Many things about Tetsuo: The Iron Man can be said in order to describe the very nature it presents but it can only been seen to be believed. On an extremely low budget, what Shinya Tsukamoto has created in Tetsuo: The Iron Man is something so mind-boggling, almost in a manner that Eraserhead is – for it may best be described as a Japanese equal cranking up the acid to a new level. That there may be one way in order to describe such a film but that won’t even do justice if one were to talk about how frightening the experience can be. Shock horror you may call it, but there’s a reason as to why Tetsuo: The Iron Man is so effective. One may say, as mentioned earlier it is almost like a Japanese equivalent to Eraserhead, but if that cannot sum up what is so insane about it, then that only proves that it must be experienced for oneself.
In Tetsuo: The Iron Man, we are not exactly being told a coherent story, but nevertheless what we can pick up on grasps our interests because what Shinya Tsukamoto is presenting is without boundaries. He establishes three prime characters: the Iron Man, the metal fetishist, and a woman – but creates odd circumstances for all of them. From how Tsukamoto establishes the turn of events that keep Tetsuo: The Iron Man moving, avant-garde filmmaking at some of its most daring is exposed. The film opens with incredibly graphic imagery, setting the tone to come forth, but with how shocking all of it appears to be, there in fact is something much grander put into play.
One must wonder how Shinya Tsukamoto is able to create such a work that moves so freely from start to finish, but his vision is something that no other filmmaker can replicate: in such a sense that it draws back to what we would have remembered to have made David Lynch’s Eraserhead nearly as memorable as it was. The surrealist atmosphere, mixed together with the no budget aesthetic, creates a rare sort of wonder, something that offers just as much shock as it also does a strange form of beauty. Even while it remains contained inside of a sort of grotesque body horror classification, Tsukamoto never keeps everything so self-serious and in fact, where it is even more fascinating is in how it blends together the silliness and the nightmarish visuals as a means of breaking free, something which I admire highly.
Yet in the character of The Iron Man himself, it’s interesting at least to observe what Tsukamoto would have meant with his transformation together with his interactions with whomever he comes into contact with. One may assert that with the body horror imagery which comes into play, Tsukamoto is offering a unique commentary upon the paranoia in keeping one’s body safe, and what happens when the safe space has been broken. It would be clear from what happens to the Iron Man as he begins to transform all the more and swallow up others, but within the frenetic nature that is left behind, that is where Tetsuo: The Iron Man becomes all the more wonderful.
For the majority of the film, the sound design is rather impressive when you come to consider how little the budget was – but at times especially during the opening in which we are still being shown the establishing shots, some of the effects can be rather grating. While it manages to improve as it keeps going, there’s also a level of ridiculousness that somewhat takes myself out of what is being offered by Tetsuo: The Iron Man, for as the film enters its second half, it seems to become even less about finding a coherent story to play along (which was never the point of the film from what I had witnessed) and more about the visuals, one can find themselves caring less about how the characters go: something to where I was disinterested all the more.
Pushing away as many of its restrictions as possible, that is where Tetsuo: The Iron Man becomes an experience of its own breed. Shinya Tsukamoto’s avant garde vision is something that almost rivals what one would imagine out of David Lynch or David Cronenberg, for it almost feels like a blending of the two that succumbs to a degree of ridiculousness, but it never loses one’s interest. Tsukamoto has indeed created what is none other than raw art from start to finish, what happens when one’s vision is going unhinged – for it is indeed a film so frightening it will never be easy to forget after a period of time. As everything comes together, things get all the more challenging. But with that having been said, it is where I love everything more.
Watch the trailer right here.
Directed by Shinya Tsukamoto
Screenplay by Shinya Tsukamoto
Produced by Shinya Tsukamoto
Starring Tomorowo Taguchi, Kei Fujiwara, Shinya Tsukamoto
Release Year: 1989
Running Time: 67 minutes