TETSUO: THE IRON MAN (1989) Review

Directed by: Shin'ya Tsukamoto
Starring: Tomorowo Taguchi, Kei Fujiwara, Shin'ya Tsukamoto

This is one of those films you would find almost impossible to describe accurately with just words, just like Begotten or Eraserhead. It really does need to be seen to be properly understood, and even then I can imagine a lot of people would probably find themselves confused. I've only seen it once but I believe a second viewing and even a third would probably be very helpful. 

Tetsuo is based on a play which Shin'ya Tsukamoto wrote, directed and performed in college. It tells the horrific cyberpunk inspired tale of a man known only as the 'Metal Fetishist' who has an insane obsession with implanting and attaching pieces of scrap metal in and around his flesh. It also follows a businessman and his girlfriend who are one day transformed by a brief encounter with this fetishist when they are involved in an automobile accident. The victim in this accident is of course the Metal Fetishist, and believing him to be dead the couple take his body and dump it before fleeing. The businessman soon finds that he is being overtaken by some kind of disease which is slowly turning his body into scrap metal. It becomes obvious that the Metal Fetishist is not in fact dead but is instead masterminding this strange transformation.
This physical transformation is accompanied by bizarre and nightmarish visions and metal filled sexual fantasies. He also seems to form some kind of telepathic connection with his nemesis and soon they are involved in a violent battle.

This is a low budget, black & white experimental movie shot on 16mm film. There is minimal dialogue but the accompanying cold industrial soundtrack is more prominent and important to the movie. The entire hour-long film is a fast-paced visual assault with its stark, high contrast black and white sequences and a ton of stop-motion scenes. The effects are fantastic for a movie over 20 years old, although probably masked by the black & white format. 
TETSUO is definitely a movie which will divide people. Some will hate it and others will love (I love the shit out of it) it but there is really no middle ground. As long as you don't go into this expecting some modern cinematic masterpiece then you shouldn't be disappointed. This movie's strength lies in its stylish, surreal and sometimes horrifying visuals and effects. Also if you do too much research before viewing you may stumble upon a lot of people who have obviously read way too deep into the film and have come up with ridiculous ideas that it has an anti-gay message or is a social commentary on post-industrialism. Just enjoy the movie for what it is, a fucked up and frenetic array of surreal and psychotic imagery set to an underground industrial soundtrack.
I would highly recommend this to anybody who loves Eraserhead and fans of Nine Inch Nails, especially the earlier albums such as Broken. If you can watch TETSUO and not have NIN pop into your head then you have a serious problem.

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