and distributed over here in the states by Shout! Factory and Funimation. So, how is it? Well, let’s dive in.

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The story follows our female lead, Suzu, voiced by Laura Post, an innocent-minded individual who loves painting/art while living in her town of Eba. We follow her when she is a child through the rough times of marriage with her husband Shusaku, voiced by Todd Haberkorn, family problems on both sides, and of course, World War II. Can she find a way to get through this horrific couple of years? What will happen between her, her husband, and her two families?

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So, I know my plot summary sounded a bit half-baked, but I would consider this film to be closer to a Japanese-animated film from last year, Miss Hokusai. I compare In This Corner of the World to Miss Hokusai, because the story of In This Corner of the World is less structured, and is more about smaller sub-stories of Suzu and her life in Japan during the war. The film’s main theme is about resilience during such rough times. It’s different than other Japanese World War II films, like Grave of the Fireflies, where it was all about the consequence of pride battling against coming to terms with the times. Throughout In This Corner of the World, Suzu is constantly challenged with different obstacles, like how to keep meals going when shortages happen, dealing with the interactions with her in-laws, and the occasional bombing. You might see the lush and soft watercolor art style and shorter designs as this film is being something more innocent and romantic. Yeah, don’t be caught off-guard by the art style. This film has some incredibly savage moments of pure raw emotion. They do not hide the fact that this film takes place in a very specific part of Japan. The film actually has a very haunting note to it, because from time to time, they will show off the date of the month and year, and if you know anything about history, you know sooner or later, something is going to drop. The film will not leave these characters untouched or consequence-free by the war, and just because it looks more family-friendly, doesn’t mean you should ignore the fact that this is a war movie. The film does a mostly good job at pacing out the tougher and more loving moments. It’s not just depressing moment after depressing moment. Not to say that a film about war can’t be like that, since, well, it is war, but In This Corner of the World is meant to be more optimistic and hopeful in terms of its goal, and I think it succeeds. You care about the characters, and you want them to be okay. It makes it all the more emotional when something bad happens.

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The animation is beautiful. I love that they went with a more watercolor style that really makes this film stand out along with the character designs. In an age where a lot of anime is becoming more and more homogenous with its designs, it’s nice to see a film take a risk and look different. I don’t even find the designs to be distracting, due to the fact that you will see some horrific stuff happen. The film even takes some moments to be artsy, and it doesn’t come off as pretentious or trying too hard to be more. In terms of the dub of this film, I thought it was pretty good. The crew of Laura Post, Todd Haberkorn, Barbara Goodson, Kirk Thornton, and Kira Buckland did a good job capturing the emotion and performance of the characters.

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If I had to complain about something about the film, there are some small gripes. There was one scene where I feel like the dub team couldn’t find a way to get around the fact that a character is saying “I can recognize your accent is different, and not from here” when everyone is speaking English, but it’s still distracting. I also feel like there are some moments where the story has characters for very specific reasons. It’s a Miss Hokusai situation, so you probably know what I’m talking about. While I do love the overall film, sometimes, the really dramatic moments feel a bit odd in terms of pacing. Right before the film ends, they have another bomb drop, and show a little girl walking with her mother who was pretty much dead, and it felt odd because it came right after a very touching and emotional scene between Suzu and her husband. It ends on a good note, but it felt “off” to me.

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For now, In This Corner of the World is my favorite animated film of 2017. It’s touching, beautiful, wonderfully animated, emotionally gripping, and a really fantastic film. Since there is so much concern about how the Best Animated Feature will pan out, I think it’s time for the smaller releases to get some recognition, since let’s be real, the only big animated film to win this year will be Coco. If you love animated films that are more complex than what you get with most big-budget animated films, then please find a way to watch In This Corner of the World or buy it when it comes out on DVD. It’s one of my favorites of the year, in a year with some amazing small-scale animated films. Well, it’s been two years since I have started reviewing animated films. It’s time to look at something special. I think I’ll keep what it might be a secret. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the article, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials