A strange man known only as the “metal fetishist”, who seems to have an insane compulsion to stick scrap metal into his body, is hit and possibly killed by a Japanese “salaryman”, out for a drive with his girlfriend. The salaryman then notices that he is being slowly overtaken by some kind of disease that is turning his body into scrap metal, and that his nemesis is not in fact dead but is somehow masterminding and guiding his rage and frustration-fueled transformation.
“Tetsuo, the Iron Man” has nothing to do with the Marvel comics hero by the same name. It does however present a great film trend way ahead of its time using black and white imagery and an unbelievable display of stop motion tactics. Shin’ya Tsukamoto had no idea that his cyberpunk feeling organic creation would live on to inspire SO many films to come. He even tried to match his creation with 2 follow ups “Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (1992)” and “Tetsuo: The Bullet Man (2010) ” but never quite captured the strange visual excitement that his original master piece offered.
While the entire piece is shot in black and white, it only seems to enhance his approach by often blending complex practical effect props and bits in a way that is stunning to see on screen. It has been said that David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” may have inspired this piece even though it roots more in the traditions of Asian horror.
Our film begins as a man who is deemed a “metal fetishist” proceeds to shove a steel rod into his leg. Apparently this is very abstract form of fetish that has harmful side effects. The man looses it when he sees maggots forming and is accidentally hit by a car in his manic state. The driver, a business man, attempts to hide the body by dumping it into a ravine. Somehow though the victim gets his revenge by inflicting a form of metamorphosis back at the driver.
The driver is dumbfounded when he sees a piece of metal in his cheek that appears to be coming from within him rather than projected at him. This piece of metal begins the bizarre transformation that escalates into the gradual ramping up his body molding into the “Iron Man”
Meanwhile he beings to have surreal dreams of his girlfriend while eventually reaching a brutal encounter as she visits him at his apartment. While having sex, his penis mutates into a huge metallic object that resembles a power drill. Though he also hungers for more metal which ends up impaling her in the process.
All these oddities begin to meld together into a truly harrowing metal meets body parts interaction. Like the tradition of many manga films, a confrontation is inevitable between the newly formed “Iron Man” and the original metal fetishist who is birthed from the corpse of a dead body. There is some new age mention of “New World” as the 2 battle it out and eventually merge into a gigantic metal fused beast. The display is quite brilliant and quite surreal resembling something might have come out of H. R. Giger’s psyche than anything. It’s fluid motion and complex metamorphosis is something to behold that makes for a very photographic piece.
Leading up to this is a massive stop motion chase scene that would have taken days to film. The sequence was most likely inspired by the extensive work of stop motion master Jan Svankmayer.
Since the birth of “Tetsuo, the Iron Man (1989)” gaggles of Asian films have arrived that cling to their absurd natures using machine-driven body parts and robotic organics. This aspect can been seen in several of the films that follow the “Tokyo Gore” style of filmmaking. None have been bold enough to spend the amount of time it takes to make a stop motion ending like Tsukamoto.
It’s striking look may have inspired the equally bizarre cult black and white film “Begotten” which was released a year later
“Tetsuo, the Iron Man” has long been a much cited cult favorite that before its migration to DVD was often hard to acquire with the exception of bootleg VHS copies circulating around. It was one of the original trendy edgy cult films to get a DVD migration early on, which faired very well for early DVD player adopters.
“Tetsuo, the Iron Man” is a brilliant piece of filmmaking that combines nightmare imagery with modern industrial sensibilities. It’s fragmented plotline might be hard to digest without proper research though it’s the visual creativity here that really shines.
Tetsuo, the Iron Man is a must see that is often easier to view than describe.
Tetsuo, the Iron Man (1989)