Tetsuo: The Iron Man is an iconic cyberpunk cult film and Shin’ya Tsukamoto’s first film to be shot on 16mm. For about an hour, Tsukamoto shoves our collective heads into his bucket of tricks and forces us to contemplate what lies within. It’s quite a disgusting film, and visits themes that Tsukamoto relishes – self-abuse, bodily and societal transgressions, and the human body as both a tool for pleasure and a shell that can be customised at will.
Tomorowo Taguchi plays the businessman who, due to an unfortunate accident, becomes embroiled in the metal fetishist’s world; the metal fetishist, played by Tsukamoto, gives the director a rare chance to unleash his inner demons right into our faces. His part in the film isn’t huge, but it is very memorable. Scenes from this film will remain burned into the memory for days afterwards, and would be ridiculous if they weren’t so honest, and yet completely over-the-top. The entire scene of the businessman’s change is emblematic of this – his girlfriend unknowingly chiding him for his embarrassment and confusion, while he turns into a literal monster before her.
Much of the film is chase scenes, or ultra-violent and incredibly disturbing scenes of dream-like violence. The music is just as important as the images here, as it vascillates between Einsturzende Neubateun-style industrial noise and light J-pop tunes, often both in the same scene, and both being incongruous with what’s occurring on-screen.
All of this aside, the film is fantastic on a deep and visceral level. It is pure Japanese insanity that, instead of being cutesy, actually seems dangerous and disturbing – one scene involving a metal pipe where a metal pipe shouldn’t really be is particularly horrifying. This is the sort of film that David Lynch would make, if he were more interested in bath salts than meditation. It shares the wildfire brutality of early Takeshi Miike with the uncompromising artistic vision and sexuality of early Lars von Trier, while also recalling the best of David Cronenberg (Crash and Shivers being the most obvious comparisons).
While Tetsuo’s audience is undoubtedly very small, it is phenomenal and completely deserves the reputation that preceeds it – it is everything a film should be, just don’t watch it with your mum.
Best line: “Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello.”