Tetsuo: The Iron Man

18 05 2010

Some films are safely quirky, such as Little Miss Sunshine or Juno. Some films are odd or slightly disturbing, such as Brazil. Then there’s the nightmarish territory of Eraserhead, Videodrome and Tetsuo: the Iron Man, where plausibility gives way to perverse streams of consciousness.

So let’s get the David Lynch and David Cronenberg comparisons out of the way. Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: the Iron Man shares a stark, black-and-white surrealist aesthetic with Lynch’s earlier work, as well as the body-horror theme that pervades every film of Cronenberg’s. But Tsukamoto’s approach is rooted more deeply in the cyberpunk genre, where technology consumes, devours and dehumanises, and his hyper-kinetic editing gives a whole different tone to this tale of man versus machine.

The plot is hard to describe without sounding insane. In short, a man runs into a metal fetishist with his car, and soon he himself begins transforming into a man-machine hybrid. But that’s only the start…

Between the protagonist being anally raped by a crazed she-demon with a long, metallic hose attached to her crotch, the large drill-bit that is his own transformed penis, the prolonged sex scenes that merge eroticism and horror and the final images of humans melded together in agony and ecstasy, Tetsuo uses metal as a kind of sexual metaphor. Is this strange montage of grotesqueries a cinematic primal scream, where sexual repression in a technologically advanced society finally bursts forth? Is it a visual depiction of the loss of identity experienced in the face of an all-pervading audio-visual bombardment? Who’s to say?

In any case, Tetsuo is undeniably captivating, but the jittery, manic editing comes at a price: the use of accelerating film speeds and quick cuts is almost unbearable by the end, where the novelty has long since worn off and sensory overload is starting to kick-in.

This is the work of an artist with a clear vision and vivid imagination, and the result is powerful. One viewing, however, is more than enough.

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