Tetsuo: The Ironman review by Liam Jennings
A photo of the "Ironman" in his true form
‘There are two types of human being, those who are successful and those who fail. You are a failure and you shouldn’t make this film. These were the words spoken by Kazuo Tsukamoto before his son, Shinya was about to embark of the film that would define his career.In 1989 the world was introduced twenty-nine year old filmmaker Shinya Tsukamoto, and with that came his film Tetsuo The Ironman. This film was a revolutionary independent film, made with only a single 16mm camera and a shoestring budget.
Tetsuo has since become the definitive example of Japanese Cyberpunk which by definition means: films that are characterized by extreme sensory assaults that serve to remove the boundaries generally placed on the human condition.
First off, to understand this film, you must understand the person behind it . Shinya was being forced into being a businessman by his father and working a shallow 9-5 job as a voice over for commercials. His inability to budge from his fantasies caused tremendous strain on his home life and in turn his relationship with his parents who would then kick him out onto the street.
It was then he founded a small theatre troupe named The Kaiju Theatre in which he worked on countless productions. But It wasn’t until the closing night of his play ‘Denchu Kozo no boken’ or translated as the adventures of electric rod boy, That Tsukamoto felt it a waste to dispose of all the sets and props that they has spent months working on.
Then came Tetsuo the Ironman, a short and incredibly stark 16mm black and white film. Shinya implemented use of Jarring and schizophrenic camera usage, this film is designed to jolt the viewer and make them feel like they are one with the film.
The film centres on the characters: Man, woman, woman with glasses, The Tramp, the doctor and The Metal Fetishist. Do not by any means judge this film on that alone, the people are secondary to the visuals, the dialogue is bare and between the sounds of screaming and general anguish the only spoken words are kept to bare minimum.
The film opens on The Metal fetishist sitting alone in a small room filled with various machinery moving and breathing around him. After making a small incision in his leg, he inserts a long metal rod into his thigh. On a spur of energy he runs through Tokyo in joy before getting run down by a passing car. After this deadly encounter the businessman starts to grow small pieces of scrap metal on his body, first appearing through a little thorn out his cheek. Tetsuo the Ironman is an absolute Marvel of independent filmmaking and it is not for everyone, as the movie evolves with the character, the film becomes more erratic. Tsukamoto started to remove handfuls of frames from the picture to make it more off putting to the audience.
The film is violent, sexual, chaos fuelled into celluloid, and you will not feel comfortable watching this.
The special FX in this film are outstanding, in all areas. Shinya would roam around old factories and junkyards and collect small electrical appliances and scrap. Actor Taguchi who played the businessman, had to gradually sprout scrap metal throughout the film so that by the end, he would be, not only completely covered in metal but able to still run around and move freely. Shinya has spoken freely about his inspiration for the ironman being a hybrid of David Cronenbergs final Fusion in the Fly and H.R Gigers designs of the Alien. This proved harder and more impossible as the desired look of the ironman became more extreme. Sometimes they would apply effects all day and by the end, they wouldn’t have time to shoot anything so they would need to rip off the suit and go to bed.
This was all until they then made a full body suit which would slip on and off to make it a little easier for Taguchi. Filming for Tetsuo was chaotic at best and a film that started off with a crew of over thirty wilted away in the 18 months of production to leave Tsukamoto with the sole responsibility to get his dream finished.
Upon release the film created a frenzy, the energy was something unheard of since the Midnight movies on the 1970’s.
It was both hailed and slammed by critics. Spawning countless imitators like Rubbers Lover and Pinocchio 964 and most recently Meatball machine. Tetsuo is a film that is perfect in itself. Most recently Filmmakers such as The Watchowski Brothers or, siblings now, were inspired with Shinyas use of technology and humans becoming one that they used his cold mechanical designs for the Matrix trilogy.
I have read that this film is an allegory for ‘ the destruction of nature by man’ about his love and hate relationship with Tokyo, But I feel it’s something more personal than this, as I said in the opening to understand the film, you must understand the man behind it. As shinya was being forced into the bustle of Tokyo his hatred for the lifestyle is what got to him, Tetsuo is an allegory for his hated of the Machine, the day to day grind that was not within him. There is an idea within this film that if all you do is work you will become it, Become a machine. Every scene in Tetsuo is a subtle stab at everything his father stood for. It’s not until the final fusion of the Businessman and the Fetishist, driving around in a huge phallic tank that the message is plain to see.Shinya Tsukamoto has since become one of Japans most beloved filmmakers and actors, starring as vamp in Metal Gear solid 4, Masuoka in Takashi shimizu’s haunting Marebito and also his infamous performance as Jiji in Takashi Miikes brilliant, Ichi the Killer.
The sequel Tetsuo Bodyhammer was released three years later and served as a remake rather than a sequel. The only problem is that even though Shinya wrote and produced this film himself and most of the actors reprised their roles. There was something missing, the energy with that first film was something unique and indescribable in fury. Bodyhammer comes off as the last performance of a yearlong show. The actors are stale and over rehearsed, the shots are composed and rarely stray from the basic rule of three and worst of all Shinya looks tired and bored. Needless to say, this film didn’t go so well on release and to the producers dismay it ended up ironically being melted down and used for paving blocks within Shinjuku, which is Tokyo’s premiere business district.
In 2009 Shinya made a surprise visit to the San Diego Comicon and announced the film Tetsuo: The Bulletman will be unleashed onto the world this year, which will serve as Shinyas first English speaking production.Tetsuo is nothing like you have ever seen and, sadly, unlike anything that will ever be made again.5/5 Liam