I was digging out some old files from my external hard drive yesterday and I found an essay I had written on Tetsuo on my second year of uni. Since it is quite an interesting subject to review I decided to post part of my essay here.I suggest that you don’t read it before you have watched the film, it contains quite a lot of spoilers.
Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man was released in 1988. It was the film that established Tsukamoto as one of Japan’s most promising and unconventional contemporary filmmakers. It is not a film that you can enjoy with your family or recommend to friends- believe me I tried and it never ended well. Naturally, it ended up obtaining a near mythical status amongst the cult film circles.
The plot of the film revolves around a character simply named ‘salaryman’ who suddenly begins witnessing bizarre transformations on his body. The metamorphosis is a gradual process through which the protagonist eventually evolves into a creature that is mostly comprised of metallic parts. In addition he is being stalked by another semi-metallic entity, a man called ‘metal fetishist’ that he severely wounded during a hit and run accident which occurred early in the film. As a consequence of these bodily and mental alterations the salaryman ends up being the one responsible for his girlfriend’s gruesome murder. The metal fetishist then reveals himself as an antagonist and engages the salaryman in combat. Towards the end of the film the two of them can be seen fused into a grotesque metallic being: They both seem to be content with their new form and after declaring war on humanity they embark on their joint quest to ‘turn the world into metal’.
The main character is a man wearing a business suit, a tie and glasses. His attire is reminiscent of that of a typical, nameless company clerk. This is later confirmed at the end credits, where the character is referred to as ‘the salary man’. The first indication of human contact in the film is realised through the aid of a machine: the salaryman’s car. The first piece of dialogue is carried out via telephone. Throughout the rest of the film there is no further display of interaction between two humans except in flashback scenes. The woman in the subway that appears early in the film chooses to distance herself from the salaryman when he sits down close to her. It is only after her transformation has begun that she approaches him, and then proceeds to attack him. When the salaryman meets his girlfriend in person, he is already partially metallized. Within the urban jungle portrayed in the film human relationships seem to be scarce. Technological advance has alienated people to the point where they interact more frequently with machines than with other human beings.
While human relationships appear to be decadent in Tetsuo, fantasies and sexual perversions seem to thrive and are explored to a great extent. Fetishism is a recurrent theme throughout the movie: The metal fetishist, as the name suggests is clearly obsessed with metallic objects. His fixation is so intense that it drives him to insert a rusted piece of metal into his gaping thigh in a socking scene early in the film. His pursuit of the mutated protagonist is not only fuelled by his desire to have revenge but also by his fascination of him and his new, metallic body. Their relationship, as well as the one between the salaryman and his girlfriend, is evidently of sadomasochistic nature.
According to Justin Bowyer’s analysis, the salaryman suffers from a feeling of sexual insecurity, one related to his ‘feminisation at the hands of Japanese technocracy and corporatism’ (2004:134).Sine his lifestyle undermines his sexuality to such an extent , he is obligated to seek a stimulus in order to regain his confidence. The fetish in its Freudian sense, according to Lesley A. Hall, is supposed to represent the penis and to protect against the fear of castration. In the case of Tetsuo, as soon as the salaryman finds himself equipped with a mechanic drill instead of a penis, his insecurity is replaced with sexual aggression and he grinds his girlfriend to death. Eventually, the only romantic relationship maintained is the one between man and machine, as the mutated salaryman and the fetishist are fused into an enormous metallic construction of phallic shape.
Tetsuo might seem like a cautionary tale at first; Daniel Dinello argues that science fiction always portrays the future from a bleak, technophobic perspective. ‘Like a virus, technology autonomously insinuates itself into human life and, to ensure its survival and dominance, malignantly manipulates the minds and behaviour of humans’ (2005:2). Therefore technology is presented as some kind of parasitic organism, one that causes alterations to its host. Dinello characterises Tetsuo as ‘a brutal horror story about the infection of cyborgization’ (2005, 133) and suggests that the film is an allegory about AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), which was first recognized in 1981.
Justin Bowyer (2004:141) speculates that the metamorphosis that occurs in Tetsuo mirrors the evolution of the human species. Thus the mutation of the protagonist into a metal being is a sign of him evolving into a form that enables him to face the demands of the modern society. Takayuki Tatsumi, professor at Keio University, draws comparisons between the unorthodox ‘cyborgs’ of Tetsuo and the fictional tribe of the ‘Japanese Apache’ that fist appear in Japanese literature in Ken Kaiko’s Nippon Sanmon Opera (1959). One of the literary representations of the Japanese Apache is that of metal-eating mutants that eventually rebel against the state. In a similar manner, Tsukamoto’s mutants rise against the contemporary global community and its institutions. It seems that technological advance in Tetsuo is after all both a blessing and a curse as it incorporates the ideas of deconstruction, evolution and revolution.
As the salaryman’s body disintegrates he transforms into a higher entity reminiscent of a Nietzschean ‘superman’, ‘the ideal superior man of the future who could rise above conventional Christian morality to create and impose his own values’. The metal fetishist mentions the creation of a new world before joining forces with the salaryman to destroy the old one. A similar approach to the effects of technological advance can be seen in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome(1983), at the end of which the character declares ‘long live the new flesh’ before abandoning his old one to become a purely electronic being. The ending sequences in both films signify the end of an era for humankind and the beginning of a new one.
Did I mention that Tsukamoto appears in the film as the Metal Fetishist? Kei Fujiwara who plays the part of the Salaryman’s girlfriend is also a director and a writer and her style seems quite close to Tsukamoto’s. If you enjoyed this film ( you clearly have problems not unlike my own) be aware that it was followed by two more films : Tetsuo II: Body Hammer and Tetsuo: The Bullet man.
- Bowyer, Justin. (2004). The Cinema of Japan and Korea. London: Wallflower Press
- Butler, Andrew. (2000). Cyberpunk. Great Britain: Pocket Essentials.
Available at: UCA library/digital library/e-books http://site.ebrary.com/lib/ucreative/home.action
- Dinello, Daniel. (2005). Technophobia! Science Fiction Visions of Posthuman Technology. U.S.A: University of Texas Press. Available at: UCA library/digital library/e-books http://site.ebrary.com/lib/ucreative/home.action
- Akira. (1988). Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo. Japan.
- Blade Runner. (1982). Directed by Ridley Scott. U.S.A.
- Burst City. (1982). Directed by Sogo Ishii. Japan.
- Crazy Thunder Road. (1980). Directed by Sogo Ishii. Japan.
- Eraserhead. (1977). Directed by David Lynch. U.S.A.
- Terminator (The). (1984). Directed by Ridley Scott. U.S.A
- Tetsuo: The Iron Man. (1988). Directed by Shinya Tsukamoto. Japan.
- Tetsuo II: Body Hammer. (1992). Directed by Shinya Tsukamoto. Japan.
- Videodrome. (1983). Directed by David Cronenberg. Canada.
Midnight Eye. (2001). Tetsuo: The Iron Man by Tom Mes. [Online]. Available at http://www.midnighteye.com/reviews/tetsuoim.shtml
Takayuki Tatsumi. (1996). The Japanese Journal of American Studies. [Online]. No 7. Full Metal Apache Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo Diptych: The Impact of American Narratives upon the Japanese Representation of Cyborgian Identity. Available at http://wwwsoc.nii.ac.jp/jaas/periodicals/JJAS/PDF/1996/No.07-025.pdf
So , I figured I need a category for dreams since I dream often and my dreams are quite…special. Morpheus has been kind enough to offer me the opportunity to witness some awesome things like : a fight between humans and aliens on a glacier, gangster stories- lots of them, a post-apocalyptic city in the middle of a desert, a jungle expedition, an undead shape shifting puppeteer etc. I have to point out the fact that in my dreams I can be any character; female, male, cat, dog, stone…anything.
Nightmares are also welcome, since they offer a horror film experience. The only thing I can’t stand is having no dreams at all, which happens in periods of stress.
This is a dream that I had recently which I found interesting, mostly because it was so ridiculous:
I was a detective consulting a psychic , as they do. I was stuck during a case and I needed her advice. I have no idea what the case was, but I did know that the scene was taking place in a location of importance concerning the case. She was sitting down on the other end of a table which was placed in a dark corridor. She was mixing some bizarre-looking liquids, stirring again and again. In the end she offered me a glass. One important detail is that my laptop was open on the table for some reason.
‘Drink this’, she said, ‘and the past will be revealed to you’
I hesitated a bit and then I drank the bluish liquid. Everything became hazy and time slowed down as if I had smoked something really good. I was indeed seeing this place as it was in the past – modern devices were missing and the decoration was different, a bit more plain. I went to a room that must have been important and I looked around for clues. It looked like a bedroom, with a desk and a bookcase. After a thorough investigation I found a couple of old photographs which I took back to the psychic.
However, when I arrived to the table I discovered with horror that the screen of my laptop was completely bent in a shape that suggested that it was beyond repair.
‘What happened here?’ I asked, really pissed off with her.
‘No no, it’s alright’ She told me. ‘When the potion is ready there is a large amount of energy released. Electronic devices get damages sometimes, but once the effects wear off they turn back to normal’.
Of course that wasn’t enough to calm me down, so I remember nothing about the detective story. The rest of the dream for me was time spent worrying about how the hell I can get my laptop fixed.
I think it was one of the most useless dreams I ever had story wise, so it made an impression on me.
When I was younger I happened to come across Ravenous when it was being broadcast on Greek TV on two separate occasions. The first time I must have been in high school and the second time I think I was on the 2nd year of uni. In both occasions something happened and I wasn’t able to watch it until the end. Having finally seen the entire film I concluded that it deserves a place in my list of favorite -weird-underrated films.
Ravenous was originally meant to be directed by Milco Mancevski but he left the production for some reason when they had already started shooting . He was replaced by another director who also left ; Then that director was replaced by Antonia Bird who fortunately didn’t leave. I have no idea why this happened but I am glad because Antonia Bird did an awesome job in my opinion. Of course it helped that she had Robert Carlyle and a really good script – in my opinion.
The film is set during the American-Mexican war and the main character is Lieutenant Boyd ( Guy Pearce) who gets transferred to a remote outpost in Sierra Nevada called Fort Spencer. This transfer is a punishment imposed by one of his superiors for a cowardly act in the beginning of the film. The other residents of Fort Spencer are already bored out of their minds when Boyd arrives. Unfortunately for them things are about to get interesting; An exhausted stranger collapses at their door and they help him, unaware of the fact that he is a very, very special man.
Anyway, I don’t want to spoil this but the story is about cannibals. And of course it is a huge metaphor about imperialism and the endless hunger for power that comes with it. The character that Robert Carlyle portrays pretty much spells it out for the audience when he makes a speech about Manifest Destiny, a 19th century term which expressed the belief that the United States was destined to expand across the continent (thank you, wikipedia). The villain of the story- the cannibal ( still trying to avoid spoilers) seems to be the embodiment of such an idea. Eating human flesh makes him stronger and he continues doing it without any restraint. The more he consumes the more he needs to consume. He is also a man of authority- or at least he claims to be. He is cunning and seductive, a man who would thrive as a politician.
However, he has no interest in the patriotic feelings of his fellow Americans- he only has one need: To satisfy his hunger. He is an outsider and a predator.
‘You know, come April, thousands of gold-hungry Americans will cross over those mountains, on their way to new lives, passing right through …here’
Whether he sympathises or not with the gold-hungry Americans he is waiting for them and he plans to get what he wants from them. He is a character who follows his own desires, an unpredictable force that cannot be contained. His name is also reminiscent of a politician of that time who opposed the idea of Manifest Destiny- although that might be purely coincidental.
Then there is the hero of the story who is initially presented as a lucky- or unlucky depending on how you see it- coward. He has a strong moral code which- as it is socially correct- does not allow him to eat human flesh. He is naturally against killing people to satisfy one’s needs but he also takes it one step further : He refuses to do it even in life threatening situations. He is portrayed as a coward, yet he comes across as a brave man in certain moments. He is unwilling to kill people in order to gain more power yet as a soldier he is forced to kill people for the sake of his country’s glory. He seems to refuse to acknowledge the fact that his survival rests upon the demise of others either way.
The interaction between the two main characters is quite interesting. The characters portrayed by Robert Carlyle and Guy Pearce seem to be polar opposites. Carlyle’s character is powerful and imposing while Guy Pearce’s character comes across as frail and passive. The two actors have a nice dynamic and their performance makes the relationship between the two characters even more powerful. It is hard to spot a bad performance in the film, or find a character which is not unique in a quirky way. All the Fort Spencer characters are interesting -and damaged in their own special way.
One last thing I have to mention is the music, which is composed by Damon Albarn and Michael Nyman. The soundtrack is exactly what you wouldn’t expect to listen in a period film and it perfectly fits the story. It is mysterious, unsettling, upli
fting at inappropriate parts and generally weird and absolutely great. Ravenous cannot fit into one genre, and the music is there to remind the viewer. No one expects an uplifting, cartoonish tune when a crazy cannibal is chasing around the rest of the characters in order to kill them and eat their flesh. I love that part.
Since it is getting late and my bed is calling me I will stop here and go dream about cannibals. If you are the kind of person that is looking for something creepy, funny and interesting to watch give Ravenous a shot. It can also be suitable for mainstream audiences. I tested it on friends and they are still talking to me, so don’t worry about that.