Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis

Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis (2001)

I’m a great fan of the 2001 anime Metropolis. This movie arrived in American theaters in August, 2001, and was not only a thrilling, dazzling spectacle, it eerily prophesied the terrorist attacks of September 11. The films images of the towering Ziggurat in ruins, the very symbol of modern human civilization, cut a little too close to the bone.

We are reminded of the urban apocalypse of Akira, the landmark 1988 anime film written and directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, and its depictions of urban corruption and decay. This is no small coincidence, as Otomo wrote the script for this new Metropolis, which was directed by the skilled veteran Rintaro, an old Toei Doga alum who gave us such hits as Galaxy Express 999, Harmagedon and X. A freelance director by trade, Rintaro specialized in dystopian science-fiction, and added with his animation experience working on Osamu Tezuka’s Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy), makes him a perfect choice to helm Metropolis.

What makes this Metropolis so compelling is how freely it mashes together its varied influences, creating something new in the alchemical furnace. It’s original inspiration, of course, lies in the 1927 Fritz Lang masterpiece, not only with the Ziggurat and the main characters, but the underlying political and social themes. When Tezuka created his manga comic adaptation, he famously claimed to take nothing from Lang’s work but the image on the movie poster. That is a slight exaggeration, but fairly close to the mark. Rintaro fuses these two sources together nicely, giving us the thick, rounded character designs with a gritty urban environment, combining story and character elements and adding new influences and ideas to the recipe.

The movie’s strong cyberpunk design owes much to Akira, and we can spot how seamlessly Otomo’s world integrates with the Lang-Tezuka-Rintaro mashup. We almost expect to find motorcycle gangs lurking around the underground stations, although a thrilling chase scene involving rickshaws fills the void.

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Devo: New Traditionalists

Devo, New Traditionalists (1981)

Since I’m on my major DEVO kick at the moment, I thought I would just go through all their albums. Today’s killer Devo record: New Traditionalists from 1981.

New Traditionalists took more than one listen for me to really click with it. On first listen, it sounded a little flat, a little dull, sandwiched between the quasi-industrial sound of Oh, No! It’s DEVO and the guitar-synth pop hooks of Freedom of Choice. I wrote this first impression off as exhaustion from listening to too many Devo records at once. Also, it was 4:00 am. Everything turns to mush in your head by that time of night.

So a couple days later, I came back with fresh ears, and was hooked. The first song, the single, “Through Being Cool,” sounds a little off, but it’s really just different, and it gets stuck in your head before long. You’ll notice that singing duties are split among band members on New Traditionalists, giving a real variety to the singing (Mark Mothersbaugh, skilled as he is, always sings in the same high range).

The balance between guitars and electronic synthesizers has begun to shift away from the guitars on this album, clearly foreshadowing where the next album would go. This has always been Devo’s plan, to get away from the guitar-and-drums sound, and into new territory. So perhaps there’s less of that punkish vibe, and more of those magnificent hooks. So what?

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