Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tetsuo: Iron Man



I finally got the chance to see Shinya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo: Iron Man recently, and I wasn't sorry about it. Crafted with obsessively detailed lo-fi art direction, shot in 16 mm black and white in a pileup of vertiginous angles, and spliced into a rapid-fire frenzy that proposes the spectacle of "Eraserhead" on speed, the film plunges into a cyberpunk netherworld where nature appears to have vanished altogether. All that remains is a wilderness of discarded machinery, piles of scrap metal and and rows of rundown buildings. The relentless pounding and slashing of Chu Ishikawa's industrial score drives the frenetic visuals.

The victim of a hit-and-run car accident, a "metals fetishist" (played by Tsukamoto) takes his revenge on the businessman responsible (Tomorowo Taguchi) by transforming the latter into an amorphous cyborg. Machinery literally bursts forth from Taguchi's body, overtaking him in a harrowing sequence that recalls the fusions and fetishes of early Cronenberg films.



Tsukamoto tells his victim that the violation will open his eyes to a "new world". Indeed, one is reminded of J.G. Ballard's novel "Crash" (the denizens of which fetishized car accidents as an apocalyptic cybernetic paradigm), adapted brilliantly by Cronenberg in the mid-90s. (imdb says the film adaptation references "Tetsuo" somewhere; I'll have to go back and check that out.) We get the sense that Taguchi's transformation may be a hallucination, and/although the visions that accompany his ordeal are often viewed on a TV screen-- technology mediates his thoughts just as it augments his body.



Infector fuses with infected as the film lurches toward a conclusion that demands a sequel. In fact, Part III of the franchise is due in 2010, and I hope that'll make Part II more readily available in the West than it appears to be now. I've read that the second film is even better than the first. And given that this is one of the most compelling films I've ever seen, that is something to look forward to.

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