Tetsuo: The Iron Man
An introduction to Body Horror’s Spawn in Japan.
From late 80’s to present, the underground cinema was shaken and mauled by a unique stream.
A stream of metal and flesh, rust and blood, sex and dismemberment: The body horror brought into the worldwide theatres by its undisputed master: the Canadian maestro David Cronenberg.
His artworks brought a new breed of film-maker or to be precise, film artisans, whose obsession for the machine merging with the human body, the rivalry between man and the world of concrete and steel, and the loneliness of the human souls, gave birth to some of the most intense and somewhat disturbing flicks the world has ever seen.
One of these creators is the Japanese director Shinya Tsukamoto: the “Anarch of Cinema”. Since 1986 with his first short movie “The Phantom Of Regular Size” has well described the Technological hysteria that contaminated the mind and body of Japanese People with an unique and disturbing style that put together the tradition of Japanese fiction production (Go Nagai and Katushiro Otomo, to mention just a couple of the many forefathers of Shinya) and the fast and neurotic photography, that roots in the mute cinema and then to be evolved in the 70’s indie production) characterized by stop-motion technique.
Those initially chosen for economic reasons, became later the signature of this unique style, that made the evolutions of his most famous creature: Tetsuo. So unnatural and deeply disturbing character.
In 1987, after Denchu Kozo No Boken (“The Adventures of the Electric Pole Boy”) directed by Shinya Tsukamoto, in collaboration with the Hentai producer and actor Tomoo Taniguchi, the success of the movie reaches the theaters all over the world with a black and white movie that literally shocked Cinema: “TETSUO the iron man”. The plot, quite linear, is taken into a greater cinematic experience thanks to the fast actions that resemble the frantic and dreadful fights of Go Nagai’s Devilman.
Then the continuous mutations of the bodies of Tomoo and Yatsu were greatly supported by a wonderful photography work.
Close ups in black and white of scrap metal, sweat and steam, metalize the skin of the three actors, and the light speed cameras roared through streets, corridors and the body itself.
The movie shrieks and pumps like a steam machine from the beginning to the last frame and no one, even Shinya, the future Enfant Terrible of Japanese cinema, could forecast that this synthetic, dark, nihilistic motion picture could become a mass underground phenomena thanks to many estimators around the world like the film director Quentin Tarantino and the Italian critics Enrico Ghezzi and Maria Roberta Novielli.
The main reasons because this flick, even if it’s so disturbing that an unprepared viewer would be shocked like it had been mauled for the whole 78’ minutes, is so essential to any film enthusiast is because it synthetizes the whole sense of sorrow that lies beyond our contemporary age: The technology we build and use to simplify our lives are slowly making us addicted to them. To bring in an example, let’s just take one of the most (or so it seems) gratuitous scenes of Tetsuo when Tomoo, engaged in an erotic game with his girlfriend have an erection and suddenly his penis become a giant industrial drill. At first terrorized by his new “feature” Tomoo runs away but then the excitement takes his tool and he actually penetrates his girl with the “driller Penis” disemboweling her. This part can be read both as the desire of modern man to more virility, arriving to grotesque surgical operations for the erection and the dimension of the penis involving pumps and electric devices, and the Japanese obsession for sex toys (omnipresent in the Eastern pornographic world) that in some way are becoming a surrogate of his old, fleshy counterpart.
In synthesis Tetsuo is an extreme concentrate of the illness of the contemporary man who is being strangled by concrete and metal and must fight back before turning himself to iron and rust into the horrid utopia that Yatsu call the NEW WORLD. A synthesis that will be, in Shinya’s future works, better analyzed into a true “sickness of the modern world” encyclopedia of twelve flicks that will conclude (for now) with the third Tetsuo installment: The Bullet man.
By Marco de Lazzer