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Shinya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo has been one of my favourite ultra underground
Japanese films for some time now. I've watched it many times, and the film
is always as effective, stunning and outstanding as it was when I first saw
it. Now I viewed it again last night, and I am totally shocked and
speechless, when it comes to this masterpiece of Shinya Tsukamoto, the
genius multi talent behind films like Tokyo Fist (just don't try to watch if
you think Raging Bull is too much), Gemini and Bullet Ballet. If I had to
choose one film among all the films that really blew me away like this, I'd
probably choose Tetsuo.
The "plot" and premise is simple. A metal fetishist (played by the director himself) inserts pieces of metal into his own body with often bloody results, understandably. He becomes run down by a car after which the fetishist starts to have very severe changes in his body and starts to mutate into human/metal monster and the man who ran him down starts to have similar changes in his body, too.. What follows is 60 minutes of total surreal mayhem, nightmarish imagery and use of perhaps all the imaginable cinematic techniques in editing, photography and music. You have been warned!
It is hard to describe with words the power of this film, which has often been referred as a combination of Lynch, Cronenberg and of course Anime and Sci-fi. The photography is stunning to say the least as director's 16mm camera twists, turns, runs, falls, climbs, zooms and does all the possible ways the director could invent to create this kind of atmosphere. The film consists of (very) fast edits, flashbacks, nightmare sequences and images and fast forward photography that spiced with incredible soundtrack is something never before seen. The soundtrack is made with different sounds of metal hitting together, scratching against something and most notable, there is also synthesizer use to create very ominous and threatening atmosphere that never stops, and the music is again one of the most important elements of this film.
The effects are totally outstanding as the director made them by himself. The film is black and white and that is of course great choice to nightmare film like this. Tsukamoto also wrote, directed, photographed, art directed and edited this film among special effects, and the most help he got came probably from Kei Fujiwara, who plays the girl friend in the movie, and she also directed her own similar film, Organ, in the middle of the 90's. It is incredible how Tsukamoto managed to do all this by himself and the help of some others, but due to his talent, it all becomes possible. This film is very low budget, but it is the kind of punch to senses that only very few big budget films have managed to give. If I had to choose one "big budgeted" film that has almost equally stunning atmosphere and power, I'd mention Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream, which is another masterpiece from this young director/writer. Still Requiem and Tetsuo are very different films, but their power is almost - if not entirely - equal.
The theme of the film is obviously the fear of technology and how far it will be developed. The film ends pretty pessimistically and it underlines the fears and threats that are in the air and were in Tsukamoto's mind, too. The images of huge metal machines and motors at the beginning of the movie, are very ominous and the machines seem to be alive and are very nightmarish overall, even though they should be DEAD machines because metal doesn't live, at least yet. This reminded me of work of David Lynch and his Eraserhead and Lost Highway, which both create something very ominous, dangerous and very scary with these similar techniques of close ups of water spilling, engines working and smoke coming closer. Just remember the images of radiator and coffee-pot in Eraserhead and mystery man and smoke (among many others) in Lost Highway. The feeling in Tetsuo is exactly similar, even though the things themselves are not scary or threatening, because they should be only dead pieces of metal and plastic, products in other words.
Shinya Tsukamoto made also sequel to Tetsuo, but it is in color and never as stunning as this brilliant original, but still worth checking out for lovers of this kind of cinema. Shinya Tsukamoto is among Takeshi Kitano, Takashi Ishii and Takashi Miike the most interesting, personal, creatively lunatic and overall stunning artists to come from Japan today, and by watching their films, all the nonsense entertainment coming too often from Hollywood nowadays is easy to forget and just concentrate on these miracles in the field of cinema. Cinema is magic and Tetsuo is one example to show that for the lovers of independent films, since this is not going to reveal to mainstream audience due to its difficult imagery, violent scenes of nightmarish terror and overall personality that demands a lot from the viewer. This is far too difficult and intelligent cinema for mainstream audience, and thus would never come out from some big studio that wants only money and commercially potential films.
Tetsuo is a 10/10 masterpiece and one of my personal favourites. I've tried to describe this film as clearly as possible, and without using too many praising adjectives, and since this movie's power is somewhat hard to describe with words, I recommend that all the lovers of Japanese cinema and the ones who think they're interested in Tetsuo check this out and see and experience the magic for themselves.
Wow. Unreal. You know what it feels like to bite down on aluminum foil or
hearing chalk scratch on a blackboard through Bose speakers over and over
again? This resembles what a viewing experience you'll have watching
Trippy, bizarre, surreal. The sequence of events are just mind boggling that it's a bit trying to take it all in at once. The black and white definitely shows a very gritty, bleak environment and there's great use of dark color tones and shadow. Add some manic performances, great camera angles, and a very raw hardcore soundtrack which just intensifies the insanity even more. Definitely have to give it to the design crew because their attention to detail adds to the overall weirdness. There's even a love story in it too!
Very cool flick.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Title: Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)
Director: Shinya Tsukamoto
Cast: Tomorowo Taguchi, Kei Fujiwara, Nobu Kanaoka, Shinya Sukamoto
Just when you think you've seen it all....a movie like this comes around and totally kicks you in the butt! This movie was amazing! It needs more exposure! More people should check it out! OK, OK, let me get down to the review...but once more: go rent this now! Story is about this regular every day ordinary guy who hits a pedestrian with his car. Only thing is that the pedestrian is a guy who is somehow becoming an...Iron Man. You see the guy they hit is a "metal fetishist" and for some reason that isn't explained he wants to become one with rusty pieces of metal. After the accident the man starts having nightmares about he and his girlfriend turning into robotic, metallic things. When he wakes up he realizes that it could also be happening to him in real life.
Man was this movie a visual feast! It was shot entirely in black and white, but believe me, it takes nothing away from the film. If anything it makes it all the more visually interesting.
The movie reads in many ways like a nightmare on film. At least that was the first impression I got while I was watching it. In this sense it is strictly a horror movie. Some of the images are truly terrifying in a surreal dream like sort of way.
The movies themes remind me a heck of a lot of David Cronenbergs films. You know how Cronenberg deals with films about sex and violence (Shivers, Crash, The Brood) and how they are somehow interconnected with each other? Well those themes are also touched upon in this movie in one of its most memorable scenes which I will not spoil...but will certainly surprise you. Even the part of the movie that deals with the car accident reminded me a bit of Cronenbergs Crash, mainly because the couple decides to make out after the car accident.
Not only that this movie also reminds me of a David Lynch movie...because yes, at times it will seem incomprehensible. It took me two viewings to fully understand it, but I got it pretty well the second time around. The story itself is not all that confusing...but the way it was edited and shot make it a little hard to grasp what is really happening. Its all very kinetic, very fast, always moving. The story moves along at a frenetic pace not giving you any chance to breath. Many people compare this film to Lynchs Erasehead, and some even go as far to say that this film is even stranger and weirder than Eraserhead. I myself haven't had the chance to check out Eraserhead...but I know what type of films Lynch is capable of doing and if they say that Tetsuo: The Iron Man is weirder then Eraserhead...well you know your in for something truly bizarre then.
The gore in it is memorable with some really cringe inducing scenes...specially those where the man is transforming into the robot metal thing and he is having sex with his girlfriend.
The special make up effects are great. Lots of cables and metal things coming out of every conceivable body part. Yes, even there. Tetsuo, the Iron Man looks like a huge hunk of metal coming to life with wires and cables and metallic objects. There's no real visual effects or CGI, the effects are more practical and on camera. Lots of fast forwarding, lots of quick cuts, lots of stop motion animation, lots of every quirky camera movements. It all helps to give the movie that incredibly frenetic look that it has.
Overall this is a great Japanese horror film that shouldn't be missed by anyone! Its kind of like a mix between Lynch and Cronenberg and maybe even a little bit of George Romero in there! There was this scene with a girl turning into what felt like a zombie robot...that just reminded me of Night of the Living Dead. Its amazingly interesting in a visual sense and you will feel like if you ever had a dream about your body being over taken by rusty metals and wires...this is what it would definitely look like. Not to be missed.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Japan is a crazy country. Their workaholism is affecting western
culture all the time. Coming to Tokyo first time, one can get lost not
only in translation, hehe, but mostly in all these technological
gadgets that leave you with only three questions: "what the hell is
this for?", "what the hell is that for?", and "how the hell does it
work?". On one side, coming to Japan, one might see something very rare
today: amazing technology next to tradition, remains of culture
hundreds and thousands years old. But on the other, Japanese does seem
to have a lot of fear about all that technology. Won't that
materialistic, technological approach kill emotional and spiritual
aspects of human existence? There has been made a lot of movies asking
that question, projecting hypothetical versions of future based on what
Japan looks like today. See Ghost in the Shell for example. Yeah,
alright, but what does Tetsuo have to do with all that crap?
Everything. This Tsukamoto piece of art is a manifestation of great
great fear of cold and soulless technology. Main character is a guy who
has rather serious problem: one day he notices that metal parts are
slowly beginning to reveal themselves from under his skin. Why, and
what does it mean? Where will it lead to? You'll see. What I can say is
that you don't need to live in Japan to enjoy this movie. The
atmosphere is amazingly unconventional, and can be compared only to
other industrial/anti-industrial masterpieces of Japanese cinema. The
movie is black and white only all the time. Camera work is incredible,
it builds intense paranoid atmosphere. If you've seen other Shinya's
movies, you know what you can expect. The way the story is told, with
all these cut-and-paste elements... oh God :D If you've already seen
some totally psyched-out movies like this one, you might get a laugh
sometimes, otherwise I guarantee you'll be strongly shocked, because as
I said before: you probably haven't seen anything like this before, so
watch your back, you have been warned ;) Budget used to make this movie
may be equal to something like two cokes and a hamburger, but, as we
can see, some don't waste even that small amount of money. There are
movies made with a little help of millions of dollars which are not
even worth a cent. On the other side, there are gems like this, where
you can't notice signs of low-budget, because it doesn't harm this
movie even in one moment. I can't think of one thing I'd change in this
movie. Highly recommended, this one is a blast!
PS. If you're willing to get some other Tsukamoto movies, avoid Hiruko the Goblin.
It's so visually striking that you could never fully describe Tetsuo in
words. But here are a few that apply: Japanese, hyperactive, perverse,
industrial, surreal, Faustian bargain, contrasty, black-and-white,
Kafkaesque, scifi, stop-motion, manga-influenced, revenge, technology,
Shinya Tsukamoto is an actor (he's the antagonistic "Metals Fetishist" here as well as Jijii in Ichi the Killer) as well as a ground-breaking writer/director/cinematographer. Tetsuo's influence can be seen clearly in directors as diverse as Darren Aronofsky, Takashi Miike, and even David Cronenberg.
There is definitely a plot, but due to the non-linear editing and sparsity of dialogue you'll need to pay close attention on a first viewing or else you'll be overwhelmed by the engrossing visual style (which might be a good thing). It's filmed in contrasty black-and-white. Each frame is cramped and chaotic, much of the time it's filled with wires, pipes, chain-link fences, and all the other incidental debris of life in the late 20th century... which suddenly seems significant and even menacing.
Towards the fifty-minute mark (it's 67 min. total) the willful excess starts to feel a little too excessive, perhaps the manga influence is a bit too strong. But Tetsuo finishes strong, with an end that's at once unexpected and inevitable. Highly recommended.
This is another one of those films where you have the "sheer brilliance
10/10" battling against the "worst film of all time 1/10" people. I'm
not partial to either, I wanted to see this film after watching a
preview that was so intense it made my brain hurt. So I absolutely had
to pick it up at the video store.
Tetsuo, more than anything, is absolutely surreal. The cinematography and camera work is way ahead of its time, and I have never seen anything quite like it. The stop motion and use of metal twine and scrap is stunning and also menacing, especially with the heavy industrial-electronic soundtrack thumping throughout most of the film. I imagine that some scenes must have taken ages to go through frame by frame and create the visual image of cyberpunk terror that is conveyed in this film.
Besides these things I can't credit the film for much else. Some say it's impossible to follow, but the story is quite simple. A metal fetishist that has been inserting pieces of metal into his body is hit by a car, and begins to transform and haunt the person responsible. Then he begins to transform, and his world quickly spirals down as he becomes the metal obsessed monster that his crash victim was already into. However, there are lots of parts of this film that don't contribute to the overall image of the film, and a few scenes that could have been replaced with something entirely different and were a little slow and unnecessary. While hilarious, there is a scene involving the man and his "woman" (as credited) that, while serving a purpose, became more of a sick joke than a part of the film.
As the movie continues on you get more and more lost as to what is going on when cuts become more frequent and the film becomes extremely frantic and fast paced. I viewed it a second time to see if I missed anything, but I felt the same after a second view. Tetsuo is good for its expiremental editing and cinematography, and has its place in cyberpunk filmography. But if you're looking for a film with solid scriptwriting and direction, you're not going to be happy.
Sheer genius? On some aspects, yes. Worst movie ever? You have to be kidding me. There isn't much talking in this film, and the worst films ever have way too much talking in them. Sometimes it's nice to have the actors shut up and, maybe, scream in terror at a piece of metal sticking out of their face instead.
This movie can be explored in many ways: the relationship between human life and technology is the first which comes to mind. Then maybe this fits into a larger theme of industrialization. Still, there are several ways of interpreting each scene and at times I had the feeling that they try to show - or to produce a metaphor for - human emotions, such as cheating, sorrow, the will not to die alone. "And we can rust the whole world and scatter it into the dust of universe" You will certainly make what you want of this movie. You may understand that technology is evil, that industrialization takes our souls away, or that even in our worst moments we crave for closeness and we don't want to be alone. This is a special movie - so beware - it is not accessible to most people. There's a chance that you won't be able to think for yourself and that you'll expect some quick & nice Hollywood conclusions which you're not going to get - in which case, this movie will be a waste of your time.
I heard about this movie reading a comic book magazine in elementary
school. It piqued my interest and I searched for it on video for rental
for several months before finding it. Also included on the video was a
short film entitled "Drum struck" which didn't interest me at all. The
real meat was Tetsuo.
The "plot" of this film revolves around a businessman (who apparently like to have sex with his girlfriend in public places and film it) who is involved in a hit and run auto accident with a metal fetishist. Soon the man appears to be hallucinating about people sprouting metal appendages until it begins to happen to him. Chunks of scrap metal grow like cancerous tumors. Soon, they're not random scraps but working appliances such as drills. If this isn't bad enough he soon finds out the man he hit (played by the director of the film) is in fact alive and rather peeved.
Absolutely insane violence permeates the film which retains its punch through the black and white film.
The review I read about this film compared it to Eraserhead (A film I still have not seen) which I believe says a lot about Eraserhead. To compare it to a film I've seen I'd say it reminds me of "Un Chien Andalou" with about three more lines of dialog and a lot more gore and violence.
I also recommend the sequel Tetsuo II: Body Hammer. It's similar but bigger. Color, dialog, etc.
"Tetsuo: the Iron Man" is utter chaos. Shinya Tsukamoto has created a strange world of metal fetishists and human decay. To make it all the more insane, it's filmed at the pace of a speed adrenaline rush. An office worker slowly transforms into a mutated metal creature after cutting himself shaving. Wires, drills, cables and steel burst from his face and body. And who can forget the giant metal drill penis? The office worker faces off with a villain who has a metal fetish. The villain enjoys sticking metal objects in himself. The film turns into a battle to the finish between the two men. "Tetsuo" has to be one of the strangest films ever made. Stranger than both "Eraserhead" and "Begotten". It's fast pace style can be later seen in films like PI. Thank God, this film is in black and white; it's extremely graphic!
Now I'm not gonna say that this is my favorite movie of all time, for two main reasons. One, I've only seen it twice, and two, I can never be absolutely sure that I've actually seen it once it's over. It's more like a series of feverish, metallic images injected directly into your brain with a large bore needle. And I don't mean that in a bad way. Not at all. The first time I watched it, it completely floored me, even though I wasn't able to discern the faintest whiff of a plot. However, after spending some time on the internet, reading plot summaries provided by wirehead horror fanatics and anime buffs, it became crystal clear the second time. To try to summarize it here would only make me sound like a lunatic and it would give no real idea of what goes on in the course of this movie. The rapid-fire editing, the moody black and white cinematography, the spectacular gross-out effects... sure they've all been done before, but rarely have they been so effectively compressed into such an out of control mass of film. These images are completely unlike anything that would ever get a release in America. If you want the ultimate change of pace, Tetsuo is your man. One more problem I should mention: I usually think I have a high pretension threshold, but even I had to chuckle at some scenes. If it were more grounded and had a more immediately discernible plot, it'd be right up there with "Pi" on my list of paranoid brain twisters. But then again, if it were these things, it would not be Tetsuo. See it for what it is, a pure adrenaline rush of film that today's blockbuster "roller coaster rides" can't hope to achieve.
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