Tetsuo: The Iron Man

Year: 1989
Production Co: Japan Home Video
Director: Shin'ya Tsukamoto
Producer: Shin'ya Tsukamoto
Writer: Shin'ya Tsukamoto

This is the kind of movie you'd expect some mad David Lynch-inspired short film fan to do on a camcorder or iPad and then wow the festival crowd.

So it's amazing to consider that this whacked-out, batshit-crazy movie came before either digital film or the ascent of the film festival. While most movie fans (myself included) were lining up to see Tim Burton's Batman, someone somewhere was exhibiting and watching this mindfuck.

The plot is basically this; a guy with a fetish for inserting metal into his body is out walking when an everyday guy (a salaryman) out for a drive with his girlfriend accidentally hits and kills him.

After the initial shock, the hero (referred to in the credits as The Man) tries to get back to normal, but he finds himself growing bits of metal in weird places until it starts to take over him, like he's been bitten by a werewolf and is now doomed to turn into a wolf. Instead, he's doomed to turn into metal.

To say the guy goes slowly crazy is the biggest understatement you can make about this movie because in fact everything starts crazy and stays crazy the entire way through. Shot completely in black and white with long takes that make us leer at various grotesqueries, often through claustrophobic fish eye-style lenses and with the characters usually screaming and with eyes bulging, it's not just the characters that are assaulted by metal...

The hour-long film is no doubt subtextually about the march of technology and the retreat of our humanity in the face of it. Japan at the end of the 80s seemed like the perfect time and place to comment on it - consolidated as the powerhouse of the world electronics industry and with the phenomenon of 'karoshi' (work burnout that leads to death from ill-health or suicide) starting to creep into cultural life.

When the craziest thing most mainstream audiences had seen by then was The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension or Twin Peaks on TV, it didn't have a chance of travelling. Writer/director Shin'ya Tsukamoto had some kind of cult following then, but he'd be an absolute hero now. It was, as one reviewer online put it, a film that teaches us there are no boundaries on filmmaking technique, setting or performance style or story construction.

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