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Entry updated 18 May 2022. Tagged: Film.

Film (1989; vt Tetsuo: The Iron Man) Produced, directed, written, art directed, special effects, co-photographed by Shinya Tsukamoto, who also plays one of the two leading roles; also starring Tomorah Taguchi and Kei Fujiwara. 67 minutes. Black and white.

A metal fetishist (Tsukamoto) is hurt in a hit and run car accident; the driver of the car, a conservative office worker (Taguchi), notices a metal splinter growing out of his cheek the next day. As time passes his body metamorphoses into metal; his penis becomes a power drill, with which he makes love to his girlfriend (Fujiwara) in an ecstasy of blood. Meanwhile the fetishist, now telepathic, is also changing into rusty junk metal. Eventually the two metal men merge, to form a single metallic monster, the harbinger of a new conjunction of flesh and metal that will engulf the world.

Though not strictly science fiction – no rational explanation is offered for the metamorphoses – this Japanese film has been assimilated by Cyberpunk enthusiasts as a major cyberpunk document in its portrayal of the unification of the world of the machine with the world of humans. The machinery, however, is everyday junk, not high-tech computer stuff. It is an astonishing film, made on an amateur basis on 16mm film, with nearly all major production roles taken by its maker, Tsukamoto (1960-    ). Chaotic and indescribable – the synopsis above takes no account of the jump cuts and surreal juxtapositions in the story as witnessed – it is at once hardcore exploitation and an art film, whose nearest Western equivalent may be David Lynch's Eraserhead (1976), though elements of J G Ballard's fiction also come to mind. While owing much to the violent, sexist traditions of Japanese Manga (comic books) and anime (animated films), it is in fact live action throughout. The name "Tetsuo", borrowed from the hero's name in Akira (1988), is spelled by the director, punningly, with two Japanese characters which individually mean "iron" and "man". The film was first shown in student clubs, rock-and-roll venues and so on, before its cult success ensured that it was taken up for distribution in cinemas. It is insanely powerful, though all too clearly low budget and in some ways completely unprofessional; the hysterical metallic sound track is also astonishing in its neurotic machine-like edginess. The somewhat smoother but still extraordinary sequel, made with financial backing, is Tetsuo II: Bodyhammer (1991). [PN]


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