Scouring industrial rubble like a lustful eye leering at naked flesh, Tetsuo: The Iron Man mutates a sea of knotted wires and rusted screws into a representation of the sexual subconscious, fetishizing moist plumes of steam and the propulsion of pistons as quotidian symbols of obscured desires. Hiding masochistic fantasies behind the pantomime of a monster movie, Shinya Tsukamoto liberates his repressed urges through his performance as “the runner,” employing each vision of a hemorrhaging wound or grisly insertion of phallic machinery as technophilic erotica and coy denunciation of metropolitan automation. Though these contradictions do little to justify the narrative, the frenzy manifested by erratic edits and perpetual motion inspires a second-hand paranoia, lending credence to Tsukamoto’s sweat-soaked, overwrought interpretation of labor, love and libido.
Favoring the brooding manner and frosty electronics of The Terminator over its humanistic inclinations, Tsukamoto strips his dialogue down to greetings and exclamations, personifying the impassive nature of hardware through a tumult of interwoven sex and violence. The vast detritus that functions as set design beholds the menace in the inorganic, imprisoning its characters in claustrophobic spaces, employing subway platforms and minuscule apartments as inescapable torture chambers. The disquiet fostered by this surge of images is magnified immensely by the deafening shriek of the foley work, transforming the welling hiss of locomotives and tracking ripple of video cassettes into an audible, insectile squirm.
Concealed beneath the Sturm und Drang, and tangible only to the strong of stomach, is the existential crisis of a withering body, repurposed from the shards of revenge cinema cliché and reborn as melancholic manga origin story. In opposition to the Western tradition of pious paladins, Tsukamoto exploits the tragedy of adapting to physical abnormality into a bonding experience between his hero and villain, culminating his exercise in audio-visual assault with an entangling of physical forms that dances between grueling effects display and tender scene of sexual congress.
The moment our warring golems merge is the only recess from feverish instability in Tetsuo, exhibiting two bodies suspended in placental fluid, their torsos drifting near enough to embrace and affirm their carnal allegiance. By marrying the extreme intimacy shared between anger and lust, Shinya Tsukamoto taps into the psychosis that governed the sexual power struggles on display in Ai No Corrida and Last Tango in Paris, abandoning their interest in personal catharsis in favor of physical maelstrom, evincing a disconnected Tokyo through urban decay and exposed viscera.
Tetsuo: The Iron Man (Palisades Tartan, 1989)
Written and Directed by Shinya Tsukamoto
Photographed by Kei Fujiwara and Shinya Tsukamoto