Sunday 11 November 2018

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 22. Tetsuo: The Iron Man

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man
Shinya Tsukamoto
Country - Japan
Year - 1989
Runtime - 67 Minutes

Every so often I stumble upon a film that leaves me completely stunned and utterly mesmerised by the sheer brilliance of its director’s vision. One such encounter was the first time I experienced the crazy cult classic Tetsuo: The Iron Man - a perverse exploration of body horror that was unlike anything I had ever seen at the time. Its nightmarish scenario boldly depicts an amalgamation of flesh and metal with the use of jaw-dropping practical effects that are as impressive as they are horrifying. This was clearly the work of a visionary genius and Tetsuo wormed its way into my list of favourite films as I was bowled over by both the audacity and insanity of the twisted imagination that brought this incredible story to life so vividly.     

Tetsuo tells the story of a disturbed man who cuts his leg open and inserts a metal rod into the wound. When he finds the wound festering with maggots he flees in terror and is run over by a young salaryman who enlists the help of his girlfriend to dispose of the body in a nearby river. Shortly after, the salaryman then finds his own body is slowly metamorphosing into a metallic form and he comes under attack from strange metallic humanoid creatures in a series of staggering set pieces that veer wildly out of control. Taking its cues from the darkest recesses of Lynch and Cronenberg’s work, Tetsuo ups the ante tenfold with its realistic representation of the gruesome operation that sets the stage at the start of the film and the bizarre metallic (and phallic) mutations that emerge from the salaryman and his aggressors as the carnage progresses.

By utilising stop-motion to bring his creations to life, director Shinya Tsukamoto enhances the sensation of the machine-like motions of his metallic monstrosities as they engage in ultra-violent and unsettling conflicts with the afflicted salaryman. These hyperkinetic sequences are astonishing to behold and display an array of talent in practical effects as Tsukamoto and his team’s production decisions were largely driven by budgetary constraints. He shot the film in black and white with expressionistic lighting used throughout and this adds to the cyberpunk sheen that permeates the film’s set designs, creating a truly unique and warped science-fiction horror.

The abrasive industrial soundtrack provides an intense backdrop to the visceral machinations of horror that invade the salaryman’s life. It pulsates and chugs like the workings of a factory shop floor only to fade away whenever the story (only occasionally) returns to a more normal semblance of reality. There are two instances where this thumping wall of sound is replaced by a curious playful jazz number that acts as a light-hearted prelude or coda to the proceedings, reminding you that Tsukamoto is toying with the audience as much as he is with his ever suffering characters. This stark contrast to the relentless assault of the heavy soundtrack allows for a brief respite from the onslaught of madness; its jarring effect acting as a welcome relief that enables you to gather your senses in preparation for that which is yet to come, or to reflect on that which has passed.   

The depraved sexual scenes push the boundaries of acceptability and cement the film’s reputation as a horror targeted at audiences with a liberal sensibility. Many of these extreme sequences are likely to repulse those who are squeamish and will certainly test the mettle of horror fans accustomed to graphic depictions of violence and gore. This is a violent and unrelenting descent into madness and the experimental cinematic techniques used to tell the story are as spellbinding as the practical effects. The care and attention taken to bring this demented tale to life is clear to see and - if you embrace the madness - it is an enthralling and unforgettable cinematic head trip that will inevitably leave you reeling in disbelief.

If you take the time to watch Tetsuo: The Iron Man then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!

For previous instalments in the series click here

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