Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

A man slowly turns into a metal/man hybrid after killing The Metal Fetishist. His life changes at an alarming rate and so does he.

This piece of Japanese weirdness was written and directed by Shin’ya Tsukamoto almost 30 years ago and it still maintains its shock and awe. The film has a fairly simply story at its basis but is constructed and directed in such a way that it’s dizzying and purposefully messes with its viewer’s angle on it. The film is somewhat hard to follow but that’s part of how it works in the end. It is messed up and messes the viewer up. It’s one of those oddities that don’t feel like it was made just for the shock or just to disturb, but it still achieves both with flying colors. The way Shin’ya Tsukamoto tells this story is masterful yet filled with lunacy.

The acting in this film feels odd but that is in perfect harmony with the writing and development of the story. The cast is led by Kei Fujiwara as this overworked businessman who slowly turns into a metal being. His character is the center of the story and everything hinges on him, so his performance is tantamount to the film’s narrative working out and he delivers the right level of insanity, lunacy, and wtf-ness. His acting along with everyone else’s in the film feels a bit exaggerated at times but it all makes sense for some reason.

Kei Fujiwara was very involved in this production as he wore more than one hat. Hand in hand with director Shin’ya Tsukamoto, he did the cinematography which adds even more chaos to the film than what is already there. The images come fast and are edited by, again, Shin’ya Tsukamoto in a way that creates chaos, uncertainty, and a feeling of disorientation. Oftentimes, this would be more than annoying but here it works. It works because of the story and the content of the film and because everything works together to create the insanity put to the screen.

The music in Tetsuo, The Iron Man is by Chu Ishikawa and adds even more to the total chaos with sounds that are sometimes screeching, sometimes softer, and creates an audio guide the mayhem on screen. This paired with the sound design just makes the film something to behold on many levels and particularly on an audio-visual level.

Last but not least, the special effects. As the lead character turns into a metal being, the special effects which look to be entirely practical, just ramp up and up with each transformation, each addition to his metal being. These effects are clearly low-budget but they work well and have aged fairly well. Considering when this was made, what looks to be a low budget, and the craziness of what is needed, they show talent and a taste for creative use of applications and tools.

Tetsuo, The Iron Man is one of those completely insane, yet enjoyable (?) films that seem to be the precursor to many other insane Japanese horror films that came since 1989. It’s an important watch to see where things came from, what inspired a generation of filmmakers still working today. Of course, it’s not the very first, but it’s an important film in Japanese horror. The bizarre yet simple story is effectively put to screen with actors going the extra mile and special effect that look great, even now. The film uses black and white in a great way, creating stark images and a world of its own where growing metal parts makes sense. The imagery is interesting and causes one to think. The way the film tackles themes of evolution, punishment, adaptation, and survival mixes in a mesmerizing way with the visual assault of images, effects, and sounds to create a film that is both odd and fascinating to watch.