Despite the visceral imagery, "Tetsuo" treats its subjects with a cold detachment.

William D. Lee's picture

The easiest way to describe "Tetsuo: The Iron Man" is by calling it a cinematic Molotov cocktail. Writer/director/actor Shinya Tsukamoto blends various themes and techniques and blows it up right in your face. Another way of describing "Tetsuo" would be as a surreal, cyberpunk version of "Alice in Wonderland" influenced by David Cronenberg and David Lynch (my two favorite directors named David). And just for the Hell of it, throw in a little anime as well.

The film begins with Tsukamoto as a man (called Metal Fetishist in the credits) cutting open his leg with a metal shard. He is surrounded by scrap iron, wires, and paper cutouts of athletes. The gruesome scene continues as the Fetishist inserts a metal coil into his leg, then runs off screaming down the street.

At an intersection, he is hit by an incoming car, driven by a nondescript Salaryman (Tomorowo Taguchi). The next morning, Salaryman wakes up to find a metal splinter sticking out of his cheek. He touches it and it pops like a zit. He heads to the subway and sits next to an unassuming Woman (Nobu Kanaoko). The Woman finds a convulsing heap of metal on a ground and leans down to examine it. Next thing you know, the metal latches onto her and melds with her arm. Now, she's chasing Salaryman across town in an attempt to murder him.

If this doesn't make any sense to you, don't worry, you're not alone. Tsukamoto isn't telling his story in any conventional sense. The film doesn't connect the dots in a neat and clean way. Things aren't going from A to B to C. Events just happen at a rapid pace with almost no explanation and all you can really do is try to hang on.

Like Cronenberg's "Videodrome", Tsukamoto's film deals with the melding of flesh and technology. Also, like much of Cronenberg's works, "Tetsuo" treats this bizarre union as a highly sexual one. Right after his chase from the subway, Salaryman imagines himself naked and on all fours. He is joined by his Girlfriend (Kei Fujiwara) who dances seductively with a long, metal tentacle sticking out of her stomach. An umbilical cord from the imagination of H.R. Giger. And yes, penetration apparently happens. Another not-so subtle allusion involves Salaryman's penis mutating into a powerful drill.

Despite the visceral imagery, "Tetsuo" treats its subjects with a cold detachment. As I said earlier, there's no real attempt to explain why these mutations are happening. The characters aren't even given real names. Rather, they are referred to with generic labels like Salaryman or Woman in Subway.

"Tetsuo" is presented in non-anamorphic fullscreen with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. It was shot on 16MM so there is an inherent graininess to the picture. Its gritty, black and white look recalls the haunted eeriness of Lynch's "Eraserhead." And in turn, "Tetsuo's" look influenced Darren Aronofsky's "Pi."

The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, DTS 5.1, and the original Mono. All are in Japanese with optional English subtitles.

Only extras are trailers to select Tsukamoto films, production notes, and filmographies.

This is one gruesome and confounding film. "Tetsuo" strings together a bunch of strange images and captivates you at first (in a driving past a car crash kind of way), then grows tiresome in its confusion. I like surreal, but there are limits. Even with a runtime of 67 minutes, it overstays its welcome half way through.


Film Value