Two of the most popular Japanese cult films are finally available in glorious high definition. Director Shinya Tsukamoto (Snake of June, Tokyo Fist) supervised the transfer of this highly anticipated blu-ray release, featuring the first two films of the series and a 45-minute movie Tsukamoto made in his student days, called ‘The Adventures of Electric Rod Boy’.
1989’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man was shot in black in white, followed by a colour sequel three years later. Essentially an extended remake with a bigger budget, Tetsuo II: Body Hammer didn’t perform quite as well as the original back home, but both films have built a cult following around the world. It’s hardly surprisingly either. Tsukamoto’s surreal nightmares have been compared to the works of David Lynch and David Cronenberg, with the influence of both directors oozing from every frame.
The Tetsuo universe isn’t really known for grounding itself in logic, but the basic premise goes a little something like this. A strange man known only as the ‘metal fetishist’ (Shinya Tsukamoto) cuts open a wound on his leg and puts a large threaded steel rod in it. When maggots emerge from beneath the surface he runs into the street screaming, struck down immediately by a passing car. The driver, a Japanese businessman (Tomorowo Taguchi), is out with his girlfriend when the accident takes place, and rather than report the incident, they try to cover it up by dumping his body.
Things get a little crazy when the businessman’s body mutates into scrap metal, starting when his penis turns into a power drill. Kind of handy in certain situations I’m sure, but probably not recommended for the everyday occurrences of life. There’s a ‘logical’ explanation of course, that goes without saying. The businessman’s nemesis clearly didn’t die when they hit him with the car, and now he’s able to take revenge by masterminding the grisly transformation. The rest of the plot, or what little there is, is pretty much irrelevant. Tetsuo might not be particularly coherent, but it is one hell of an experience.
Tetsuo: The Iron Man was never going to make the most of blu-ray technology, but it does clean up rather well in high definition. Besides, great films are great films no matter how you choose to view them. Shot in the style of a bad dream, the startling imagery is at times sublime. Tetsuo is one of the weirdest, most extreme movies you are ever likely to see. It’s not always an easy watch but Tsukamoto’s erratic game changer is impossible to ignore – a compulsive movie going experience that still looks great today. The low budget effects are staggeringly effective, and even though it doesn’t make a lick of sense, with surreal imagery and hypnotic sound design bombarding your TV screen, you won’t regret a single moment.
More of a companion piece than a sequel, Tetsuo II: Body Hammer sees director Shinya Tsukamoto's disturbing vision of a world populated by man-machines explode into spellbinding colour. The life of a Japanese businessman (Tomorowo Taguchi again) is turned upside down when his son is kidnapped by dangerous figures. As you would expect by now, it’s only a matter of time before the anger building up inside turns him into an unstoppable killing machine.
With mad scientists, cyborg skinheads, bizarre experiments and mind manipulation, Tetsuo 2 is no less messed up than its predecessor. The extended running time gives Tsukamoto the chance to dig a little deeper, presenting his protagonist with a welcome back-story that’s as twisted as it is tragic. On the whole Tetsuo 2 is more accessible than The Iron Man, but the nightmarish visuals and bonkers sentiment are still intact, resulting in a delirious cyberpunk spin on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
If you’re willing to overlook storyline and structure in favour of adrenaline pumping imagery, the Tetsuo movies are still a force to be reckoned with. Sushi Typhoon may have taken the art of body weaponry to new levels of insanity and distaste, but few films surpass the uncompromising style of Tsukamoto’s enigmatic delights. Presented for the first time in high definition, they’re simply unmissable. AW