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Tartan Video presents
"I'm being punished. That must be it."
DVD ReviewThere are few films that can equal David Lynch's Eraserhead for disturbing imagery and sheer audaciousness. But Shinya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo: The Iron Man is certainly in that territory. Another film that uses the cheap qualities of black and white film to excellent effect, Tetsuo has a visceral nightmarish quality that is haunting even in its perplexity. Its fascination with biomechanics echoes the interests of artist H.R. Giger and its central thesis of the metamorphosis of the body recalls the work of David Cronenberg, especially Videodrome with its fleshy mechanicals and metal-intrigued protagonists.
An unnamed salaryman (Tomorowo Taguchi) and his girlfriend (Kei Fujiwara), speeding along a road in an industrial area, hit a man (Tsukamoto) and then make love while he lies dying. Unfortunately for them, the victim was a metal fetishist who surgically implants rusty metal into his body. Soon the salaryman finds bits of metal erupting from his skin, alternately attracting and repelling his girlfriend as the metals begin to take over his body. Is it divine retribution? Hallucinatory guilt? Or something else altogether?
Driven by hyperkinetic cutting, wildly vibrating handheld camera work and a pounding industrial score by Chu Ishikawa (alternating with a lusty blues sax), Tetsuo is a fascinating piece of work that, like its central fetishist, is alternately fascinating and repellent. Mired in a post-industrial landscape, the fetishist seems to follow his interest naturally from the rusting metal that surrounds him, but the organic is also triumphant over him as the areas that he implants the metal become infested with maggots. It is this realization that sends him out in front of the salaryman's car and sets things in motion.
The picture is a festival of psychosexual derangement, with elements of hentai (one of the first transformations to afflict the salaryman is the eruption of a new phallus in the form of a massive rotating drill), castration anxieties, disease and corruption. Many sequences feel hallucinatory: characters die and come back to life, and nearly everyone morphs into the fetishist at one point or another. The metal growths alter in their nature and severity from scene to scene, which could be sloppy continuity or a manifestation of the dream world that the hero inhabits. At times the metal growths seem to be viral in nature, since they afflict a woman in glasses (Nobu Kanaoka) who sits on a bench next to the salaryman, leading to a horrific evolution and a chase of the salaryman through the subways. In one particularly nasty sequence, his girlfriend grows a long metal hose which she uses to rape him. The inclusion of a doctor giving an alternate explanation for everything may be the key to the film, or it could just be another in the set of hallucinations as the salaryman struggles for a rationalization.
Ray Harryhausen in a recent dOc interview noted that stop-motion animation can lend a nightmarish quality to film, since it looks real but unreal at the same time. Tsukamoto puts that aspect to good use here, with stop-motion wires writhing about, metal wrapping itself around characters and creating various other distortions of reality that give a definite dreamlike character to the proceedings. The fetishist is also wrapped in a foamlike cocoon at one point, also through the magic of stop-motion, setting up the metamorphosis to the next stage of being. With hardly any dialogue, it's virtually a silent film for most of its running time, making another connection of past technology to future nightmares. The gore is extreme, the sexuality perverse and the violence brutal: in short, everything one could ask of a Japanese cult film. Highly recommended for a select audience.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: The original full frame image (of what appears to be 16mm film) looks acceptable for the most part, with the softness inherent in the source material. No particular effort seems to have been made to digitally enhance or sharpen the picture, thankfully. The source print is in fine condition. The greyscales are a bit limited in places due to what seems to be very harsh lighting for effect. Overall, however, the film looks fine for what it is, and such grungy subject material doesn't demand a perfect picture in any event.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: Three different Japanese audio tracks are provided, with the original mono, plus two pounding DD and DTS 5.1 mixes. The latter are really an immersive way to get into this film, which uses quite a lot of LFE for its impact. The audiois raucous, percussive and clanging for the most part, and the sax interludes have a nice vibrancy and immediacy that's startling.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Tetsuo II: Body Hammer, A Snake of June, Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsA wildly imaginative and disturbing psychosexual extravaganza that should be a cult favorite everywhere. Definitely not for everyone.
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