Tetsuo: The Iron Man


Director: Shinya Tsukamoto

Starring: Tomoro Taguchi, Kei Fujiwara, Nobu Kanaoka, Shinya Tsukamoto, Naomasa Musaka

Words – Christian Abbott

Your future is metal!

This line hits two-thirds into the film, and after a series of deliriously disturbing sequences, you believe it.

It’s hard to grasp Tetsuo, it is as timeless as it is grotesque, and both those elements are used purposefully and knowingly. Like a controlled burn, its impact is chaotic yet assured, targeting and deadly, and totally unforgettable.
Released in 1989, the film was shot using a 16mm camera, producing a timeless quality – it creates an air of mystery, as though we have stumbled upon this footage and shouldn’t really be seeing it. The shaky, environmentally aware camera adds to this; released today, it would pass as a handheld film.

For those unfamiliar, you’d be mistaken in thinking this was shot in the sixties, only to find yourself corrected almost immediately as a man drives a metal rod into his leg, falls asleep, and awakens with maggots crawling all over him. Shocking? Absolutely, and this is just the beginning.
The mix of grimy realism and crazed body-horror gore instils this frenzied atmosphere, putting you at an ironic-ease while perpetually shocking you moment-to-moment. It bounces from stop-motion torment to freeze-frame montages with a playful confidence, drawing you in with its hypnotic insanity.

Yet, it isn’t only its visual style that creates this unique enterprise, but the sound design too. Not a moment goes by when we are not subjugated to the sounds of a scream, a wheezing joint or droning mechanical contraption. The sound editing fuses the visuals to the viewer, with a similarly unnerving effect that metal creates on the characters.

Tetsuo is often compared to the works of David Lynch and David Cronenberg, a fair assessment but also one that undermines what this is. At 67 minutes, there is simply no reason not to experience this unrelenting horror of technological advancement and obsession.
While the line mentioned at the beginning of this piece serves as a warning in the film, everything is clear now – the future is metal.