Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

“Together, we can turn this fucking world to rust!”

‘Tetsuo: The Iron Man’, directed by Shinya Tsukamoto in 1989, is a low budget Japanese horror movie. The film is sparing with dialogue and exposition and the characters don’t have names. The main character, a metal fetishist with a penchant for inserting steel rods into his body, is knocked down by a businessman and his girlfriend. The man gets his revenge on the businessman, effectively by ‘cursing’ him so that his body slowly begins to turn into scrap metal. There follows a series of surreal and disturbing encounters between the three characters, most of a sexual or fetishistic nature, and ends with the two male characters merging into a phallic mass of twisted steel. It’s an uncomfortable film – the lack of dialogue or explanation gives it an abstract and alienating feel whilst the visceral effects and the heightened erotic imagery ratchet up the horror. The main thing I gained from watching this was the feeling I was someone witnessing (as, annoyingly, I’ve just noticed on the poster) a condensed amalgamation of David Cronenberg and David Lynch, and in fact it is clear that Tsukamoto’s film owes a debt to the techno-sexual themes of Cronenberg’s ‘Crash’ and the aesthetics of Lynch’s ‘Eraserhead’. For all its uncomfortable imagery and lack of plot, ‘Tetsuo: The Iron Man’ does inspire some interesting, and, for its time, advanced, questions about the encroachment of technology into biology and the threat of pollution. The effects (a mixture of stop-motion and models) are primitive, but strangely compelling adding to the curious hybrid of cyberpunk with the traditional Japanese monster movie. I wouldn’t watch it twice, and I’m not drawn to the sequels, but it’s certainly stuck with me.

Would I recommend it? Yes – but only if you have a strong stomach and only watch it once. It would make an interesting double bill with ‘Akira’ or perhaps even ‘Eraserhead’.

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