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Monday, October 19, 2020

Review: Tetsuo: The Iron Man

Director: Shin’ya Tsukamoto

Screenplay: Shin’ya Tsukamoto

Year: 1989

What the hell did I just watch? Without a shadow of a doubt, this is the most common phrase impulsively spit out of the mouth of those who watch “Tetsuo: The Iron Man”. Considered by many the weirdest horror movie ever created, it has as many fans as it has haters, but one thing is sure: it will not leave the viewer indifferent.

A metal fetishist decides to put a metal rod in his tight with hopes of becoming a better runner. Shortly after operating himself, the wound gets infected and, affected by how it looks, he desperately goes out running to the street, where a businessman and his girlfriend run over him. After his event, the businessman starts an agonic transformation where metal parts slowly replace parts of his body.

The story behind the conception of “Tetsuo: The Iron Man” places director Shin’ya Tsukamoto (“Ichi The Killer”) with a crazy idea, which he has determined to carry out even without the help of a studio. While this means a tighter budget, it also means that Tsukamoto could bring about his idea without much alterations, something important for a movie like “Tetsuo: The Iron Man” that has such an experimental, violent, and sexual style. Tsukamoto’s talent took him to take the limitations that the short budget presented and use them to his favor. The most notorious one was filming the movie in high contrast black and white, something that helps hide some visual limitations but that at the same time, significantly elevated its artistic value.

The black and white style is useful to emphasize the surrealism of the story and at the same time, it helps expose some of the metaphors and ideas of Tsukamoto, as presenting a side of Tokyo in full contrast to the glamorous one we usually see, with a more convoluted, industrial, and dirty city. On top of these images, the music composition from Chu Ishikawa (“Gemini”) is imposed with an industrial style biased by metallic percussion that splendidly complements the visuals and topic of the movie. To round up the artistic frame, the body horror scenes carry realism uncommon for its time and budget, and the use of different effects, as stop-motion, emphasize the feeling of repugnant and surrealistic horror.

“Tetsuo: The Iron Man”  is a movie that requires multiple viewings because of it frenetic rhythm and the amount of visual information that is put into every scene, which is responsible for telling hat is happening in every sequence of events and the meaning and symbolism behind them, as the dialogue is scarce. While the main topic is about how humans accept the rapid technological changes as a fundamental part of their development (although it might have other interpretations), the symbolism to other topics like masculinity and sexuality is constant. Some of this symbolism is subtle and not easy to get, while others jump right at you, like being sodomized by a piece of mechanic tubing or replacing the genital area with a giant drill.

Influenced by other Japanese movies with a strong social commentary like “Akira”, “Tetsuo: The Iron Man” is a strange and bold movie and, while it certainly isn’t of everyone’s liking, it always causes a reaction and is impossible to forget once watched. Its visual aesthetics, along with an experimental and artistic filming style complemented by the industrial music score and graphic body horror scenes, have placed “Tetsuo: The Iron Man” at the podium of horror movies with a cult following and Shin’ya Tsukamoto as one of the genre’s most interesting directors. This is the type of movie that you are only halfway through when you think that the madness cannot worsen. After watching it, you will want to shower vigorously.

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