Monday, November 17, 2014

Before I Die # 524: Tetsuo: The Ironman (1989)

If this movie poster seems bleak, horrific,
and claustrophobic, then you've got some
inkling as to the tone of the feature.
Director: Shin'ya Tsukamoto

Whoa. If you plan to watch Tetsuo, then you had better be mentally prepared. It is one trippy, disturbing piece of work, which wears its influences right on its sleeve.

The story, at its most basic, is that a young businessman in Japan suddenly finds different parts of his body turning into machinery. The process is slow at first, but then rages in fits and starts, so that the man soon begins to look like a moving, humanoid sculpture assembled out of scrap yard leavings.

Now, take that idea and imagine that the tale is directed by David Lynch in his most Eraserhead state of mind. Add in several dashes of David Cronenberg's grisly transformation horrors like The Fly and Videodrome, and blend in the psychological torture element of guilt over accidental murder as seen in the harrowing film The Machinist. Put all of those uncomfortable movies together, and you get Tetsuo.

If you're unfamiliar with the movies cited, you just need to know that the movie is stunningly brutal. And yet, its merits are there, for those who care to get past the grainy black and white filming, shocking imagery, and the breakneck editing. The result is that one feels claustrophobic and completely pinned down by the relentless onslaught of the machinery and technology that literally consumes the main characters. And this is clearly what director Shin'ya Tsukamoto was aiming to accomplish. For that, it is easy to see why this film is lauded in many circles.

The movie is taxing to watch. No particular shot lasts for more than four or five seconds before it jumps to another frenetic image, many of which utilize some very well-done stop-motion animation or skewed framing or constricted perspective. Fortunately, I was in the right head space to keep up with it, and the movie is a mere 64 minutes long. Any more than that, and I don't know that my brain would have been able to maintain pace.

File this one under the label of "interesting, experimental films that are good to watch once." If you're looking for a graphic, deeply frightening and challenging visual experience, Tetsuo will satisfy the urge. Just know what you're in for.