Killtoberfest 1 – #30: Tetsuo: The Iron Man

In All, Movies by Kyu

What screenshot will I choose for this one? Will it be a picture of NO OF COURSE IT MUST BE DRILL DICK


Today’s Killtoberfest entry, Tetsuo: The Iron Man, is one of those movies you hear about in the same breath as Eraserhead and Videodrome, films whose insanity and extremity make having seen them something of a badge of honor. I first heard of it in high school, where it was described to as “mostly just a man screaming in pain and turning into metal.” You can imagine the expectations that built up over the years. Well, it did not disappoint.

Tetsuo is the most Japanese movie I have ever seen, and I have seen House. The story is almost impossible to discern without reading the Wikipedia page (which I did between my first and second viewings), but that doesn’t matter. Like a David Lynch movie, it’s not about what it’s about, it’s about how it’s about. The movie may contain a narrative, but the point of the movie is the experience of watching it.

It starts with a man waking up to shave and finding a little piece of metal embedded in his cheek. Later he sits next to a woman while waiting for the subway; her arm grows into a messy metal and wire contraption and when he runs, she chases. Next there’s one of the craziest rape/sex/? scenes ever put on film. Later he will fight a sweaty, cackling homeless man with Magneto powers. And so on and so forth over the course of an endurance-test hour of people shrieking, metal scraping, and cartoonish/gory violence.

Filmically, Tetsuo is a hodge-podge of zero-budget techniques and creative solutions. The black and white was probably done for cost purposes, but helps to situate the movie in its own reality. It also flattens the mass of cords, pipes, bars, and other metal bits that make up the movie’s deranged costume/makeup/set designs as people become subsumed by metal and wire. Much of the action is stop-motion animated (it must have been excruciating to film), and the acting is a fever-pitch ordeal, particularly the lead, who does indeed scream, groan, and shudder his way through the film. The editing is hallucinatory, or perhaps the film is just so non-literal that conventional editing choices seem irrational. Flashbacks are explored through static-y television screens. Visions intrude of spiritual/technological interiority. Metal sweats and bends and bleeds.

Made in 1989, Tetsuo plays like a cyberpunk nightmare about sex, guilt, class, and the continuing encroachment of technology into everyday life. Rape, martial arts and body horror: this is how Japan works through its issues. At its heart, it’s a super traditional ghost story, not too far removed from The Ring, except of course in terms of technique. But the message is the same… that the technology we create to serve our needs, the machines we allow to access our minds and bodies, can also be turned against us, and by then it is too late to escape.

I won’t say you have to see this; but if you’re really interested in movies you should be exploring the edge of what is possible. Take half of the time you were going spend on Thor 2 or whatever and go get your mind blown instead.