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Film Review: Tetsuo II Body Hammer (1992)

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SYNOPSIS:

Sequel to “Tetsuo” this time has the Iron Man transforming into cyberkinetic gun when a gang of vicious skinheads kidnap his son. When the skinheads capture him, they begin to experiment on him…speeding up the mutative process!

REVIEW:

I like to think that I understand “art films.” Anyone who has ever pursued an English degree knows that after enough years analyzing novels and poetry, the tendency to apply literary theory to everything becomes a reflex.

While this can make regular films (re: crowd-pleasers) fairly formulaic and predictable, it can make art films a mind-bending experience that enriches and expands the material, even if your theories don’t quite line up with the director’s intent. However, all art is subjective, so no matter how much you may enjoy teasing your brain with an weird sensory experience, inevitably you will run into one that defies interpretation, leaving you confused and exhausted.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man is considered a modern classic, the tale of a man losing his humanity via a spectacle of stop-motion animation and body horror. Personally, I have not seen the movie in its entirety, but from what I gather, it is a film whose understated story is as loaded with pathos as its visuals are with insanity. Its sequel, Body Hammer, veers off in its own bold new direction, and not necessarily a good one. The story appears to be incredibly complex but explains very little, and the visuals would be stunning if you could see them through the impossibly dark filters that seem to cover the camera in a thick coat of smog. So if you can’t pick out the plot in a film you can barely see, how can you possibly enjoy it?

The plot, if you can call it that, essentially boils down to ordinary guy Taniguchi having his world torn apart by an organization of metal-worshipping zealots. They kidnap his child, threaten his wife, and finally provoke the poor sap into releasing his formally dormant metal-morphing abilities until he is an unstoppable leviathan of clunky junkyard parts. To explain the story any more than that would be useless and frustrating for everyone involved.

The film moves like a nightmare—sequences repeat themselves within minutes of each other, alliances switch in an instant, and much of the action is running in an apparently endless labyrinth of alleyways and rooftops. That dreamy feel can build a certain atmosphere, but Body Hammer seems to take a page out of It Follows’ book with that gem of a quote from director David Robert Mitchell: “You can’t explain a nightmare.”  This may be true, but it sure is a lousy excuse for a film that’s heavy on atmosphere and hollow everywhere else. Body Hammer, like It Follows, leaves the bulk of what it presents up to interpretation, leaving it to the audience to draw their own conclusions of what it all means.

Once again, and I can’t stress this enough, I enjoy a film that makes me work to understand it. I can dig trippy visuals, spare dialogue, and vague plots, as long as it comes together into some kind of appealing package. But that’s not what Body Hammer does. This movie throws all the ingredients of a movie at the screen then forces the viewer to do the rest. It’s a lot like offering cake to your dinner guests, then giving them a plate of flour, sugar, and raw eggs. It’s baffling, unfair, and deeply disappointing all around.

But hey, maybe I just don’t get it. Roger Ebert apparently did—he gave the movie ¾ stars and took the message to be the director’s mourning of the lush green Tokyo of his childhood turning into a wasteland of iron and steel and smog.

hat is indeed the message being sent out, it only barely hints at that in the final minutes of the film. But I suppose that’s why Ebert got paid the big bucks and is still a beloved and trusted source to this day, while I’m over here fuming about this heap of confusion on HNN. Clearly, I just don’t get it, and honestly, I’m okay with that. Here’s hoping that when I finally do get around to seeing Tetsuo: The Iron Man, memories of its hallucinogenic sequel won’t come flashing back to me.

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