Tetsuo: The Ironman Reviews
Truly worthy of its avant garde classification, 'Tetsuo The Iron Man' is a testament to the originality that is unique to film and is an unequivocally intriguing and insane experience unlike any other. The artistic choices throughout the film give it a sense of uncontrollable madness, viewers are thrust into a black a white metal dystopia fraught with imaginative cinematography and visual, stop motion effects unlike any seen before. It's easy to occasionally feel lost during the film's 67 minute running time but that hardly takes away from the undeniable experience.
In Tokyo, a man with a fetish for metal (Shin'ya Tsukamoto, who also directed, wrote, produced and edited the film) sticks bits of metal in him. Running around Tokyo screaming that the flesh around the metal is infected with maggots, he's hit by an unnamed driver (Tomorowo Taguchi) and his girlfriend (Kei Fujiwara) killing the Metal Fetishist. The unnamed man slowly discovers that in his rage of being killed, the Metal Fetishist is turning the man into a scrap metal monster.
The film feels like a blender of David Lynch, David Cronenberg, a manga comic and a sci-fi film. The use of quick, fast pace editing with a variety of camera angles filmed on 16mm black and white film, use of flashbacks and use of stop motion (which is refreshing with today's overuse of CGI) as the man is slowly fused with rusty metal portray a cramped, bleak, surreal and nightmarish feel. It feels like a bunch of people's worst nightmares were plucked out of their minds and put on film. The soundtrack is a mix of electronic, industrial metal/rock and sounds of metal being bashed, scratched and scraped together to futher enhance the chilling feel of the film. The main story on paper looks simple but in reality could be any more futher from the truth. The main theme is the fear of our humanity being lost to the technology and mechanisation. The film has a constant feel of pessimism and futility of humanity's struggle against the machine/technology and ultimatly must accept it. One example is when the driver and passenger/girlfriend are going to have sex, the driver finds his penis has turned into a large mining drill. They fight until the girlfriend accepts the fact of the drill penis and thinks she can handle it. (Spoiler alert) She doesn't. I found this film to have a subtle irony of where it was made as Japan is a cross between ancient tradition to heavily use of very new technology. The end of the film ends on a very chilling and very sad note.
The film left me shocked, horrified, disgusted but somewhat intrigued. I'm not interested nor do I like horror films (like Saw, Halloween etc, I prefer to see what the mind can do in a thriller rather than slicing and dicing body parts and whole bodies) but this one is a slight exception. It left me a bit interested in the technical aspects of how the film was made and also in the themes the film portrayed; is humanity's quest for new technology mean we will ultimatly be replaced by machines? Will we cope with mechanisation of most work forces? Can we trust the metal in the technology that we created?
A friend of mine told me that "Tetsuo: The Ironman" was going to blow my mind. He was right; it did blow my mind, in both good and bad ways. While I do appreciate the often hilarious (and often disturbing) surrealism of "Tetsuo", the thing as an entirety isn't quite as fascinating as it wants to be. This is definitely the kind of underground/cult film that it was designed and destined to be, but that does not take away from "Tetsuo" and its flaws; and there were many of them. For starters, the film is on the knife-edge between a well-made film and a surrealistic, experimental acid trip. Perhaps it has a little bit of both in it, but all I really know is that "Tetsuo" is not a classic, and it's not a particularly good film either. But it does look good- or perhaps revolting- if you will. The film is shot in black-and-white, which is always good for classic surrealism. But this is surrealistic filmmaking taken to the next level; a level which almost takes away from the dream or the nightmare, and nigh invents something completely new. Therefore, "Tetsuo: The Ironman" could either be the most influential 80's underground film ever made or the most flawed-but-unique creation of mankind since virtual technology; you know, like the kind that was used to make the more perversely disgusting moments in "Tetsuo". If you are like me, and you can appreciate a film as strange as this one, then "Tetsuo: The Ironman" ends up being very entertaining at the end of the day. But too often does the plot feel thin, and too often did I question if the thing had a point. Yes, "Tetsuo" has flaws; but nothing can truly defeat Japanese surrealism. There are some very good "weird" scenes- such as one in which our hero/ironman's penis turns into a drill- but then there are some very experimental scenes as well. These scenes can get tedious and boring; but "Tetsuo" never stops being unique. I admire that, and in ways I admire this film. It is special; but then again, it's not. It's decent; I'll just put it at that. It is a film crafted with ambition, but it's the kind of ambition that could get you killed. Yes, I did indeed just say that. And I mean every word of it.
There's not a whole lot of effort put into the plot here. The film moves along swiftly, and with intelligent energy, but often does it feel empty in that particular department. Our character, who is supposedly a Salary man, accidentally hits a man with a metallic fetish with his car. It's a hit-and-run sort of thing, and our hero feels safe. But then the past comes back to get him, and soon he's having a body-horror showdown with the bloke that he hit in his living room. These sequences can be fun, yes, but never do they add a whole lot to the story of the film. I do, however, like to think that a lot of the story of this film is told through the visuals. So little happens plot-wise, but a lot happens visually. If you have the gift of sight, then know that this film does you no particular justice. Images flash on and off of the screen so quickly, and with extreme craft. This film is visually stunning, and that is what saves it. But as a film which has the ambitions to be a thriller, a comedy, and a body-horror film all in one; it comes off as a bit short on deliverance. But it gets the job done, and it can be some seriously disturbing fun at times. I would recommend it, but only to those who have a certain taste for films are outlandish as this one. A film such as this could only be made in Japan. And that is precisely why it was.
The acting here is somewhat of a mixed bag. Most of the actors don't speak too many words, and a lot of them feel characterless beyond their given names and personas. Tomorowo Taguchi plays "the man", who is basically the hero of the story. His character has a girlfriend, who is played by Kei Fujiwara, and he is running from a man played by the film's director (Shinya Tsukamoto). Not a whole lot of the acting is terribly inspired, but this isn't the most well-known or high-budget flick out there. So even though it is flawed, there is some admiration to the essential decency of the performances. Just keep in mind that nobody takes center stage; it's all about the trippy stuff. And I will talk about that next.
I like films that have me tripping even after the credits have rolled. So perhaps that provides an explanation to why I stuck with "Tetsuo: The Ironman" until the end and still enjoyed it. This film is a joyous, disturbing visual orgy; a nightmare or metallic proportions. There will probably never be a film quite like it, and that is indeed a reason to see it, but the film will not agree with a good number of people. Like I said, the film is disturbing. For me, it is disturbing in a good way. But with disturbance comes a lack of appeal; and for those who don't have strong stomachs, "Tetsuo" is a tough sit-through. It's nigh nothing for art-house, artsy freaks such as me; but "Tetsuo" still provides the kind of graphic mayhem that you'd expect out of an Underground film from Japan. Being an underground film is enough. But being Japanese automatically makes your film destined for a cult status due to its flamboyant oddities. A lot of effort was put into making this film surreal and trippy; and I do indeed respect that. The filmmakers care more about style than substance, but "Tetsuo" has a visually artistic flavor to it that some people should not resist, and by all means, you should not miss out on this film. I have mentioned the film's major flaws, so you should know what is wrong with it. But you should also know what it gets right; and in the end, the good overweighs the bad.
Sometimes, you happen upon imagery that is so whacked-out and strange that you kind of have to laugh at it. "Tetsuo: The Ironman" can be so irresistibly odd at times that you kind of feel yourself seduced by its own devotion to its visual craft. A considerable amount of effort was put into that end of the proverbial horse, but the other end is just bland, bland, bland. Which is sad, because "Tetsuo" could have been an instant classic in my book, but alas, it is not. The final twenty minutes have the kind of tension and visual hysterics that you wish the rest of the film had in its consistency, and it's a damn shame that this is not the case. But if you DO happen to see "Tetsuo", then go in knowing that it might disturb or fascinate you. For me, it did a little bit of both. Yes, I admit to it disturbing me. Not just any film can do that. But some films can be beautiful out of their disturbing content. "Tetsuo" does not want to be beautiful. It just wants to be oddball graphic and weird-as-hell. It's entertaining, short (it has a running time of just a little over an hour), and if you can stick with it, it can grow on you. It has potential; perhaps more than it uses. But it's OK as it is. And I appreciate what it was trying to do, in spite of the fact that it only succeeds in half the ways that it wants to. But who cares when it delivers enough gruesome fun in one easy sit-down, right? Yes, right. This is a film worth saving for a rainy day. Otherwise, don't be rushing out to watch it; for you will more than likely forget seeing it once you've finished watching it. That says both good and bad things regarding the production.
If this isn't Trent Reznor's favorite film, it should be.