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If the essence of postmodernism—the architectural variety, at least—is the use of traditional designs detached from their historical meanings, then no place is more postmodern than Japan. Tokyo is a riot of borrowed motifs, so baroque that the animated city of the future devised by director Rintaro and his crew for Metropolis can hardly compete. The multilevel megalopolis is in part derived from Fritz Lang’s 1927 film and includes such back-to-the-future elements as rail lines that snake through the sky. Yet it also suggests both the east and west sides of Tokyo’s Shinjuku, which look, respectively, like Blade Runner and a more tightly packed version of Crystal City. Adapted from influential anime pioneer Osamu Tezuka’s late-’40s comic book, which helped define the Japanese illustrated-sci-fi genre, Metropolis’ plot elements now seem excessively familiar. Saucer-eyed boy, Kenichi, meets saucer-eyed girl, Tima, and the two fall in love. Tima, however, is a newly created robot, who initially glows just like the kid in Akira (directed by Metropolis scripter Katsuhiro Otomo) and was designed to rule the city from a ziggurat built by Duke Red, the tale’s archvillain. Red controls the Marduk Corps—the second reference to Babylon—who police the city’s oppressed (and generally well-meaning) robots. Of course, the action culminates in the sort of Hiroshimalike catastrophe so common in Japanese sci-fi. A mix of old-style cel animation and computer-generated images, Metropolis is richly detailed and vividly hued. It also features one uncharacteristic touch, an old-timey jazz score perhaps meant to evoke the era when the original comic was created, as well as references to globalization and unemployment that no doubt resonate in recession-rutted Japan. Still, the movie is the usual mix-and-match anime, lacking a unifying sensibility or a distinctive story. —Mark Jenkins