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Factory of Nightmares: A Review of "Tetsuo: The Iron Man" (1989)

Hi, I'm Sam, I love movies. My main interests are science fiction and zombie movies. I also enjoy pessimistic and survival films a lot.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man is one of those arthouse films for which no description can really do it justice.

Sure, we can say that its 16 MM, black and white sinister atmosphere reminds us of Eraserhead's young David Lynch. We could also say that the recurring body horror seemed to have an inspiration in the more analog David Cronenberg. And yes, its rated R stop-motion has traces of Jan Švankmajer or The Brothers Quay.

But that would not really do justice to this gigantic effort by Shinya Tsukamoto, who, obsessed with not losing one iota of his vision, did everything here. He produced, wrote, directed, edited, and played the character of "the Metal Fetishist."

In other words, inside and outside of the fiction, he is the originator of the action. Tetsuo: The Iron Man may have influences, but it was its unique personality that immediately elevated it to cult status.

A still from the film.

A still from the film.

But what is Tetsuo: The Iron Man about? Well, imagine a frenetic, grainy nightmare captured in low-budget celluloid, in a decaying Japan. An ordinary man identified as "Salaryman" (Tomorowo Taguchi) and his girlfriend (Kei Fujiwara) accidentally run over a man nicknamed "Metal Fetishist" and try to hide the body.

The Metal Fetishist, whose adoration of industrial implements has forced him to self-mutilate and insert pieces of elements such as steel rods, has supernatural powers, and in retaliation for the accident, he condemned the couple to suffer the metal invasion on their lives.

Slowly, painfully and progressively, the Salaryman and his girlfriend begin to lose their humanity as their body begins to mutate and generate inorganic pieces of metal inserted into their bodies. Several disturbing sequences show the struggle of the characters, going slightly mad with this painful metamorphosis in their daily lives.

At one point, the couple's hostility becomes erotic. For example, the Salaryman's penis is mutated into a gigantic power drill. Obviously, the couple ends up ... let's say, "separated".

And that's when the Iron Man is born. The salaryman completely mutates into a walking pile of metal and now he has to face the Metal Fetichist, who wants to contaminate the whole world with his "industrial infection".

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Now, imagine all this narrated at a desperate speed, with a violent and frantic edition. This movie lasts only an hour and that is more than enough to exhaust the audience.

The Iron Man.

The Iron Man.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man could be pure shell and shock factor and still have a very high value as an audiovisual work of art. Few works can achieve such a visceral reaction in the viewer without having an apparently coherent argument.

But no. All the furious action, the borderline-snuff sequences, the hellish stop-motion, the low budget as a narrative element and not as a limitation, all that, is a well-thought, hardcore allegory.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man is the most extreme definition of Cyberpunk. A steel interpretation of Kafka's Metamorphosis. An anthology of nightmares about the biological relationship of man with his artificial environment.

This is the most industrial metal film of all time and a unique experience that should be "enjoyed" at least once.

Movie Details

Title: Tetsuo: The Iron Man

Release Year: 1989

Director(s): Shin'ya Tsukamoto

Actors: Tomorô Taguchi, Kei Fujiwara, Nobu Kanaoka, a.o.

© 2019 Sam Shepards

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