I’d feel pretty comfortable making the assumption that not many people know who Shin’ya Tsukomoto is, and I was one of those people up until last week when I started watching his Tetsuo films. He’s actually a cult Japanese film maker with a pretty sizable following. I then realized that he was actually the star in a movie that I recently reviewed, Marebito, but now I got to see his film making talents in full swing. I gotta say, much to my surprise, I’m not really that impressed. These movies were more of a chore than anything else, and I really wanted to like them considering the underground following that they have and especially concerning what seemed to inspire these films.
In 1989, the best film in the trilogy was released, even though how it was made is much more impressive. That film is Tetsuo: The Iron Man.
In what can only be described as a very strange morning, a Japanese businessman (Tomorowo Taguchi) and his girlfriend (Kei Fujiwara) end up hitting a character known as the Metal Fetishist (Shin’ya Tsukomoto) with their car and fleeing the scene to dump the body. What happens next defies all logic. The businessman starts to morph into a being made entirely of scrap metal, an event which has consequences that are often fatal. It turns out that the Fetishist is all but dead, and has returned to enact his revenge in the only way that he deems fit.
This is a very short film, only clocking in at a little over an hour, which seemed odd to me before I watched it and had any idea what the movie was like. Now that I’ve seen it, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, I wish it was shorter. This is a surreal trip down a junkyard, cyber-punk rabbit hole that only gets odder as it goes along. I’ve seen this film compared to the early works of David Lynch (Eraserhead immediately comes to mind) and the body horror that is so familiar in David Cronenberg’s work. I think this is a spot on comparison and is what makes this movie successful. By the 45 minute mark, however, it was all wearing a little thin. Still, that’s the only thing that is wrong with this film.
Tetsuo: The Iron Man is a very impressive film, especially considering that Tsukomoto wrote, produced, directed, had an acting part, and designed the effects all by himself. He also worked on the cinematography with Fujiwara, who plays the girlfriend. This is a really cool film with excellent special effects that shows what marvels can be done without CGI. It’s a bit too long considering how kinetic it is, but it’s still worth a watch, but for film fanatics only.
Tsukomoto couldn’t leave this movie alone, however, and released a retelling of the story with his 1992 film Tetsuo II: Body Hammer.
Taniguchi Tomoo (Tomorowo Taguchi again) is a man with a dark and mysterious past, but has still found happiness with his wife and child. One day a group of skin heads abduct his child, and in the process of trying to get him back, Taniguchi accidentally kills him…with a giant gun that grows from his body. This horrifies his wife and he is soon kidnapped by Yatsu (Shin’ya Tsukomoto also again). Yatsu’s plan is to use that power that Taniguchi has to make an army of cyborg skinheads and exact revenge of his own.
So once again, the story here is all sorts of odd, but it worked so much better in The Iron Man. Body Hammer is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the absolute worst movies I have ever seen. So much so that I cheated to get through it. I skipped certain scenes because they were damn near unwatchable. The production values are obviously higher and the movie may be in color, but it is still just a rehashing of something that was really cool and is now made stupid. The only redeeming thing about Body Hammer is the special effects, but unfortunately THE MOVIE IS SO GOD DAMN DARK, I CAN’T EVEN SEE ANYTHING!
I really couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t believe it. This movie is such trash compared to the first film. Adding a story didn’t make it cooler, nor did the better special effects…well the ones I could see anyway. Another thing that didn’t help was the fact that the movie seemed to be monochromatic even though it’s color. The entire film was just a mushing of blues and grays, none 0f which looks exactly good. I understand, this is supposed to be industrial, but that doesn’t excuse how horrible this movie looks. Any fan of the first one should stay away from Body Hammer because you’re sure to be disappointed.
But still, STILL, Tsukomoto couldn’t resist make yet another Tetsuo movie. In 2009 he released the third film in the trilogy called Tetsuo: The Bullet Man.
Anthony (Eric Bossick) is walking with his son one day when the Metal Fetishist (Shin’ya Tsukomoto yet again!) runs over his little boy. This triggers an odd (or not so odd at this point) reaction for Anthony who begins to turn into a metallic man (shocker!). Soon, Anthony begins to learn how he has android DNA which he got from his mother who died of cancer some years before, but was never told by his father. He begins to accept what he has become and tries to control it so he can get revenge on the Fetishist who killed his son and changed his life.
By the time I watched The Bullet Man, I was so sick of this trilogy and the rehashing of the same story over and over again. Doing that once with Body Hammer was one thing, although it was a failure, but doing it again with The Bullet Man is just annoying. Still, I did have a better time with this one than I did with its predecessor. The story is complete ludicrous, as usual, and the acting is also really subpar. What got me was that I could at least see what was going on, and unlike the other two, there was characterization in this one. The action was also pretty cool, even though Tsukomoto went kind of crazy with the crazy camerawork. Major points off for that one.
Much like the other films, the special effects are what really make The Bullet Man anywhere near cool. This is a pretty terrible movie, but it’s almost so bad it’s good. I may be in the minority with this opinion, but I’d much prefer this one over the second one. This one has some really kinetic action and some repulsively bad writing and acting. While this isn’t as shitty as the second one, it’s still a big steaming pile if you catch my drift.
Well, there’s what I think of the Tetsuo Trilogy. As you can see I am not impressed. The first film is the only one that remotely impressed me and the second and third are just dumb. If anyone has any interest in Tsukomoto’s work with this trilogy, limit yourselves to the first one. For your own sake.