Tetsuo: The Iron Man
|Tetsuo: The Iron Man|
Original newspaper advertisement
|Directed by||Shinya Tsukamoto|
|Produced by||Shinya Tsukamoto|
|Written by||Shinya Tsukamoto|
|Music by||Chu Ishikawa|
|Edited by||Shinya Tsukamoto|
|Distributed by||Kaijyu Theatres|
Tetsuo: The Iron Man (鉄男 Tetsuo) is a 1989 Japanese cyberpunk horror film. It was written, produced, edited, and directed by cult-film director Shinya Tsukamoto, and produced by Japan Home Video. It is shot in the same low-budget, underground-production style as his first two films. Tetsuo established Tsukamoto internationally and created his worldwide cult following. It was followed by Body Hammer (1992) and The Bullet Man (2009).
The film opens with a man (called only "the man" (Yatsu) in the credits, or the "Metal Fetishist" in English[a]), cutting open a massive gash in his leg and then shoving a large threaded steel rod into the wound. Later, upon seeing maggots festering in the wound, he screams, runs out into the street, and is hit by a car. The driver of the car, a Japanese salaryman (Tomorowo Taguchi), and his girlfriend (Kei Fujiwara) try to cover up the mess by dumping the body into a ravine, but the dumped man gets revenge by forcing the salaryman's body to gradually metamorphose into a walking pile of scrap metal. This process starts when the salaryman finds a piece of metal stuck in his cheek while shaving. He tries to remove it, but realizes it is growing from the inside.
The scene cuts to the salaryman at his home having breakfast, with a bandage over his cheek. He receives a phone call, consisting of nothing but him and the other speaker (possibly his girlfriend) continuously saying "Hello?" to each other and flashing back to having sex after dumping the Metal Fetishist.
The first of several highly stylized chase scenes starts with the salaryman pursued through an underground train station by a woman whose body has been taken over by the Metal Fetishist as he is on his way to work. The salaryman seems to win this encounter by breaking the back of the radically transformed woman (she begins the sequence as a demure office worker and ends it as a wild metal-infected woman) after even more metal has erupted on his ankles and arm.
The next segment is a terrifying dream sequence where the salaryman's girlfriend, transformed into an exotic dancer with a snake-like metal probe, terrorizes and rapes the salaryman. After waking from this dream, the salaryman and his girlfriend have sex at his apartment and eat erotically. As she eats each bite given to her, he hears the sounds of metal scraping. The salaryman suddenly discovers his penis has mutated into a gargantuan power drill. A fight ensues where the salaryman terrorizes his girlfriend, and acquires more and more metal on his body. She fights back and in the end impales herself on his drill and dies.
Helpless to do anything, the salaryman, now the Iron Man, is visited by the Metal Fetishist, who emerges from the dead girlfriend's corpse to show him a vision of a "New World" of nothing but metal and turns his cats into grotesque metal creatures. This is where the film suggests a post-apocalyptic future. The Iron Man flees and is followed by the Metal Fetishist into an abandoned building. After the Metal Fetishist explains to the Iron Man how both of them became what they are, a final battle ensues. The Iron Man ends by attempting to rust/combine himself with the Fetishist and this merges both of them (in a hallucinatory rebirth sequence where the two are connected by a metal umbilical cord) into a two-headed metal monster. The two agree to turn the whole world into metal and rust it, scattering it into the dust of the universe by claiming "Our love can put an end to this fucking world. Let's Go!" The duo charges through the streets of Japan in a horrific fusion of the two men and the accumulated metal, in a largely phallic form. The film ends with the words "GAME OVER" as opposed to "The End" after the closing credits.
Tsukamoto had previously made two short films of similar subject matter, The Phantom of Regular Size (1986) and The Adventure of Denchu Kozo (1987), and their critical successes gave him the confidence to produce Tetsuo, all with money saved from his day job.
This was Tsukamoto's first movie shot on 16mm, all of his previous work having being done with Super 8 cameras. The camera work was split between Tsukamoto and Kei Fujiwara, both of whom also play the roles of major characters. (Fujiwara has since directed several of her own films.) It was shot in black and white with expressionistic lighting, as well as some stop motion animation shots to accomplish the special effects. Parts from discarded TVs were taped onto the actors' skin to create the effect of the body transforming. Tsukamoto chose these handmade methods because he couldn't afford to do it any other way.
Filmed over 18 months primarily in Fujiwara's apartment, by the end of the production most of the crew broke with Tsukamoto because the filming conditions were so difficult. In Tom Mes' book about the film he interviewed Tomorowo Taguchi, the actor who plays the Salaryman (the only member of cast and crew who didn't constantly live on set), who noted, "It was very tough so I quickly sensed that if you would stay with them all the time, you would inevitably get the urge to escape. So I figured that if I could keep some distance, I would be able to last much longer and keep a good relationship with them. It's true that almost every day I went there another crew member would have left. One day I arrived and the house and the lighting crew had gone, so I had to do the lighting for Tsukamoto's scenes myself. Toward the end, only the actors were still around. Nearly the entire crew had given up and left by then."  Tsukamoto later admitted he had considered burning the film's negative because the whole production had been such a bad experience.
The film struggled to find an audience until it was shown at the horror film festival Fantafestival in Rome in 1989 and received the award for best film. It was screened without subtitles because the filmmakers couldn't afford to add them. The domestic film rights belong to Japan Home Video, and the film was given a limited release theatrically in Japan at the Nakano Musashino Hall in 1989. It showed mostly in late-night screenings, but had packed audiences after the success at Fantafestival.
After this success it was given a limited release theatrically in the United States by Original Cinema in 1992. It was subsequently released on VHS by Fox Lorber. The film was released twice on DVD in the United States; by Image Entertainment in 1998 and by Tartan Video in 2005. The film was released on laserdisc in the United States by Image Entertainment in 1993. All releases are currently out of print.
Stephen Holden of the New York Times described the film as having "hyperkinetic pacing and wildly contorted acting" as well as "a perverse sense of humor", and concluded that "the appeal...should be limited to aficionados of weird genre films." Richard Harrington of the Washington Post wrote that the film is "as surreally weird as Eraserhead and as intense as a Novocainless tooth extraction", which causes it to have "a nightmarish hyper-reality about it, feeling like a cartoon, but more disturbing for not being one."
In the period before Tetsuo screened at Fantafestival, Japanese films had been ignored by international film festivals, but its success prompted a revival of Japanese independent film in the 1990s and the attention of an international audience.
- The name of this character is translated to “Metal Fetashist” in English subtitles, but in the original Japanese credits is listed only as “yatsu”, which translates to “guy”
- Mes, Tom (2005). Iron Man. The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto. FAB Press. ISBN 1-903254-36-1
- Newitz, Annalee. ""Tetsuo: The Iron Man" Gets A Crazy English Sequel - Sdcc". io9. Retrieved 2009-07-24.
- Mes, Tom; Sharp, Jasper (2005). The Midnight Eye guide to new Japanese film. Stone Bridge Press. ISBN 1880656892.
- Mes, Tom (2005). Iron Man. The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto. FAB Press. ISBN 1-903254-36-1, p 52.
- "Tetsuo". dvdempire.com. Retrieved 2011-04-08.
- "Tetsuo". dvdempire.com. Retrieved 2011-04-08.
- "Tetsuo:-The-Iron-Man". www.lddb.com. Retrieved 2018-05-04.
- "Tetsuo: The Ironman (1989) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes.com. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 20 October 2015.
- Holden, Stephen (22 April 1992). "Review/Film; Forgoing the Flesh For Metallic Pleasures". New York Times. Retrieved 10 July 2018.
- Harrington, Richard (24 July 1992). "'Tetsuo: The Iron Man' (NR)". Washington Post. Retrieved 10 July 2018.