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Thursday, September 19, 2019

Metropolis vs. Metropolis: Lang vs. Rintaro, with Tezuka as the Referee! A Robotic Battle of Babelic Proportions!

In 1927, German director Fritz Lang's silent film Metropolis, based on the 1925 novel of the same name by his then-wife Thea von Harbou, debuted in German theaters, where it was originally received rather coldly & bombed hard, financially. H.G. Wells himself, whose works were a big influence, called it "quite the silliest film", while Lang himself would eventually admit dissatisfaction with it. Today, however, Lang's film is considered one of the all-time greats & one of the earliest pioneers of science-fiction, with it receiving all manner of restorations over the decades, most recently in 2010, though due to various cuts made to the film back in the day (along with the condition of the only surviving reel of the original cut), only 148 of the original 153 minute run time has been rescued & properly restored; it's likely this is the best we'll ever get. Twenty years later, in 1947, a 19-year old Osamu Tezuka had just made a name for himself with New Treasure Island, which helped prompt publishers into wanting to release more "real" comics, so Tezuka offered to make a science-fiction story. Said manga would eventually be 1949's Metropolis, with the name & main character being influenced by Fritz Lang's movie... Or rather, a single still image of "The Machine-Man", one of the film's most iconic characters, that Tezuka saw in a magazine around that time; Tezuka had never actually seen the film, nor known what it was even about. Regardless, the manga was a big hit, becoming another early example of the man who would later be nicknamed "The God of Manga".


As successful as Tezuka's Metropolis was, though, he also never saw any interest in adapting it into another medium, like animation. One man who did have an interest, though, was Shigeyuki Hayashi, better known to anime fans as Rintaro. A former Toei animator who worked on 1958's Hakujaden, the first color anime feature film, Rintaro moved over to Tezuka's Mushi Pro at the dawn of "modern" TV anime, working on the original Astro Boy series; he'd later help found Madhouse in 1972. While Rintaro wanted to adapt Metropolis into anime, though, it was the "God" himself who was the main roadblock... Until he wasn't after 1989. In interviews, Rintaro essentially admitted that he simply waited for Osamu Tezuka to die before finally starting work on that anime adaptation, but even then it wouldn't actually come to be until mid-2001, and Rintaro admitted that Tezuka likely would have hated it. The end result, though, certainly sounds amazing on paper: Rintaro directing, Akira's Katsuhiro Otomo doing the writing, animation by Madhouse (& produced by the legendary Masao Maruyama, who considers this production to be his favorite), conceptual support by Tezuka Pro, music by celebrated jazz composer Toshiyuki Honda, distribution by Toho (which, coincidentally enough, also distributed Lang's Metropolis in Japan), & a budget of 1 billion yen. Not just that, but Rintaro also added in elements of the original film, making this a unique fusion of both Lang & Tezuka's works. Much like Lang's film, though, it bombed in its home country, not making back its budget, but has since earned itself a cult following; both Roger Ebert & even James Cameron praised what Rintaro & crew achieved.

Therefore, with both films now currently available in English in HD-remastered Blu-Ray, it's time to ask the question: Which film is better? Is it Fritz Lang's seminal classic, or is it Rintaro's fusion of both the film & the manga? After all, Lang went on to not be happy with his final product (though some argue that this was mainly because the Nazi Party enjoyed the film), while Rintaro's film can be embellished as "The film Tezuka didn't want you to see!", so this Vs. Battle could very well be closer than anyone expects. This battle will be fought across the following categories: Story, Characters, Visuals, Music, Acting, & Execution. Therefore, let's not wait any longer for the Tale of the Tape, und lass es uns machen ("& let's get it on")!

[NOTE: The version of Lang's Metropolis I am going off of for this battle is the 2010 "complete" remaster, so as to judge the movie based on its original vision, as closely as possible. Sorry, but no Georgio Moroder version here.]


Round 1 - Story:
Lang's Metropolis tells the story of Freder, Son of Joh Fredersen, creator of the giant Metropolis that stands tall above the Earth. Living the life of luxury in the Eternal Garden, Freder decides to venture into the Workers' City of Metropolis after seeing a young woman, Maria, appear on the surface for a moment. After seeing the torturous & deadly jobs his "Brothers" do down below, and after seeing his father callously state that's where those people deserve to be, Freder decides to take the spot of a random worker, 11811 Georgy, only to find out about a secret gathering the workers do in the Catacombs after their 10-hour shifts are over. Fredersen also finds out about these gatherings when he visits C.A. Rotwang, a mad inventor, as Fredersen's been seeing mysterious maps on his workers for the past few months, & asks for help decoding them. Rotwang also shows Fredersen his Machine-Man, a humanoid robot based on Hel, the woman he loved that Fredersen took from him in order to sire Freder; Hel died not long after. They all coalesce at the Catacombs, Fredersen & Rotwang in secret, to find Maria, who espouses how there should be a "Heart" to moderate between the "Head" of Fredersen & the "Hands" of the workers, lest Metropolis become a second Tower of Babel & fall to ruin; ironically, Metropolis' main tower, where Fredersen lives, is named the Tower of Babel. Freder realizes that he can be that "Heart", while Fredersen orders Rotwang to modify the Machine-Man into a duplicate of Maria, as Rotwang said that he could make it indistinguishable from real humans in another 24 hours, so as to sow disarray & squelch any potential uprising the workers might plan. Rotwang, however, has different plans, as he tells the Machine-Maria to instead cause mayhem, encouraging the workers to riot, while also engaging the bourgeoisie in Metropolis to revel in the Seven Deadly Sins.

Rintaro's Metropolis follows Shunsaku Ban, a detective from Japan sent to the giant, multi-tiered city of Metropolis to capture Dr. Charles Laughton, a mad scientist wanted for crimes. Along with him is his nephew & assistant Kenichi, and the two eventually find their way into Zone-1, where the downtrodden humans & worker robots live, only to come across Laughton's lab burning to the ground, following a massive explosion. Unbeknownst to them, Laughton was being hired by Duke Red, the unofficial ruler of Metropolis, to create Tima, a humanoid robot girl who will sit atop the throne in Red's massive Ziggurat & help him rule over the world. While Laughton planned on keeping Tima from her fate, he's killed by Rock, the adopted son of Duke Red & member of anti-robot group Marduk, resulting in the lab's destruction; Rock feels that Duke Red should be the one to be on the throne, not some filthy robot. Rock attempts to destroy Tima, but the lab's destruction forces his escape, only for Kenichi to come across Tima while he & Ban search for Laughton, followed by the two falling further into Metropolis' depths. Now Rock is on the hunt for Kenichi & Tima, while Ban not only searches for his nephew but also tries to figure out the truth behind Laughton's death for himself.

Winner: Draw
This was seriously a tough decision to make, because both films actually feature what seem like rather simple plots, but in reality have just enough bubbling beneath the surface, when you think about it. Both films, really, are about how ignorance & hatred toward those who some deem to be "below" them results in that very attitude ruining their lives, only in slightly different ways. For Lang's film, Fredersen's callous treatment of the workers, & Rotwang, results in his idyllic city being destroyed from within. For Rintaro's film, Rock's blind hatred of robots & feeling of superiority over them eventually results in Tima siding with the robots, causing an uprising. Both films showcase how prejudice breeds nothing but hatred, and that coming together should be the goal. While they have different ways of getting there, the end result is similar enough that I can't really pick one over the other, conceptually.


Round 2 - Characters:
The major cast for Lang's film is rather small, with only five major players, plus three smaller roles, one of which was even considered lost with time. Leading everything is Freder, a young man who at first is just as ignorant of the workers' plight as anyone else in Metropolis, only to instantly change his tone, immediately being willing to carry the load in any way he can. In comparison, Joh Fredersen is a cold & calculating man, wanting nothing more than the continued sustenance of his Metropolis, regardless of how torturous the work can be; he still has a heart deep down, however, due to the earnest love he has for his son. Rotwang is a bit of a conundrum at first, seeing as he's quickly established as having a vendetta against Fredersen, even creating both the Machine-Man & a gigantic bust of Hel in memory of the woman he loved, yet it still willing to help Fredersen find out about the gathering. Not long after, though, we see that Rotwang's actions were merely a ploy in order to enact his own scheme to essentially destroy everything, all because he couldn't be with the woman he loved; it's never established if Hel had any feelings for him, though, so Rotwang may well have been a stalker. There's also Josaphat, an assistant for Fredersen who's fired early on for his (to be blunt) incompetence, only to become Freder's confidant & partner, especially when it comes to saving everything from falling to ruin; it's odd how he's initially established as being rather useless, only to become super reliable later on. Then there are the two Marias, the original being a selfless soul who only wishes for happiness from all & is willing to do anything to save others, while Machine-Maria is a downright insane creature of sin, to the point where it's kind of shocking that none of the workers can tell how different Maria starts acting, all of a sudden.

Finally, for secondary characters, we start with 11811, a.k.a. Georgy (Gyorgy in some versions), who's really nothing more than a plot device to allow Freder to find out about the Catacomb gathering; after a night in the debaucherous night club Yoshiwara, Georgy is sent back home, never to be seen again. Then there's Grot, the head engineer of the Heart Machine that controls all of Metropolis' operations, who makes an early appearance, only to be forgotten until the climax, when he leads a mob following the riots. Finally, there's "The Thin Man", a nameless spy/assistant who works for Fredersen, and was actually thought lost, due to nearly all of his scenes being exclusive to the materials used for 2010 "complete" restoration. His involvement mostly relates to Georgy, Josaphat, & Fredersen, plus a couple of scenes with Freder, and while he makes for a physically intimidating presence, his importance is rather secondary; it's easy to see why his scenes were cut from the very first edit, made shortly after the original premiere.

As for Rintaro's film, it features the same major characters as Tezuka's manga, but in different forms. In terms of the most important characters, we have five: Shunsaku Ban, Kenichi, Tima, Duke Red, & Rock. Ban is one of Tezuka's most iconic characters, usually playing a detective, and in this he plays that role to a T, and while he is a very comedic character, he's also shown as being inherently clever & more than able to hold his own when needed. While Ban is easily the biggest name of the cast, though, the real "lead character" is arguably Kenichi, as a large part of the film revolves around he & Tima being chased by Rock, with the two coming to have feelings for each other. As for Kenichi as a character, he's your standard nice guy who always means well, though he does have his moments where he shows more personality, usually in relation to Tima. As for Tima, she's pretty much a blank slate who quickly earns her humanity, though when things go to hell in the climax she shows her more saddened side, upon realizing her true existence. Duke Red, in comparison, is a rather one-dimensional villain, never really showing anything more than a want to rule over all & show his superiority. There are deeper aspects of him one can assume from certain actions, like basing Tima off of his young daughter who died, or his insistence on not taking the throne himself & instead rule via a proxy (Tima), but the movie itself never really delves into them.

As for Rock, he's actually an anime-only inclusion, and true to his common portrayal in other Tezuka works, he's a bit of an asshole. He's inherently unrepentant about his hatred for robots, and his obsession with killing Tima results in him literally killing anyone who might get even slightly in his way; even at the very end, his actions are all based around being anti-robot. In comparison to Duke Red, Rock is a much better villain, all around. As for secondary characters, the only one of real note is Pero, the robot detective assigned to help Ban & Kenichi. While his pre-programmed nature keeps him rather unemotional, & in the long run he doesn't do much, he still winds up showing arguably more humanity in his last moments than the humans he questions, making you feel for him somewhat; his inclusion is more of subtle importance, in showing how human-like robots can be, than anything major.

Winner: Draw
The main characters between Lang & Rintaro's films actually compare to each other rather similarly, all things considered. Freder & Kenichi are both young leads who essentially learn the truth of the respective Metropolises they are in over the course of their stories. Josaphat & Ban are the allies to their respective leads, helping each one out in their own ways & proving their worth. Maria & Tima are both leading ladies who really only want the best for their respective lives, but wind up being used for darker purposes. Joh Fredersen & Duke Red are rulers who think nothing of the workers/robots that they abuse to get to their heights. Finally, Rotwang & Rock are third-wheels that more or less ruin the grand schemes of their respective rulers, showing themselves to be the true villains, in the end. Sure, there are differences, like Duke Red being much more blatantly evil than Joh Fredersen or Ban being shown as more competent from the start than Josaphat, but they more or less balance each other out, in the long run. Once again, I seriously can't pick a definitive winner.


Round 3 - Visuals:
The days of silent film were a time of experimentation, with some directors & crews trying to figure out ways to fool viewers' eyes & make them think that what they're seeing was real. Remember, many viewers thought the scene of Justus D. Barnes shooting at the camera in The Great Train Robbery from 1903 meant that they were actually being shot at. Also, as everything had to be done in-camera, if a movie required literal hordes of people, then that necessitated bringing in literal hordes of people. While the (admittedly) draining & harsh conditions Lang put his actors & extras into has been documented, the end result is still a sight to behold. Seeing something like Maria & around 500 children huddling together while the Workers' City floods, due to the riots destroying the machines, is simply something one wouldn't normally have seen back in the day on film, and it was all real. As for the visual effects, Lang's film was an innovator in some ways, probably the most well known being the work of Eugen Schüfftan. Seeing all of the cars driving down the giant roads of Metropolis required stop-motion on a scale that even later experts of the craft would consider absurd, but the end result looks amazing, even today. Then there's the Schüfftan process, which used mirrors to make it look like the actors were inside what were actually miniature sets, with the end results working effectively. While methods like matte shots & green screen have all but killed this old process, though the occasional film still utilizes it (like the Lord of the Rings trilogy) there's no denying that it worked wonders for this film. Even today, 92 years later, Lang's Metropolis is definitely a visual wonder, in many ways.

When it comes to animation, there's a distinctive difference in the way it was drawn, and you can really see that difference with the turn of millennium; in short, the original hand-drawn style vs. the rise of digital animation & CG. Rintaro's Metropolis is probably one of the best mixtures of the two from the time when the balance started shifting from one to the other, and the end result is an absolutely stunning film, visually. When it comes to the characters, everything is hand-drawn, and the attention to detail is simply mindblowing. When a person or robot animates, there's a fluidity to it that's just beautifully done, and this applies to both your standard shot, where the characters take up most of the screen, and even wide views, where the characters are small in comparison to the environments around them. This also applies to all of the people in the city itself, who all just move about with the same fluidity as the major players, which gives the world of Duke Red's Metropolis a feeling of being a real location. This attention to detail also applies to little things, like Tima's hair blowing in the wind, or a shot where Ban is turning the page of a book, only for the page to flap back, resulting in Ban having to flip the page a second time; details like this would normally never be given the time in an animated film. The CG work for some of the environments is also very well done, though the HD remaster given to this film does show how the hand-drawn characters don't always mesh perfectly with them; that's just the risk you run with remasters, sometimes. Honestly, words can't truly convey just how gorgeous Rintaro's film looks. You could seriously show this in a theater today, against anything by the likes of Makoto Shinkai, Mamoru Hosoda, or Kyoto Animation, and it'd still be just as beautiful looking, and the fact that all this fluidity was hand-drawn the old-fashioned way may arguably give it the advantage, in some ways.

Winner: Draw
Look, there's absolutely no way I can seriously make a decision over which film looks better, because both are amazing in their own respective ways, and it's not like it was exactly a fair fight to start with; 75 years is a long time. The things Fritz Lang & Eugen Schüfftan did in 1927 are just astounding, and to this day the visuals still hold up brilliantly; it's a perfect example of how doing everything in-camera can age much better than CG. Conversely, the things Rintaro & his animators did in 2001 are simply gorgeous, essentially showing off the apex of what hand-drawn animation was capable of; sure, one can argue that there are moments where there's "too much motion", but they're rare. In a lot of ways, both Metropolis-es are amazing time capsules of two different ages of film that may never truly be replicated ever again, and they both deserve recognition for that.


Round 4 - Music:
Admittedly, it's impossible for me to judge the original musical score by Gottfried Huppertz (Die Nibelungen, Across the Desert), because I'm pretty sure Metropolis was originally shown in the days where films had literal orchestral accompaniment, so Huppertz' original orchestration likely went unrecorded (& if it was, it likely isn't in any usable form today). Still, the score has been done by various orchestras for each of the various reconstructions, so in this case I'll be judging it based on how Frank Strobel & the Rundfunk Symphony Orchestra in Berlin performed it. Music is essential to silent film, even more so than the later "talkie" format that would become the norm, because it's literally the only sound in the entire movie. Therefore, the music has to become a character in & of itself, as well as help inform the viewer what exactly the mood of each & every second has to be. In that regard, Huppertz' score is outstanding, delivering a truly operatic series of heavy orchestration that has to be heard to be believed; to no surprise, both Wagner & Strauss were heavy influences. There's almost no break from the music, either, outside of a handful of scene transitions, the ends of the three segments (Prelude, Intermezzo, & Furioso), plus one short bit of silence near the end for effect. The end result is hard-hitting dramatic beats, rhythmic oppression to showcase the seemingly never-ending workers' jobs, plus some softer & more welcoming parts when needed. While I'm sure there's an innate appeal in something like Moroder's 1984 version, which replaced the original score with a lot of more contemporary styles, it's the work that Gottfried Huppertz created that really delivers the intended impact for Lang's film.

As for Toshiyuki Honda's score for Rintaro's film, it actually sounds more like the 1920s than Huppertz' score did for Lang's film, amusing enough. Since Honda's forté is in jazz, it's no surprise that the large majority of the score is in that genre of music, particularly New Orleans jazz. Whenever the film is showing off the upper-most level of Metropolis, the music tends to be very upbeat & energetic, but going just one level down to Zone-1 results in the jazz getting a little slower & sadder, though there are still moments of hope, just like how the sunlight can still peek through that far down. When it isn't being jazzy, though, Honda also delivers some more booming & orchestral sounds, mainly whenever the focus is on Rock or Duke Red. The movie also includes the use of "St. James Infirmary", a.k.a. "Gambler's Blues", a jazz folk song of unknown origin that Louie Armstrong made famous back in 1928, giving the movie a true link to the era that Lang's film came from; the version here features Atsuki Kimura for the vocals. The song during the end credits is "There'll Never Be Good-Bye" by Minako "mooki" Obata, a Honda-composed ballad that's written & sung in perfect English by Obata, and fits the general feel of the movie excellently; an absolutely beautiful song. The gem of the soundtrack, though, is easily the use of "I Can't Stop Loving You" by Ray Charles, the 1962 cover of Don Gibson's song from 1957. Used during the climax of the film, the song utterly captures the relationship between Kenichi & Tima perfectly, while also matching the tragedy that the story had turned into at that moment. Finally, as a fun bit of trivia, Rintaro himself is even credited with the music, playing bass clarinet with Honda's orchestra.

Winner: Rintaro's Metropolis
This was probably the toughest battle of them all, honestly, simply because both movies' scores perfectly match their respective film worlds, but in the end we finally have an actual winner! Huppertz gives Lang's film this grand, operatic feel that matches the Future-Gothic visuals, and since it's literally the only sound you hear during the film, it's also essentially the entire movie's lifeblood; without the score, the film is just people moving to silence. That being said, though, Honda's jazzy execution gives Rintaro's film a feeling of vibrant life, one that actually not only fits the Retro-Futuristic visual style that Tezuka originally gave his manga, but also feels accurate to the era that Lang's original film debuted in, at least in America; I don't think 1920's Germany had an equivalent to Dixieland jazz yet. Not only that, but the songs by Minako Obata & especially Ray Charles only add to Honda's outstanding score, putting it over Huppertz' work, in my opinion.


Round 5 - Acting:
This is actually a very interesting aspect of the battle, because I have to compare a silent film to animation. In other words, one film is all about acting without voices, while the other film is all about acting with only voices. The most important thing to note about silent film is that the style of acting is so much different than what people like us are used to. By that I mean the acting in silent film can be a lot more... Animated. Due to the lack of sound being recorded, we're unable to actually hear what the characters are saying, or how the environment around them sounds, so actors of the time had to emote their scenes physically, which results in silent films having very exaggerated motions, reactions, & emoting; even when "talkies" became a thing, it took a little time for the acting to become more subdued. The end result is that some of the actors, like Alfred Abel (Freder), can come off as looking downright silly in how over-the-top his acting can look like, especially in comparison to someone like Gustav Fröhlich (Fredersen) or Fritz Rasp (The Thin Man), who both deliver much more subdued & semi-realistic performances. It's not like villains couldn't be animated, though, as Rudolf Klein-Rogge plays up Rotwang as the madman that he is, especially once his scheme is in full gear. Amazingly enough, he worked with Lang & von Harbou numerous times, even though the latter was his first wife, who cheated on him with Lang! Easily the best performance of them all, though, comes from Brigitte Helm, who plays both takes on Maria, as well as the original Machine-Man. With this being her first role in a film, at age 18 (Abel was 48 at the time...), Helm absolutely delivers here, giving us both a completely angelic young adult, as well as easily the most wild performance as Machine-Maria, acting like a raving lunatic in control of literally thousands of people; just look at various gifs people have made for the movie, and you can see how Helm commands the screen. Sadly, her career was short-lived, as she retired in 1935 (only nine years) due to the Nazi's taking control of the German film industry, only doing a single short film in 1978 before dying in 1996 at age 90; she eventually refused to grant interviews regarding her short film career. Meanwhile, Fritz Rasp's performance would only be the start of his career as an iconic villain in German film, while Theodore Loos, Erwin Biswanger, & Heinrich George deliver perfectly fine performances as Josaphat, Georgy & Grot, respectively.

When it comes to Rintaro's film, I actually have two sets of actors to go off of, since this film was dubbed into English by Animaze for its original American theatrical release in 2002; the dub was directed by the late, great Kevin Seymour (Bastard!!, The Big O, Ninja Scroll). Anyway, Kenichi is voiced by Kei Kobayashi (a Japanese jazz vocalist) & Brianne Siddall (Jim Hawking in Outlaw Star), with Kobayashi making Kenichi sound a bit older & impetuous, while Siddall comes off as younger & more naive; think "post-puberty" vs. "pre-puberty". Shunsaku Ban is performed by Kousei Tomita (Ban's standard actor in Japanese) & Tony Pope (Wreck-Gar in Transformers), and both are appropriately older & quick-witted, though Pope gives Ban a slight edge in youth. Similar to Kenichi's non-seiyuu performance in Japanese, Tima's voice is Yuka Imoto (a J-Drama, variety show, & commercial actress), while her English voice is Rebecca Forstadt (Nunnally in Code Geass), and both deliver similar performances, showing Tima's evolution from simplistic robot girl to being essentially human & emotional. Meanwhile, Duke Red is voiced by Taro Ishida (Count Caglistro in Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro) & Jamieson K. Price (Kotomine in Fate/stay night), and both actors do a great job as giving the initial villain a sense of gravitas; in fact, I think Price might be the better of the two. Finally, for the main cast, Rock is performed by drama/stage actor Kohki Okada (Harumi Saeba/Groudain in Kamen Rider Fourze) & Michael Reisz (Matt from Digimon), and while Okada's performance sounds a tad bit too deep for a younger-looking character like Rock, Reisz sounds a bit more fitting... If maybe sounding a bit too much like his most iconic anime role. Then there's Junpei Takaguchi & as Dr. Laughton, who honestly deliver similar performances with the little the character is given, while Norio Wakamoto & Dave Mallow handle Pero, with the only notable difference being that Mallow goes for a more robotic & single-emotional performance (with a very subtle use of modulation), while Wakamoto more or less delivers the performance you'd expect. Finally, the Japanese cast includes the likes of Shigeru Chiba (Lamp), Masaru Ikeda (Ham Egg), Norihiro Inoue (Atlas), & various "special appearance" cameo performances by Susumu Chiba, DJ Taro, Tomokazu Sugita &... Go Nagai; sadly, I have no idea where Nagai is in this movie. Meanwhile, the dub includes the likes of Steve Blum (Lamp), the late Robert Axelrod (Ham Egg), & even Scott Weinger (Atlas); yes, Disney's original Aladdin is in this dub.

Winner: Rintaro's Metropolis
Once again, the decision here is an extremely hard one, mainly due to such largely differing eras each movie comes from. Lang's film follows the silent film tradition of acting with your entire body, a style that can sometimes look downright silly & hard to take seriously today. Rintaro's film, though using its share of "outside (of anime)" talent in both languages, still follows your general anime performance aesthetic, which likewise can rub some people the wrong way, especially if one's more used to how Hollywood handles voice acting for larger studios. In that regard, it really comes down to personal choice over which form of stylistic acting one would prefer: Silent film's highly theatrical acting to compensate for the lack of sound, or anime's more regular penchant for melodramatic delivery, depending on the scene. Since this is all up to me, then, I'll give the point to Rintaro; I appreciate the silent film style for what it is, but I'll side with what I'm used to.


Final Round - Execution:
So after all's been said & done, we're at the final fight: Which film takes everything that we've gone over already, & handles it all best? When it comes to Fritz Lang's movie, I must admit that it's never a boring film. At nearly 2.5 hours of nothing but soundless video & an orchestral score, you do potentially run the risk of running a bit long in the tooth, but the final product here keeps your attention from start to finish. Admittedly, the first 10-20 minutes are a bit slow, but once Freder swaps places with Georgy things really pick up. This is mainly because of the always-playing music & the overly theatrical acting, which when combined with the simply astounding visuals constantly keep you in your seat, waiting to see what happens next. In terms of storytelling, though, there are some weird things to make note of. For example, part of why Freder starts to feel the plight of the workers is because early on he sees one of the giant machines as actually being the Canaanite god Moloch, complete with human sacrifices (both resistant & complacent), but this is never brought up again following this scene. A similar scene happens later, when Freder is suddenly struck with illness & starts hallucinating, but no attempt to tie these two scenes together is even attempted. There's also the memorable scene where Machine-Maria dances sensually to a crowd in Yoshiwara, and both her dancing & the reactions of the men are simply mind-boggling. There have also been complaints about the relative simplicity of the major message, "The Mediator Between the Head and the Hands Must Be the Heart", but Lang even admitted decades later that maybe its simplicity gave it more meaning than even he thought. Hilariously enough, though, the Soviet Union censored the film for its original Russian release, as the government did not approve of said message... Even though the message itself is blatantly Communist. Still, quirks like those honestly help make Lang's film all the more memorable & worth watching for, while its message of coming together & not taking advantage of many for the benefit of the few actually rings truer today, more than ever.

When it comes to Rintaro's movie, it's definitely a fair bit more ambitious in scope, with a good number of linking subplots & themes going on. There's Duke Red's goal of taking over, which requires Tima, but Rock attempts to kill Tima, only for her to wind up in the protective hands of Kenichi, who is then being searched for by Shunsaku Ban, while Ban is also trying to figure out how Dr. Laughton fits in with Duke Red. One part I haven't mentioned, however, is the subplot involving the people of Zone-1 deciding to rise up against the Metropolis government, as well as said government wanting to stage a coup d'état against Duke Red, so as to make sure that they are in control of Metropolis. It's in these subplots where we see more of Osamu Tezuka's Star System at work, as characters like Atlas (here as the leader of the Zone-1 insurgents), as well as Acetylene Lamp, Ham Egg, Kusai Skunk, & Notarlin (as various heads of the government), all play roles here; even the substance Omotanium gets brought up in relation to Tima. Unfortunately, these two subplots play next to no importance in the grand scheme of things, as Atlas' insurgence is quelled off-screen, while the government coup is dealt with via a mole in the group, who is then never seen again. You could have easily removed these two plots (& even characters) in their entirety, and almost nothing would have changed, plot-wise; this was nothing more than a way to include more of Tezuka's troupe as extended cameos. As for the main plot itself, you can certainly tell that Katsuhiro Otomo wrote this, as there's a lot of examination into the human condition, especially in how Tima relates to it all, and it does work, on the whole. As for how this film implements elements of Lang's original, that comes more in the form of things like the Ziggurat, which visually looks similar to Fredersen's Tower of Babel (& the biblical Tower is mentioned in comparison), or how the robots are the proxy for the workers in the 1927 film; there's even a robot riot during the climax, lead by the robot that looks human. In some ways, Rintaro's film sometimes aims a little too high, but it still manages to reach those lofty heights more than enough to make the execution a success.

Winner: Frtiz Lang's Metropolis
Really, what decided the winner here was simply the fact that one film didn't have plot that went nowhere. Lang's film, though sometimes having moments where not much happens, never has a scene that doesn't contribute to the overall plot in some fashion; sure, there are some lulls, but they're mostly negated by the theatrics & acting of the era, so it's never boring. Rintaro's film, on the other hand, loses out here simply because of the Zone-1 insurgence & government coup subplots, as they contribute nothing of note to the overall plot, and are even removed from the story at around the same time. While I did enjoy the appearances of various iconic Tezuka "actors", though Lamp was nigh-unidentifiable (I didn't even realize it was him until I noticed his name in the cast!), they way they were implemented wound up being nothing more than extended cameos, and simply detoured the plot, in the long run. Rintaro's film, on the whole, still tells an excellent story, but it features extra plot that goes nowhere, while Lang's film remains focused all the way through.
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With a final score of 4 to 5, the winner of this Vs. Battle is Rintaro's Metropolis! This was, without a shadow of a doubt, the hardest "same name" Vs. Battle I've ever done, as I seriously could have wound up with a 5-5 tie, and I didn't have a sudden death tie breaker in mind. Really, while I have the rounds in a specific order, the victory for Rintaro's film really came down to just a single category, which was the acting. I know people generally look down on draw games, but when it comes down to the stories, characters, & visuals, I truly couldn't make a decision of one over the other, because both movies are just that... damn... good. In terms of the stories & characters, there are enough similarities between them that it would come down to how they differ, but the differences between them kind of cancel each other out, resulting in the ties for those two round. As for visuals, both films are apexes of their respective eras, and while I'm sure some would simply give the point to Rintaro's film due to recency, I feel that'd be in disservice to what Lang's film achieved so long ago; even today it looks outstanding.

This really came down to where they differed, and even then it was just too close. Rintaro may have won for the music, but Lang won when it came to the overall execution, so it really came down to acting. As for why I decided to go with Rintaro there, it really came down to two things: The ability to choose & share. Lang's Metropolis, for how influential & great it is, is hard to really share with anyone other than those who are interested in the history of film, at this point. Sure, you have various versions to watch, including Moroder's take (which I'm sure give a very different mood with its changes in music), but the overall experience will still be the same, as the silent actors will still physically emote the same way. Rintaro's Metropolis, on the other hand, has the benefit of coming in two vocal languages to choose from (at least in North America), which makes it all the easier to share with others.

Still, both Fritz Lang & Rintaro brought us two absolute masterpieces, and I seriously can't recommend either enough. While the anime wins out here, in my mind they will always be equals. Now I just have to hunt down Osamu Tezuka's original manga, and see how that one is...

2 comments:

  1. In fact Gottfried Huppertz's original soundtrack was recorded in the 20's.It had a slower pace compared to the remastered version
    https://youtu.be/4JEGOJ1jE6I
    https://youtu.be/t3nuDzn8q9c

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    1. Wow! Thanks, I had no idea this was done, though the vinyl it was recorded on does sound a bit rough today. While Strobel's 2010 orchestration does sound a bit too "clean" when matched with the footage, especially the newly-found footage, it does showcase the score beautifully. Still awesome to see that Huppertz' score was recorded, though.

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