I should begin by explaining why I have been a bit less consistent in blog posts over the past two weeks or so. Firstly, I decided to do the 100 films for June challenge which has meant keeping a pretty consistent viewing schedule going, one that has taken up much more time than I expected, particularly since I included a considerable amount of films that were on the lengthier side. I would think about posting and then get distracted by a back-to-back feature of some daunting two hour works. This, of course, is only half the reason, since I still find myself allotted with a good bit of time in between. Aside from my regular summer job I have also been given the incredibly fortunate opportunity to be part of a upcoming book, in which I will have an academic article published in and it has meant doing some heavy duty research and the like, again taking up more time than planned. I am being vague with it until it is a certainty, but once that is official you better believe I will be posting in regards to it her on the blog. All that out of the way I have come with a film so intensely its own and indicative of the possibilities of post-modern cinema as to assure it would be a great cinematic experience for me, made all the more excellent by it being one of the classics of post-sixtes Japanese cinema, while also existing before the big push towards J-horror in recent years. The film I am referring to is the maddening and demented, industrially fueled Tetsuo, the Iron Man, directed by Shinya Tsukamoto and had been a film that was long on my shame list for films that I had yet to encounter. I knew I needed to see it upon it also receiving mention on The Story of Film documentary and boy am I glad I finally made it around to this work. It is parts David Lynch paranoia in human interaction, part Cronenbergian sexual/bodily violence nightmare and even pulls heavily from Teshigahara, for some of its more oeneric, ghastly elements that are heavily influenced by its Japanese cultural milieu. While I can begin to draw these deserved comparisons, Tetsuo still very much stands as its own work, one with such a fevered editing pace and visually jarring schizophrenic nature that it is really a surprise the film has not been championed as a horror classic all its own.
Tetsuo, the Iron Man begins with images of a man known only through the reveal of the closing credits to be The Metal Fetishist. Played by the director, The Metal Fetishist is shown running pieces of metal ocrros his teeth and jabbing pieces of steel into his exposed flesh, until he realizes that these actions have allowed for maggots to invade his wounds. Disgusted the fetishist runs out into the street and is immediately rundown by a driver and his girlfriend, simply known as The Man (Tomorowo Taguchi) and The Woman (Kei Fujiwara). Fearing for his well-being and the trouble that could be caused by the vehicular manslaughter they dump the fetishist's body into a ravine and go on with their life as though it did not occur, however, when The Man begins to notice tiny pieces of metal protruding through his face, as though it were beard stubble, it becomes clear that the fetishist has moved beyond the grave to exact a physical revenge upon his murderer. The man, who is then shown attempting, unsuccessfully, to retain some normalcy at his life in business, as well as with his relationship to his girlfriend, begins to have his body taken even more over by the metal, which grows out through intravenous means and even begins to reproduce itself in the form of sexual organs, all to the dismay of the few onlookers throughout the film, as well as the viewers. Eventually, after a frightening nightmare in which The Man's girlfriend takes on her own metal form, his evolving body reacts by destroying the theoretical threat of The Woman in a violently sexual manner, followed almost immediately by the emergence of the fetishist from the newly laid corpse. The Man, now completely formed into The Iron Man begins a battle with the fetishist over the industrial and urban spaces of Japan eventually merging into one collective bodily form that agrees to undertake the task of destroying the entire world by turning it into rust. The new form more insane and layered in various extremities takes to the streets of Japan at a frenetic pace as the term GAME OVER appropriately flashes upon the screen.
The body transformed and mutated is certainly something that is not unfamiliar to this blog, particularly as it is tied to deeply troubling psychological aspects, as is the case in a beloved film of mine I'm A Cyborg But That's OK (also of which I plan to juxtapose with Tetsuo for a presentation), nor is it entirely new to the world of cinema itself, stretching at least back to the themes of Fritz Lang's Metropolis which looks at the possibilities of alteration and simulacra when considering the human body. Of course, what makes Tetsuo so particularly engaging is that it takes this theme and these images which are decidedly entrenched within the realm of science fiction and appropriates them to be both within their original genre framework, while also reflecting upon what spaces of the horrific and grotesque, one might even say carnivalesque that a cyborg body could inhabit. Furthermore, when extending this idea of cyborg, one must remember that it is often the case, narratively speaking, that these human-like robots are made entirely of synthetic materials which are metals and the like altered to appear to be the anatomy of a human body. A case could certainly be made that in Tetsuo the exact opposite is occurring, wherein The Man's body is taking its fleshy human parts and altering them to achieve a degree of metallic perfection, or a fetishistic ideal, helping to explain the decidedly sexual nature of many of the encounters, or more aptly put confrontations in this film. Much like the aforementioned Cronenberg films this invasion comes at the aftermath of some sort of high-level guilt experienced by a character, whether it be the failure to protect something or a forced and unsuccessful repression of natural desires, in the case of Tetsuo it appears to be some bizarre combination of the two. The Iron Man transformation occurs as a result of the paranoia and guilt that emerges after committing a murder, even if accidental and this troubling occurrence, allows for other walls to be let down, particularly tumultuous and tense relations with those close, ones that can lead to violent and penetrating actions that range from emotionally harmful to physically violent. Tetsuo is as much a metaphor as it is experimental art, moving, much like the title character between the emotive concerns for a simple existence and the industrialized demand for constant growth and upward expansion at the cost of nothing.
Key Scene: The rust and stainless steel monologue is powerful stuff.
The DVD's available are both out of print, therefore they catch a lofty price, however, one is available on Netflix and is definitely worth renting.