A horrific and harrowing hybrid of cyber-punk sensibilities, surrealistic narration, and expressionistic low budget film techniques, TETSUO: THE IRON MAN doesn’t care if you like it or understand it. It’s primary mission is to evoke raw, sheer reaction and undiluted emotion, and this is accomplishes with gusto. Uncompromising in its fetishistic visual audacity, and brutal in its refusal to nursemaid viewers with a linear plot, TETSUO instead chooses to tell its anti-story through a fragmented explosion of images, reaching a painful emotional depth that defies simplistic logic or characterization. A pure cinematic experience ignoring convention or, to be honest, any one sure interpretation, this contemporary mad nightmare of biology, psychology, and machinery is a story both fetishistic and intellectual, although its method of telling, and its chrome plated, erection-sporting heart is as primal as time, and as horrifying as unlimited space.
Directed by Shinya Tsukamoto (VITAL, A SNAKE IN JUNE), a cult filmmaker whose adventurous, non-commercial ideas regulate him to the fringes of the art, Tetsuo features a young man whose identity doesn’t really matter since he’s emblematic of humanity in general. In this film character, flesh and technology meet, predicting the surgical procedures and technology of the last few decades, and suggesting a future where humans might well be wedded to the machines that both serve and use us. The plot: Common man (Tomorowo Taguchi) and his wife (Kei Fujiwara) kill a young man (Shinya Tsukamoto) in a hit-and-run accident, completely mangling him. Hiding the body in the woods, they attempt to conceal their crime. Surprisingly, they are sexually aroused by their crime (bringing to mind such films as CRASH), and as they have sex alongside the broken, ruined corpse of their victim, it is suggested that this crude act of transgression invites/makes possible the soul of their victim -- a metal fetishist who recently stuck rods into his flesh -- to possess them. Breaking one stylistic and thematic taboo after another, we are assaulted by a harrowing, visceral catalogue of terror until the bold, unforgettable end, when Taguchi shares something ‘special’ with the one he loves during an act of penetration that will have your woman wincing.
A dark descent into a universe of self-inflicted body transformations, TETSUO questions if there is any place in our future for the spirit, the soul, and if compassion is feasible or simply fodder for an iron-clad erection. A new reality emerges from the character’s transformations, which are, finally, representative of our own. Suggesting that flesh and machine, when met, cannot help but weaken one another, the film can be seen as a logical evolution of a humanity birthed from the technological fetishism first experienced cinematically in Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS and, to a lesser extent, in CLONUS.
If TETSUO defies narrative tradition or the continuity preferred in mainstream movies, it invites us to help create partial understanding of its context on a subconscious level. The film simply doesn’t operate logically or realistically. Nor does it adhere to the formula of traditional sci-fi or horror films that, despite their bizarre subject matter, often conform to established rules of action and consequence. Rather, Tsukamoto, working his mojo from some shadow land in the psyche, showers us with symbols both shocking and repugnant, which in turn suggest various possible levels of interpretation. The film doesn’t want to be considered in the manner which we’ve been taught to watch and critique traditional cinema, for it is a storm of images without a concise timeline or frame of reference with which to connect it to the ‘real’ world -- a concept itself as imaginary as any fantasy in that each of our ‘realities’ are subject to our own histories, intellect, and emotional stability (or lack thereof). Tetsuo makes sense on a purely emotional, hallucinogenic level, operating along the lines of expressionism, not at all dissimilar from the approaches of Luigi Paradello, August Stindberg, Borges, or Kafka. While it would be easy for detractors to dismiss this work as nonsense, this would miss the point – TETSUO: THE IRON MAN is a living nightmare, a chaos of pure cinema, pure emotion, blurring lines between internal feeling and external fabrication, and challenging viewers to approach cinema in an equally adventurous, experimental nature. This is the dream logic of Jung’s ‘Shadow’, an anti-drama of potent images and implications that likewise lead to equally powerful fragments of understanding in the viewer -- not intellectually but intuitively.
Tartan Asia Extreme grants this madness the respect it deserves, including a sterling full frame transfer. This film was never intended to look this good, and thankfully; the new print does nothing to diminish its overall weirdness. This special edition gives us a great transfer, including remastered audio tracks. The picture quality is sharp and clear, lacking such blemishes as grain or image distortion. Strong blacks emphasize the visual detail from this 16mm print. Audio includes the dual mono track and DTS and Dolby 5.1 tracks that overwhelm us alongside the visuals, barraging us with chaotic sounds that mirror the visual insanity. For such a great presentation, extras are depressingly scant. Included in the supplements are a brief text bio of Shinya Tsukamoto and trailers for his other films. While a commentary track with Tsukamoto would have lent context to the movie, the quality of the transfer is reason enough to celebrate.
William P. Simmons
Directed By: Shinya Tsukamoto
Japan /2005 /67 Minutes
A Tartan Asia Extreme Release
Region 1 / NSTC Release /Anamorphic Widescreen
TETSUO: THE IRON MAN