Tetsuo: The Iron Man

by Patrick King

Three words immediately came to mind as I dove into the Japanese art-house thriller, Tetsuo: The Iron Man.

Those three words were "Ow, my brain."

This is a film for a very specific audience, and while I think my fiancée enjoyed it somewhat, it really wasn't my cup of tea.

Allow me to let you know where I'm coming from. I'm extremely open-minded when it comes to cinema. I can say with a straight face that both Army of Darkness and Sense and Sensibility are two of the best films that I've ever seen, and I'm familiar with the works of directors such as David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick. I've seen Eraserhead, and while it's not one of my favorite flicks, I can see its merits.

Likewise with Tetsuo, which from my perspective shares quite a bit of its visual themes with the aforementioned indie Lynch production.

Tetsuo was filmed in black and white, and essentially, it tells the story of a salaryman (no real names are used in the film) who gradually and frightfully mutates into a machine. There's far more to the plot, of course, but part of the enjoyment from films such as this comes from following the tale as it is revealed.

The storyline twists and turns in unpredictable ways, and both situational and dramatic irony abound. Tetsuo offers a very intelligent commentary on the relationship that mankind has with his technology. Indeed, Tsukamoto's (the film's writer/director/actor/special effects engineer) message is conveyed using a very unique, even visionary style.

I enjoyed the way that Tsukamoto depicted the salaryman's transformation in all of its grotesque glory. This is not a movie to watch while eating a pizza, for even though it's in black and white, there is enough squishy goodness to make everyone who isn't a doctor at least a little squeamish.

Maybe that's why Lauren liked it more than me.

Chu Ishikawa's original score for the film is almost as unsettling as the gooey imagery used throughout the film, and it was especially disturbing in surround sound.

The technical specifications for the film are surprisingly robust, with a Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 mix, the original mono soundtrack, and the original 1.33:1 widescreen presentation ratio all included on the DVD.

Tetsuo is in Japanese with English subtitles, but there are only 10 or 12 lines of dialogue, so it's easy to focus on the screen and not spend too much time reading text.

Again, this isn't a film for everyone, but fans of alternative cinema should enjoy it thoroughly. It is a very well-made movie with a solid plot and valid theme; it's just not something that I think that I'll want to watch repeatedly. It's really nice to see this sort of stuff coming out over here, however. I've been exposed to all sorts of odd non-mainstream cinema, but I don't think I've ever seen a film this unique before. At the very least, it was a worthy experience, if not my favorite film to see. Check it out, if you're curious.

About This Item

  • Tetsuo: The Iron Man

  • Format:
    Live-Action DVD / 67 min.
  • Production:
    Tartan Asia Extreme / Shinya Tsukamoto
  • Rating:

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