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Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

The Japanese answer to Lynch, Raimi, and Cronenberg.

By Tom BakerPublished 2 months ago Updated 2 months ago 4 min read

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (its tagline use to read "Makes Eraserhead look like Disneyland--or was that Begotten? I can't now remember) is a Japanese monster film from the Eighties, but it's part of the (dig it) "Regular-Sized Monster Series; which, I suppose means it doesn't feature an actor in a rubber reptile suit smashing a toy Tokyo to bits. Instead, it's an industrial horror nightmare, the "story" of a typical Japanese businessman who has a rather unique problem: his body begins to explode outward into twisted forms of metal.

Inside of him, there seems to be (ala' the Eraserhead "Man in the Planet") a tiny cackling demon controlling the literal levers of his mutation. He hallucinates demonic Tokyo subway women out of the Evil Dead, who grow forearms of ripped, mutilated flesh and what looks to be aluminum siding, chasing him through darkened tunnels. He gets reamed by a sexy Japanese woman with a monstrous tentacled dildo that is a corrugated pipe. His flesh begins to explode outward in a melty, gooey, gory deformed mess of metal and pipes and wires, and he skulks around a little reminiscently of the plant-like swamp creature Stephen King turned into in Creepshow (1981). The beautiful black and white photography, though often visually inscrutable as to exactly WHAT we're looking at, does make, along with the live-action animation, a particularly striking cinematic experience. The soundtrack is a rousing, dark combination of industrial rock, what sounds like a kind of New Age pop, occasional snatches of jazz, and, no surprise, musique concrete. Machine sounds and metal sounds (an amusing scene has the man feeding his girlfriend, whose every bit resounds in his mind with metallic scrapes and crunches).

It gets progressively worse and worse for the man as he mutates into a hulking metallic mass. He then fights a demon. In the end, they're going to metalize the world, and "rust this fucker." Right on.

There are many scenes of a live-action animation technique that is visually dated, as things like this are done now by computer. There are drill-bit penises that revolve and penetrate and mutilate. Everything is covered in oil and grease. There is no real "story" in the traditional sense; this is a live-action anime combining (as it was promoted by Fangoria when first released) a synthesis of Lynch, Raimi, and Cronenberg. I won't argue with that assessment, except to say, with the possible exception of Raimi, neither of the other two directors would put out a film so full of slam-bang action, wild jump-cut editing, and fast-paced cinematic pyrotechnics as Tetsuo is. And it is gory and gruesome, but somehow not a "splatter" film. It has those elements, but also comic book elements, avant-garde elements, and offbeat humor.

What is it saying? The Japanese are known for their success at rebuilding after the war, their industrialization and technology pushing them into the economic miracle that was this era. Japanese businessmen, known to pass out drunk on the streets from stress and overwork, may well have felt dehumanized, a part of the industrial machine of Japanese culture, that wants to "rust the soul," perhaps.

The opening title sequence sees the "Salaryman" writhe in darkness as if psychically attacked from all sides. The Wikipedia page describes the scenario behind the images as Salaryman and his girlfriend hitting a "metal fetishist" and a lead pipe being embedded in his skull. He returns, apparently, as a demon for revenge. NO ONE watching this film will EVER pick up on that plot.

One quite interesting scene has Salaryman's girlfriend lying in a bloody bathtub full of poppies. Salaryman has a corrugated metal tube emerge from his throat, and he proceeds to drink honey-like nectar of motor oil from her deceased throat. It's vampiric, and also one of the best scenes in this sixty-eight-minute film.

Tee first time I ever watched this film, I was making out on the couch with some girl I haven't seen in twenty-five years, who took off her shirt to reveal two breasts that were like flaps of skin. I was deflated (no pun), but the videocassettes I rented that night, Freaks (1931) and Tetsuo, are both intimately connected with that strange night in my memory. And, oddly, with each other. or maybe not.

Now, not to make this too punny, but it's too funny because well, a reviewer looking for a cheap laugh might describe Tetsuo: The Iron Man as "riveting." Har har.

Now, let's rust this fucker.

Written, produced, and directed by Shinya Tsukamoto, starring (as "Salaryman") Tomorowo Taguchi, Kei Fujiwara as his Girlfriend, Nobu Kanaoka as Woman in Glasses (demon on the subway), Naomasa Musaka as Doctor, and Renji Ishibashi as Tramp. It is, according to Wikipedia, a "Japanese tokusatsu cyberpunk body horror film." Which is a fancy way of saying it's pretty groovy.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

movie review

About the Creator

Tom Baker

Author of Haunted Indianapolis, Indiana Ghost Folklore, Midwest Maniacs, Midwest UFOs and Beyond, Scary Urban Legends, 50 Famous Fables and Folk Tales, and Notorious Crimes of the Upper Midwest.: http://tombakerbooks.weebly.com

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