Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tetsuo (1989)
--- science fiction/horror
[In North America Tetsuo: The Iron Man]

Dir: Shinya Tsukamoto

Experimental films usually hit hard and heavy to the senses, as they’re use of celluloid are not bound by the constrictions of narrative storytelling or direction of the acting performances. It’s the difference between the abstract art of Jackson Pollock and Rothko from someone like Rembrandt or Norman Rockwell. “Tetsuo: The Iron Man” is no exception from this rule of non-boundary experimental film. It is a surreal piece of avant garde filmmaking from director Shinya Tsukamoto. It does however stay within the boundless genre of science fiction in addition to a little horror.

It’s hard to dissect a film that leads you to believe it’s a science fiction film, but quickly throws out all sentiments to story out the window. We are first introduced to an unknown metal fetishist in an industrial junkyard surrounded by every form of metal junk you can think of. The unknown man proceeds to cut into his leg and implant a metal rod under the muscle. Obviously, this man has become so obsessed with metal, that he has to “install” metal inside of himself. Upon becoming infected from the wound he gets up and runs out into the streets like a lunatic. A car driven by a businessman and his girlfriend hits the man, and they quickly disperse of the metal fetishist in a ravine off the side of the road.

Having left him for dead, the businessman wakes up the next day, only to discover a piece of metal imbedded in his face. Soon scraps and pieces of metal begin to grow all over him like a malignant cancer, and it happens fast and furious. The man becomes transformed, having rough sex with his girlfriend, a huge power drill for a penis ultimately ripping apart his girlfriend, and even dreaming of being sodomized by a harsh “steely dan” adorned by his girlfriend. His memories are even displayed on television sets in his apartment, that show the hit and run and show him and his girlfriend sexually aroused by the accident (a subject matter explored by JG Ballard’s novel “Crash” turned into a film by David Cronenberg). The film literally moves at accelerated pace to its conclusion as the dead metal fetishist and the transformed fetishist battle in the streets.

“Tetsuo: The Iron Man” is so kinetic and visually stunning, in it’s grainy 16mm black and white footage, and fast-paced MTV style editing that it leaves you almost speechless. The film is a complex essay, thesis, and commentary on man’s everyday life with machines and metal. Sure it’s been done before, and probably to death with cyberpunk literature and films. But this is different. If you can discern certain meaning from the film such as the original “metal fetishist” having a ripped photograph of an athlete running representing man’s inert human desire to reach human physical perfection. There’s also the obvious sexual subtext that could be discussed and argued about forever. The one thing that I was reminded of when watching this was an episode of television series “Amazing Stories”, about a teenager who had a similar problem with metal being magnetically attracted to him, except he wanted no part of it. In the end of that episode, to his dismay, he found himself pulled to a nerdy girl with braces. This film seems to be the opposite sentiment of wanting to embrace metal, and dealing with the physical and psychological consequences of that fetish. Coming from a country that has opened the proverbial “pandora’s xbox” with new high-tech discoveries every year, it would seem they do have more of an attraction than anyone else in the world.