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Future's so bright

By Patrick Macias

WHAT IS IT that people want from anime? Simple sex and violence? "People bad, nature good" parables? Self-reflexive self-expression? Close encounters with the chronically cute? Maybe that's the best thing about these cartoons from another country: the sheer variety in storytelling and approach. One notion, however, seems to have fallen by the wayside: the idea that anime can, and should, be devoted to imagining the future. The best thing about Metropolis, aside from its considerable pedigree – it's based on a 1949 comic by Osamu "God of Manga" Tezuka, with a script by Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira) and direction by the ingenious Rintaro (X) – is its startling anachronism and defiance of trend. A technically brilliant, wide-eyed-innocent, jazz-age vision of what makes cities and the love for technology tick, the film makes it seem as if Blade Runner had never happened, let alone Fritz Lang's Metropolis or even Otomo's own Akira. Someone is conducting strange experiments in the megacity of Metropolis, and a detective and his son are sent in to unravel the crime. Saddled with a robot detective, the pair gets mixed up in the machinations of the rich and powerful as well as some Che Guevara-worshiping revolutionaries and a strange, amnesiac robot girl who is wanted by all. While the story stays all-ages simple, the visuals come with fantastic ambition. Tezuka's cute characters populate a CGI-enhanced wonderland, a sort of ultimate version of New York City circa 1940. Director Rintaro can't help playing demolition man in the final reel – as he usually does in his very best films (among them Adieu Galaxy Express 999). His unexpected use of Ray Charles's "I Can't Stop Loving You" on the soundtrack as the buildings crumble and the machines go berserk probably baffled folks when the film first came out in Japan during summer 2001 (and then to disappointing box office). But after the events of a few months back in a certain big city of our own making, Metropolis is aging masterfully, offering a vital retro-future perfect for equal amounts of contemplation and escape.

Patrick Macias is the author of TokyoScope: The Japanese Cult Film Companion. He reads from his book and introduces screenings of Battle Royale and Blood and Law Sat/26, 6:30 p.m., New PFA Theater. See Rep Clock for details.