Tetsuo The Iron Man

First off, let me explain why I do not intend to do a traditional recap of this film
My intention is to convey to you the impact that this film had on me and countless other visual artists and video manipulators around me at the time
Tetsuo- The Iron Man was released in 1989 and was completely different from any other film exploring the subject of man assimilating technology (or is it the other way around?)
This film is not meant to be watched so much as it is meant to be experienced
It is not like your normal horror/gore fest nor is it some dark and  spooky Japanese ghost/monster flick
This is something completely different

In 1989 when I went to the video store I wasted no time and headed straight to the horror section
I was in full blown zombie mode by then and pretty much ignored all the other genres after becoming infected with the undead virus
That’s why I pretty much ignored the weird looking Japanese film that started popping up in the various horror sections of the VHS rental joints I was frequenting at the time
On the cover was a pair of glowing eyes in a distorted face with quotes like “Shockingly Hilarious!” “Hyperventilating“ and “Hyperkinetic”

tetsuo vhs 2
The back cover described the movie using words like “dehumanized and mechanical” and a brand new word that I never had heard before

This word really confused me
At that time, the word “Punk” meant The Ramones and The Sex Pistols  I couldn’t wrap my mind around any other kind of variation of the word
In 1989, no one said the words “Electro-Punk” or “CyberPunk” and Devo was the only thing that came close to any kind of “mechanical punk” in my realm of experience
My father explained the concept of the word “Biomechanical” when he took me to see “Alien”, “Tron” and later “Dune” (although he dumbed it down to kid level) so I had some kind of understanding when it came to the concept of humans losing their humanity to machines
My very first recollection of such a concept was The Master Cylinder from “Felix The Cat”
He scared the crap out of me with his menacing eyes but it really freaked me out when they explained that he was a human who had an accident and was trapped inside his own experiment

master cylinder

I noticed two different films that came out in 1983 that incorporated this new “Cyber-Punk” concept
I only saw the trailer for “Metalstorm, The Destruction of Jared-Syn” but my dad took me to see “Space Hunter, Adventures in the Forbidden Zone” which starred a very young Molly Ringwald



Both of these films had evil characters that had assimilated machines into their bodies
It seems like an appropriate reference to use a “Borg” word like assimilate because these characters looked like early versions of The Borg
But this is 1989
And all I care about is zombies right now so I will ignore that weird Japanese film until……
1998 when I discovered Forbidden Books and Video
This was a small independent video store in Dallas Texas and was the first video store I ever frequented that specialized in bizarre cult videos

My tastes had matured greatly in the last decade both in music as well as films and I was in a wildly experimental mood
I had discovered Ensturzende Neubauten whose music was true industrial music because they were playing trash cans with grinders
Jason Cohen, the owner, turned me on to the film “Halber Mensch” and I consumed it

After coming back to return the tape (which I dubbed first for my own growing collection) I exclaimed to Jason how much I loved the film and the ugly, dirty dystopia that it portrayed
That’s when he directed me towards his copy of “Tetsuo The Iron Man”
I was finally ready to watch this film
Or so I thought
My friends and I sat down at the couch after sufficient preparation and popped the tape into the VCR
What followed was 67 minutes of pure chaos and confusion with a soundtrack that was very much like Neubauten

It wasn’t like seeing Akira for the first time on a bootleg VHS with no subtitles
This film had subtitles but that didn’t mean you knew what the fuck was happening
You only knew what you saw and you had no idea what it meant
Fast forward to 2014 where you can access all kinds of information on a film, but in 1989, we had no clue what we were watching and couldn’t figure out the plot
Maybe because the plot line of this film is portrayed through a series of video clips that appear on various TV screens
The dialogue applies only to the immediate moment and there is almost no exposition

So, it was with great relief that I finally learned what this fucking movie was about when I looked it up on Wikipedia
Now that I know the actual plot, I can accomplish my second goal, which is to describe this film without giving away too much of the experience

-Trust me, it’s even more of a trip when you don’t know what is going on
The basic synopsis is this:
A man is who is performing experiments on himself by inserting metal into his body, freaks out at seeing his festering wound and runs panicked into the street
This guy is “The Metal Fetishist”
When the main protagonist and his girlfriend run over him in their car, they put him in the trunk, drive to a remote location and dump his body
They get turned on by knowing he is still alive and watching them so they have sex while he dies
He survives and returns to seek revenge on the couple by using his newly found ability to fuse flesh with metal

—————————————————–end spoiler alert———————————————————————–

So you can understand why it was hard to figure out the plot even after watching it a million times
The majority of times that I have watched this film have not been sitting in front of the TV on the couch
I have used this film countless times for my Video/DJ gigs and it works magnificently on a 40 foot screen with pulsating industrial techno music
This film is a staple on video screens in clubs throughout the country because it works on the strength of the visuals with no regard to the plot
Not only that but the subtitles make it even more surreal when taken out of context
It features prominently in the history of my own experimental barrage edits and it was one of my primary influences on my frantic style
Tetsuo- The Iron Man is an important point in film history where Cyberpunk is just starting to define itself
It manages to take the concept in a completely different direction
But isn’t that what the Japanese do?
The film addresses several human issues from the obvious fear of technology to sexual orientation and gender roles

tetsuo love

drill penis
This is not a a film about the bright shiny world of technology and how it will destroy the utopia we built
More that it is a film about the forced evolution of a human being and there are no gleaming instrument panels or flashing buttons
Only flesh fused with rusting scrap metal and useless heaps of slag
You will be the type to appreciate this movie or you will be the type that gives up halfway through
Either way, you won’t be able to forget what you just saw

new world

There are two sequels
Tetsuo- The Body Hammer which is OK, but the concept doesn’t work so well in color
Tetsuo- The Bullet Man which is much better and looks like a modern version of the concept


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