| Tetsuo





The Iron Man

Shinya Tsukamoto

Japan, 1988


Review by Rumsey Taylor

Posted on 24 October 2004

Source Fox Lorber Home Video VHS

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Tetsuo is an experience characterized by low-grade virtuosity and a simultaneous repulsion. These traits make the film dynamic. It’s a library of unique horrors; you’re impressed with its craft, yet revolted by exactly what you’re seeing. The margin between what attracts and repulses becomes ambiguous, and agony becomes indeterminable from ecstasy. The tone is uneasy, and imaginative.

The film is shot in a frenzied, disorienting style (16mm black and white, with only sparing use of a tripod), and its descriptions are essentially unnecessary. What happens discernibly involves the matter of two men whose bodies begin to produce metal appendages: one forces a rusty wire housing into his thigh, the second shaves a wound with an electric razor. Both express distress for the changes their bodies incur afterward, and also, perhaps involuntarily, concentrated excitement. There is a woman (whose role in this film is mystified) who seduces the second man. His erection becomes an elongated metal drill, and their communal act of passion leaves her destroyed.

Tetsuo’s descriptive abstraction encourages interpretation of its topic of transformative contamination. Conceptually, it’s an analogy for a terminal cancer, and also a near-perfect execution of a Cronenbergian flesh-fetish: as the men’s bodies become further mangled, they must find new manners in which to perform previously uncomplicated actions. Petting a cat, even, becomes difficult (apparently, this very action results in a feline’s inheritance of metal protrusions). One of the metal men, his body now completely transformed, handles a fork, and cleanly pushes it into his face with the nonchalance that he would have previously fastened his watch or tied his shoelace.

This abstraction is envisioned in frantic, robustly varied cinematography, ranging from stop-motion effects, sequential still photography, and repeated close-ups of faces, each with beading sweat, glaring eyes, or some other pronounced signifier of tension. Thematically and biographically (in its minimal production value and garage special effects) Tetsuo is adverse to technology, grimy and unpolished, a film that appears to have automatically emerged from a junkyard.

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