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Feature


What do you get when you mix Cronenberg's The Fly with Lynch's Eraser Head, have William Gibson rewrite a script and hire Sam Raimi to direct? Maybe, just maybe, you end up with one of the wildest, weirdest, and most energetic début features in history: Shinya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo: The Iron Man. Shockingly, Tetsuo has somehow found a level of mainstream acceptance around the world, a definite first for a cyber-punk, art house monstrosity that only runs sixty-five minutes and spills more blood than the average Peter Jackson gore-fest.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man
The story of Tetsuo, if you didn't know, is the story of a man painfully mutating into a machine. There are levels of plot and allegory to be found within this speed freak's nightmare, but most of it is secondary to the visceral thrust of Tsukamoto's audio/visual overload. Tsukamoto himself plays a rival Iron Man, whose origin is curious at best. The mutation seems to have been initiated by some kind of bio-mechanoid imp, but its existence is never explained either. Does the audience need an explanation? Of course not, that's not what Tetsuo: The Iron Man is all about. This is all about strapping yourself into your seat and feverishly trying to decipher the monochromatic fury.

Some detractors have called the film silly or daffy, but I see this as purposeful. Tsukamoto, throughout his wholly original career, has always had a sick sense of humour, and has never been afraid to make fun of his own pretentious overkill. Though pretty easily partitioned into the realm of 'Art Film', Tetsuo is undeniably entertaining. Between images of spinning, drill-like phalluses, and kittens melting into tin-can monstrosities is a young filmmaker laughing with his audience, and at his detractors.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man
The controlled chaos is breathtaking at times, especially the live-action stop-motion fight sequences. Tsukamoto's use of his minuscule budget is genius, in that the 'realism' of the situation, and therefore effects, are moot in the world he's created. In the end the unnamed salary man (I guess we're suppose to assume his name is Tetsuo, even if the end credits don't reveal it) basically amounts to a pile of aluminium foil and junkyard scraps. The 'believability' of his costume is irrelevant, as is the ability to recognize the human form at all.

Any cineaste worth his salt needs to have this film under his or her belt. Even if hated, it deserves to be seen. It's also a great place to start for those yet uninitiated into Tsukamoto's bizarre world. This isn't his best film, per se, but it is the one that has come to define his career as a director and an actor. There aren't many original, self-reliant and self-motivated mavericks left in the world of film (Tsukamoto's comrade Takashi Miike comes to mind), we need to appreciate and learn from the few that have successfully infiltrated the semi-mainstream.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man

Video


Here I am again, trying to gage the video transfer of a visually experimental film. I can say that this DVD release out weighs the old VHS tape I first saw the film on. Tartan has presented Tetsuo: The Iron Man in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The image is generally cleaner and contrast levels seem higher. The box lists that the film is presented in black and white, but it's actually more of a monochromatic greenish tint. I'm not sure if this is correct, and I remember the VHS transfer being more strictly black and white. There are a few unnaturally interlaced shots mixed within the chaos, but for the most part, who can tell?

Audio


Tetsuo's low-fi nature makes for two entirely moot audio tracks, a DTS one and a Dolby Digital one. The film has a layered approach to its sound, but the mix is closer to a charging wall than an intricate waltz. Directional effects on the surround tracks are few and far between, and for the most part, as I said, moot. The original Mono track is also included, but isn't necessarily better than the surround tracks, as it does lack a little in the bass department. Basically Tartan has supplied three nearly identical tracks here, each of which is as muddled and distorted as originally intended by Tsukamoto.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man

Extras


So here's the question, would you really want to know the history behind Tetsuo: The Iron Man, or is it best to leave origins unknown in favour of the nearly epic level of weirdness the film inspires? I'm not sure I have the answer. Tartan has let the question dangle and not really supplied us with anything in the way of features. What we get is a collection of clips from Tsukamoto's other Tartan Asia Extreme released films, each of which appropriately whets the appetite. I look forward to the release of Tokyo Fist in particular. Perhaps Tartan could've gotten a hold of Tsukamoto biographer and all around Japanese cinema genius Tom Mes for a commentary track.

Overall


Yeah, it's weird, and it doesn't really have a plot, and half the time you can't tell what's going on, but you owe it to yourself to see this film. So does every executive in Hollywood. Perhaps then they'd realize what low budget film is capable of, and get to making smaller pictures that hold interest for their audiences. In a time when American cinema seems to be entering another '80s style slump, delving into the back catalogue of other countries may be the only thing that'll keep film alive.


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