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The Tetsuo Trilogy – Review

21 Oct

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.

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-metal-fetishist

 

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.

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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 ManBody 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!

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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.

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.

Tetsuo Bullet Man 7

 

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.

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Marebito – Review

11 May

Takashi Shimizu us not a name that should not be unknown since his achievement with the Japanese Ju-on series and his subsequent remakes with the American Grudge has earned him international success. Between the filming of his Japanese and American entries in the franchise, Shimuzu worked on a film that has received little to now recognition. That film is Marebito. This is a very different movie from Ju-on: The Grudge even though it seemed to have been marketed as a straightforward horror film.What Marebito actually is is a  twisted sort of technologic fairy tale that gets weirder and darker as the story progresses.

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Masuoka (Shinya Tsukamoto) is a freelance videographer who has recently become obsessed with capturing absolute fear. He soon becomes disappointed after he films a man committing suicide in a subway station, and since then no one has shown fear like that. In order to learn why this man was so scared, Masuoka returns to the subway station and finds that there are creatures called Deros that have been living there in a sort of mystical world with the subway station being the link between them. While exploring the area, Masuoka finds a woman chained to a cave whom he calls “F” (Tomomi Miyashita). Masuoka brings F home and observes her very carefully and learns that she has a less than sane way to feed. As Masuoka begins treating F like a beloved pet, he begins to hear warnings from mysterious beings and starts to question how much of what is happening to him is real and how much is just a twisted fantasy.

Marebito is a very strange movie, but definitely not something I was expecting. If you’re looking for a run of the mill ghost story, this isn’t really one of them and you might be disappointed. What this movie is is actually a pretty surreal ghost story that delves even deeper into the realm of psychological horror. There are ghosts and creatures in this movie, but they aren’t the main point of horror in this movie. The horror, itself, stems from the character of Masuoka and his obsessive desire to understand fear, which is creepy enough. But the means he works with to understand it and take care of F at the same time are more unsettling than any creature that is in this movie.

Marebito eat

I really did enjoy the more surrealistic things that happened in this movie. It was sort of a pleasant. It took some getting used to at first, but once I started figuring out what the movie was all about, I started to get into it a lot more. The way Takashi Shimizu uses technology in this is creepy in that sort of “found on Youtube” kind of way. There are a lot of unsettling images that are made even more creepy by the grainy look of the video that Masuoka is filming on. Shinya Tsukamoto and Tomomi Miyashita are both really good in this, equally playing off each other in one of the strangest onscreen connections I’ve seen.

While this was a good movie, there are faults to it that really  make me groan just thinking about it. First of all, I was buying all of the strangeness while Masuoka was exploring the depths of the subway. It was creepy and atmospheric, but then something happens that really made me questions just what the hell I was watching. Anyone who has seen this movie must know what I mean. The creepy atmosphere is completely abandoned for something that makes no sense at all. Also, I feel like the story would have worked better if this was a half hour short film. As a short film, Marebito would have been perfect. I could rewatch this movie and make significant notes on what could be cut or trimmed in order to make this an excellent short.

Marebito is a pretty cool horror film that deserves a bit more attention than it has actually gotten. Sure, this movie doesn’t reach the heights that Shimizu set with his other works in the Ju-on series, but this movie does raise a couple of good points and also achieves a creepy atmosphere that is maintained in most parts of the movie. Don’t go into Marebito expecting jump scares and spooky ghosts. Go into it expecting an unsettling examination of a man’s psychological breakdown. This is a good movie, but with some cuts and trims, it could have been an excellent short film.