Movie Review: “Tetsuo: The Iron Man”- A Love Story

Written by Angela January 30, 2015

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“Tetsuo: The Iron Man” (1989), directed by Shinya Tsukamoto, is a title that I’m positive even the most casual viewer of J-horror has encountered in passing. Thanks to the commercial success of his work as an actor in such films as “Ichi the Killer” and “Marebito,” Tsukamoto’s name alone has garnered its own cult status due to his collaborations with veritable masters of the genre, Takashi Miike and Takashi Shimizu. Their contributions to the horror genre are some of the most brutally hardcore inside and outside the Land of the Rising Sun, and oftentimes influences for the visual and thematic tropes of their work can be traced back to Tsukamoto’s early film. To wit, “Tetsuo” has been widely lauded for cementing the foundation of what J-horror has become today (long-haired ghost-girls notwithstanding). To see how it holds up to the hype, I finally gave it a watch, and immediately regretted eating as I did so.

I try not to give away any spoilers while writing a synopsis, but because of the abrupt prioritizing of visuals over narrative I shall give an entire summary for the benefit of anyone curious enough to watch the film. It begins with the tasty image of a metal fetishist going at it GJ Ballard style as he cuts open his thigh and inserts a metal rod. To his utter shock and dismay he later discovers that the rod’s rust has infected his flesh, and so, being a perfectly reasonable human being in no need of psychiatric help, he runs out into the middle of the street and gets hit by a car.

The next scene introduces us to a standard Japanese businessman having himself a shave before work. When he cuts his cheek he somehow triggers the spirit of the metal fetishist, who later possesses the body of a random woman in the subway station and chases the business man back home. Turns out it was he and his girlfriend who were driving the car in the first scene. After dumping the still-conscious metal fetishist into a ravine, they then proceeded to have sex against a tree, while he watched from below. But revenge isn’t the only thing he has in mind. He wants to show the businessman a whole new world—a world where metal has literally strangled the last breath from the earth and all that remains is it’s eerie glow. In the end, he overcomes the businessman’s body and the two fuse lovingly into a fleshy metallic ball from Hell. Together, they shall make this dream of a metal world come true.

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“Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.”

Filmed in the black-and-white low-budget style that could have only truly been achieved in the late eighties, “Tetsuo” indeed lives up to its reputation as a weird, over-the-top cyberpunk wonder, but I can’t help but wonder if contemporary audiences will embrace the film’s laughably grotesque gimmicks as readily as those did during its initial release. How would audiences today, even supposedly “underground” audiences, react to drill genitalia? Musings aside, the visual elements of the film are captivating in their own right. Techniques such as stop-motion and rubberized costuming are used to simultaneously nod to and satirize the tokusatsu genre, which put the Japanese film industry on the map with the production of kaiju monster films. “Tetsuo” takes tokusatsu to a whole new level and maybe even manages to politicize it as it makes man-made industry the film’s city-destroying monster. It’s obvious that the film is a reflection upon the disharmony between humans and the environment within an urban setting, and in doing so becomes distinctly Japanese in the way it manages to scare, disturb, and spellbind all while a providing meaningful social commentary.

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Whatever you’ve heard about “Tetsuo: The Iron Man” is probably true. It’s a strange, fucked up, interesting little movie that you may need cliff notes to follow, and is definitely not for those of a weaker constitution. With it’s hair-raising visuals, perfectly matched soundtrack and oddly substantial motivation to justify its existence, “Tetsuo” is worth the watch if only to familiarize yourself with the lesser known and far more intense factions of J-horror. Also, this is best watched on an empty stomach. I think the words “metal fetishist” speak for themselves.

My Rating: 8/10

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About Angela

Angela McInnes is an English major and up-and-coming horror film aficionado. To her, happiness is a bottle of rum and a creature-feature on a Saturday night.

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