Tetsuo: The Iron Man - Collector's Edition (1988)

Cynthia Fuchs

It's porn of a particular sort, less arousing than hideous, but improbably, grimly titillating all the same.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man - Collector's Edition

Director: Shinya Tsukamoto
Cast: Tomoro Taguchi, Kei Fujiwara, Nobu Kanaoka, Renji Ishibashi, Naomasa Musaka, Shinya Tsukamoto
Distributor: Tartan
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Original Cinema
First date: 1988
US DVD Release Date: 2005-07-19
Amazon affiliate
You want a taste of my sewage pipe?
-- Tetsuo (Tomoro Taguchi), Tetsuo: The Iron Man

It's hard to overstate the stunning effect of Shinya Tsukamoto's breakout feature. In 1988, Tetsuo: The Iron Man boomed onto movie screens, delivering an extraordinary new vision. Equal parts post-industrial nightmare, post-Godzilla tragedy, and post-cyborg fantasy, the movie is all about limits even as it busts through previous concepts of narrative and human-machine "relations."

Now available as a Collector's Edition from Tartan (which only means a sharp print, "notes," and trailers), Tetsuo from its first moments seduces and appalls. As the camera follows behind a young man, the so-called Metal Fetishist (Tsukamoto), he searches through a junkyard for a "fix," that is, metal that he will inject directly into his body. The frame is handheld, sometimes too close to read, eventually all too clear, as the shot plunges into the leg flesh and blood spurts up into the lens. Delirious, the camera shows a series of athletes' pictures, the human machine as harmony, the ideal this injection can't begin to provide. Lights, blackness, pause. Cut back to wound, maggots, and a panicky run into the street, only to be hit by a mocking sax soundtrack and a car.

Tetsuo is immediately more like a ride than a movie. Story details are hazy: following this "hit-and-run accident," the driver, Tetsuo (Tomoro Taguchi) transforms from button-down-shirted salaryman to iron man, his shift revealed in a series of horrific gurgles, sweats, and oozes. Shaving, he peers into the mirror to see that his cheek has been penetrated -- from the inside out -- by a metal pin, protruding, bleeding, alarming. His eyes go wide, and then he's back to business, at the kitchen table, reading the newspaper, breathing lovey nonsense on the phone with his girlfriend (Kei Fujiwara) while recalling heated sex with her.

When Tetsuo tries to maintain his routine, boarding the train for work, he's suddenly faced with another version of the disease he doesn't yet know he has, a zombie-metal-monster, a woman contorted and spastic, chasing him deeper and deeper beneath the train station. He runs, clutching his briefcase, but space is not traversable. She persists, screaming, shaking, her metalizing arm a weapon and an emblem. He can't escape. She's only him, soon.

Within minutes, then, Tetsuo's own form is hurtling into transition, writhing, penetrated, and twisted, his body punctured, bloodied, burned, ripped, exploded, spun, split, broken, and contorted until distinctions between metal and flesh are lost. At the same time, the film cuts repeatedly and not so coherently to shots of Metal Fetishist, trapped inside a crumpled car. This following the car running into Tetsuo, who's "infected" with some kind of metal "virus," a result of his shooting it into himself in an earlier moment, or the car slam. Metal Fetishist, as he appears in these cutaways, may be an unfixed aftermath of that accident, abandoned by the frightened, sex-enthralled Tetsuo and his girlfriend. A third term who will come to dominate Tetsuo's self-understanding, Metal Fetishist crouches in the wreck, viewed from peepy angles and remarked in a later flashback -- or forward, as time is a mess here -- that shows Tetsuo and the girlfriend having sex against a tree, when she notes, "He's watching us!"

The question is, who's watching whom? And at what cost, for object or voyeur? And where do you situate yourself, in this onslaught of images? It might also be that Metal Fetishist is dead, as is Tetsuo, and their merging is a subjective state, as well as what seems the obvious assessment of post-industrial consumer culture, where material and self are both amalgamated and irreconcilable. And so Metal Fetishist might be a memory (or metaphor), lurking, spoiling, digging into Tetsuo's consciousness, and yours. However you might read him, he's a function of pain, a visceral incarnation of psychic and spiritual self-destruction, an image of contemporary experience turned inside out. He and Tetsuo merge to embody the city, impulsive, implosive, and impossible.

Tetsuo's own mental-bodily changes parallel or draw from Metal Fetishist's seeming death. At first, he responds to the nuts and wires popping through his skin with appropriate-seeming disgust and anguish. But the change seems also to affect his sense of -- for lack of a better term -- manhood. He comes at his girlfriend wet and gooey, in a freaky desirous frenzy. At first, this seems to be a passionate collision of bodies, slamming through the kitchen, moaning and dripping, engaged in a kind of killer sex. Soon, though, the tone soon turns ominously splattery, as Tetsuo's penis becomes a giant drill, which he wields like a weapon, threatening and then driving through the girlfriend, even as she screams in terror, trying to escape.

It's porn of a particular sort, less arousing than hideous, but improbably, grimly titillating all the same. At once gorgeously stark (shot in 16mm black-and-white, blown into grainy detail in this digital translation). Though his work has frequently been compared to that of David Cronenberg and David Lynch, also masters of body horror, Tsukamoto is that rare thing -- an utter original. The rhythms of this 67-minute film are abrupt and chaotic, grinding, this underlined by Chu Ishikawa's percussive score. As Tetsuo and Metal Fetishist become each other, their connection at once erotic, empowering, and vile. As Iron Man comes to understand himself as product, irrevocable and apocalyptic, he also learns that his "horrible body" is forever.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.