Friday, 19 October 2012

Tetsuo: The Iron Man, and Tetsuo II: Body Hammer, reviewed

What I remembered of Shinya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo: The Iron Man, when I first saw it in the big screen sometime during the 1980s, was the frenzied and high contrast imagery, rather than the story itself, rather minimalist: a man, a lowly pawn in the economic and social order in post-war Japan, becomes an iron cyborg, the voyeuristic camera gazing at his despair as the transformation of his body takes place. A kind of alchemist transmutation of lowly, rusting, and discarded iron, into something else, into a kind of cyber cyclop, a process being guided by an iron fetishist he ran over when going out for a ride with his girlfriend, on what was termed, at the time, cyber-punk.

Undoubtedly, the anarchist anti-establishment ethos of the film, reflected on the visual craziness, is akin to punk in its frenzied imagery, dislocated juxtapositions of extremely short abstract takes piled one of top of the previous one, merging into each other at other times, a frenetic clash of human flesh and scrap metal, the opening scene being dramatically brutal, scenes populated by cyber zombies, a recurrent image of transmuting iron worms acting as a kind of leitmotif across both films being particularly effective in portraying the sensual nature of decaying scrap metal, made alive by this process of transformation. The soundtrack is also rather memorable, adding to this feeling of brutaleroticism with its torrent of industrial sequence of sounds, punctuating the torrent of images invading our eyes.

The fact that it was shot on black and white 16 mm film stock on a low budget, as an afterthought , following the success of an underground theatrical performance, also written and directed by Shinya Tsukamoto, adds to the aura of transgression surrounding it, which made Tetsuo: The Iron Man a cult film residing in the outer regions of cinema, hence this release on DVD and Blu-ray formats under the third window films label, together with Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (which is not, really, its sequel, but a different treatment of the subject), a digitization process done under the careful eyes of Shinya Tsukamoto. While on the interview contained in this release, Tsukamoto does not confronts the political undertones of Tetsuo, implicit in the label of punk, he does, indirectly, refers to it, as he repeatedly mentions of his work at the time in an ads agency, and the nature of the first appearance of Tetsuo as an underground play.

What most impressed me of both films, but particularly on The Iron Man, is the beast-like baroque sensuality and eroticism imbued in this aesthetic of scrap metal and raw flesh, allusions to rusting iron hinting at not only the hardness of a male industrial fetishism, a kind of cyber-porn rather than cyber-punk, the scene of the drilling iron penis sported by the “salaried” man, aimed at his spooked girlfriend, is probably one of the most memorable sequences in cinema in its horrendously erotic bestial beauty, a metaphor for the inner brutality of a certain kind of male psyche; but also to the industrial decay of abandoned warehouses and factories, dark, scary underpasses, the harsh environments of urban railways, and roof tops of faceless skyscrapers (in Body Hammer) that store the countless pawns that make a contemporary industrial society tick.

By acts of obsessed will, on both films, the scrap iron littering this decaying landscape is slowly transformed into cybernetic cyclops, encompassing and absorbing several individuals (particularly in Body Hammer), massive and near pornographic cyborgs in their aggressive maleness, bent on taking on the world, cyborgs of apocalypse unleashed onto the quiet streets of suburbia, and onto the greyness of industry.

Women's roles on both films are subservient to the brutal aggressive and predatory maleness of their partners, of which they are not aware until it is too late to step back, a situation savagely alluded in the scene of the exploding child on a roof top in Body Hammer. In this sense, women prove to be incapable of arresting this transformation of their partners, fuelled by a visceral will of destruction and revenge.

This will is the trait that unify both films. It does not matter if they succeed, what is important is that process of transmuting the materials that litter the edges of a contemporary industrial society, either rusting iron, or lowly cannon fodder, men and women that no one sees, into a powerful force that challenges that society, that established order.

The bestial beauty of destruction...

And, perhaps, of creation...

Both Tetsuo films are part of a tradition of horror/science fiction genre, although with a rather raw DIY quality, acquiring a kind of visceral realism, which differs from the more polished mainstream cinema offerings. I found The Iron Man, the original Tetsuo film, to be the strongest one of the two, precisely because its story line is bare, having been reduced to its essential core. Body Hammer makes too many nods to mainstream cinema in its plot, such as the mad scientist, the criminal underground organization, the gangster-like characters, and the flashbacks to childhood traumas. Déjà vu. I presume the introduction of these elements was to make Tetsuo II a better box office proposition.

Cyber -punk, or cyber-porn, transgressive, and ultimately subversive, both Tetsuo became cult films, yet neutralized by mainstream culture by the act of pushing them into that box.

Tetsuo: Thee Iron Man / Tetsuo II: Body Hammer, are out in a 2 disc DVD and Blu-ray sets in Britain, under the third window films label.

(cert 18)

A film by Shinya Tsukamoto (Kotoko, Snake of June, Vital)

Two of the most talked-about Japanese cult films of all time makes their way onto a double-disc blu-ray set for the first time in the world with a brand new high definition transfer supervised by Shinya Tsukamoto!

This 2 disc blu-ray and DVD set will include a brand new exclusive interview with Shinya Tsukamoto as well as the first English-subtitled release in the world of his 45 minute pre-Tetsuo student film ‘The Adventures of Electric Rod Boy’ which has also been remastered

The release will feature both a slipcase as well as a reversible sleeve so fans can choose whether they’d rather have an image from Tetsuo I or II on the front of their box.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man - Japan / 1989 / 67 Mins / In Japanese with English subtitles / B&W / 16mm

Tetsuo II: Body Hammer – Japan / 1992 / 83 minutes / In Japanese with English subtitles / Colour / 16mm

DVD/BLU-RAY Special Features:

New High Definition Transfer supervised by Shinya Tsukamoto
Exclusive interview with Shinya Tsukamoto
'The Adventures of Electric Rod Boy' - Shinya Tsukamoto's early film
New UK Trailer
Japanese Theatrical Trailers for both Tetsuo I & II

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