Director: Shinya Tsukamoto
Starring: Tomorowo Taguchi, Kei Fujwara, Nobu Janaoka, Shinya Tsukamoto, Naomasa Musaka
Director Shinya Tsukamoto wanted to show the way industrialisation had affected Tokyo. Gone were the green areas he had grown up with, replaced by skyscrapers and the modern metropolis. Financing the entire project with savings from his day job, Tsukamoto wrote, directed and edited Tetsuo: The Iron Main, a horrific body-horror film that utilises stop motion and gory effects to present a world of metal.
The film starts with a man, who is listed in the credits as ‘Metal Fetishist’, he opens his leg up with a blade, shoves a metal rod into the wound and then wraps it up. After seeing his own rotting flesh covered in maggots, he runs out into the street only to be run down by a car. The film then moves to a salaryman, who spots a piece of metal when he is shaving sticking out of his face, when he touches it blood spurts out. He’s then chased by a woman who is combined with metal, who attacks him and slowly the salary man becomes the titled iron man. It was him and his girlfriend who hit the man at the beginning, and the Metal Fetishist is back to get his revenge.
Tetsuo feels like a David Lynch film that’s been combined with a David Cronenberg one. It’s shot in grainy black and white, filled with abstract moments of gruesome body horror and mutilation. There is a dreamlike quality to most of the scenes, meaning you can never tell what is actually happening and what is a dream.
The loud industrial soundtrack assaults you from start to finish. The majority of the score is comprised of machinery and buzz saws, flowing together with the striking images to make a hypnotising experience that you can’t stop watching. Combining the loud music with the aggressive close-up shots, stop motion animation and fast moving chase sequences, Tetsuo is a gripping and horrific film.
The plot is thin, with the short running time focusing on the abstract and striking images that will haunt you after the film has finished. The final product is gruesome and full of sickening images, making even the most avid horror fan feel queasy.
Tetsuo is a masterpiece of small-budget films. When it was first released in 1989, it was at a film festival in Rome, there wasn’t even enough money to add subtitles. Not that it matters, there isn’t much dialogue, and you can piece together what is happening just by what’s happening on screen.
For the small production crew, the eighteen months this took to film took its toll, with some of them leaving before the production was finished. A lot of the scenes take place in an apartment, which was actually the director’s. The crew lived on the set for a lot of the time, slowly piecing together the film in a way that’s very reminiscent of the slow production on Lynch’s Eraserhead. When the film was finally finished Tsukamoto even contemplated destroying the print, after the nightmarish production.
Tetsuo is filled with memorable, striking images and haunting sequences. The effects and prosthetics are stomach-churningly good. The story is thin, but what you are left with is an aggressive assault on your senses that will stay with you for a long time.