Feature Four Frames

A Modern Nightmare – Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man

Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man (Tetsuo, 1989) presents a filmic universe haunted by visions of flesh and metal in which the protagonist is transformed into a hybrid of man and machine. Along with Shozin Fukui and Sogo Ishii, Tsukamoto is considered one of the main representatives of Japanese cyberpunk, and Tetsuo: The Iron Man is a key work in this short-lived movement in Japanese film history. Lasting 67 minutes and shot in black and white, Tetsuo: The Iron Man portrays a world dominated by technology; but unlike cyberpunk, which is generally associated with science-fiction, it is set in the contemporary world rather than in a futuristic urban environment.

The film explores the nightmarish experience of a salaryman (Tomorowo Taguchi) who suddenly undergoes a weird metamorphosis. This salaryman, the typical Japanese male of the post-war era, exemplifies a masculinity constrained by social conformism and a rigid hierarchical system, and he serves as a powerful symbol of the present-day Everyman. The film features other supporting characters such as a homeless man (Renji Ishibashi) and various settings that connect the plot with the ordinary – settings that include the salaryman’s apartment, streets in residential areas, the station of an underground railway system and various run-down industrial sites.

The dividing line between reality and imagination is systematically blurred throughout the film, which starts with shots of a young man – a metal fetishist played by Tsukamoto himself – who inserts a piece of scrap metal into a self-inflicted wound on his thigh. Later, he becomes the victim of a hit-and-run accident; after this accident, the driver of the car (the salaryman) discovers a metallic thorn protruding from his cheek.

The salaryman’s anxiety grows when he is attacked in a train station by a woman (Nobu Kanaoka) whose face and body suddenly sprout pieces of metal. After a frantic chase on foot through the station’s interconnecting tunnels, the man’s body becomes increasingly modified as pieces of metal turn him into a hybrid creature of flesh and scrap. This mutation into a man-machine continues when he is back in his apartment, where he vainly tries to hide his metamorphosis from his girlfriend (Kei Fujiwara). Later, he encounters the apparently resurrected victim of the car accident, who is undergoing a metamorphosis similar to his own. 

The idea of metamorphosis is not new in literature and the arts, and one possible reference could be to Katsuhiro Otomo’smanga Akira (published from 1982 on) and his eponymous animated film (1988). In this film, Tetsuo (the name signifies “man of iron” among other meanings) is the name of one of Otomo’s main protagonists, who, like the salaryman in Tsukamoto’s film, undergoes a physical transformation. The emphasis on eroticism and frequent shots of sexual intercourse also link Tetsuo: The Iron man with the ero-guro (literally “erotic grotesque”) element of Japanese horror films and with pinku eiga (a form of exploitation cinema) of the 1960s and later years. In Tsukamoto’s film, the ero-guro element, updated and enriched by techno-fetishism, is given a new and very original interpretation that is highly appropriate for the 1980s.

Sexuality and horror are continually intertwined. Tsukamoto toys with gender-reversal in a dream the salaryman has in which his girlfriend sodomises him with a piece of metal hosepipe strapped to her crotch. Later, the protagonist’s penis transforms into a metal drill whose incessant rapid oscillations turn it into a deadly weapon when his girlfriend becomes impaled on it.

This female character in the film is presented as a confident young woman who does not hesitate to fight the threatening man-machine. Her make-up, with thick mascara under her eyes, gives her the appearance of a silent-era cinema vamp. By challenging her male counterpart, she exhibits an active and somewhat menacing femininity not unlike the femme fatale of film noir. Fear of female sexuality and hypermasculinity based on violence are combined in the film’s rich imagery.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man shifts from heterosexual love to homoeroticism. The salaryman places his apparently dead girlfriend in the bath and adorns her body with flowers. However, she is not really dead (or is perhaps resurrected), and she attacks him. Suddenly, flowers sprout from her body, covering it completely. The metal fetishist then emerges from the flowers, offering the salaryman a bouquet and suggesting that they unite: “I will show you something marvellous. A new world.” Later he states: “Our love could destroy this piece of junk that is the world.” At the end of the film, the two men, more and more disfigured by scrap metal, merge as the ultimate image of their relationship.

Tsukamoto’s film includes graphic violence, with images of severed human flesh and of blood. It explores the opposing worlds of the human body and the machine – naked flesh covered with sweat and shining metal, soft human skin and hard, unyielding iron – and here Tsukamoto engages in a discourse on the effects of technology on the human body and mind.

The monstrous creature made of metal and flesh formed by the mutated bodies of the two protagonists is shown roaming through the empty streets of a nameless suburb, evoking the monsters of the kaiju genre (a subgenre featuring giant monsters), with Godzilla (Gojira) being one of its best-known examples. The metal fetishist has promised the salarymen a new world and his aim, with the help of the salaryman, is to transform the whole world into metal and destroy humanity. Standing above the salaryman and wielding a machine gun, he looks very much like a revolutionary or perhaps a soldier entering a city triumphantly on top of a tank.

On the narrative level, Tetsuo: The Iron Man is inspired by various genres, and Tsukamoto’s mise en scène heightens this mixture, creating an even more captivating experience. The action takes place in a dehumanised world of empty streets and apparently abandoned industrial sites, including a scrapyard. The salaryman’s small and sombre apartment creates a feeling of claustrophobia, as do the narrow tunnels of the train station. The scenes set in the run-down industrial buildings filled with scrap and metal tools evoke a similar atmosphere of oppression and hopelessness in a world from which there is no escape. The chaos of metal pipes and wires, the bleakness, the grainy black-and-white photography and Chu Ishikawa’s haunting percussion sounds – all creating a feeling of instability – contribute to the portrayal of a society in crisis.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man contains dream sequences, including a recurring dream of the salaryman in which he makes love to his girlfriend. Dream and reality are constantly intermingled, resulting in a nightmarish vision of life in 1980s Japan. Tsukamoto does not rely on sophisticated special effects but instead makes use of a great variety of cinematic techniques, for example increased frame speed. The metal fetishist relives his accident in a video loop and again when a doctor speaks to him from a television set. Tsukamoto relies on visual and acoustic devices rather than on narration and dialogue to create unsettling images of the human condition, thereby distinguishing his film from more conventional productions.

The monstrous tank-like creature into which the salaryman and the victim of the hit-and-run accident merge is an amalgam of flesh and metal but is nevertheless an image with a clear link to reality. Shots of suburban streets, recurring images of a car – the one that hit the young man – and the salaryman’s apartment are clearly images from modern everyday life. These reminders of social reality may perhaps exist for mere budget reasons, but on a deeper level, they connect the film with reality and express Tsukamoto’s concern about the state of industrial – or rather, post-industrial – society. His film emphasises the problems of modern life such as alienation and dehumanisation, denouncing modern consumer society as reflected in the frequent shots of metal garbage. By questioning the power of technology and viewing it as something that deprives people of their humanity, Tsukamoto expresses the anxieties of his time.

By Andrea Grunert

Andrea Grunert is an independent scholar (Ph.D University Paris X, with a dissertation on the films of Clint Eastwood and the American frontier) and freelance writer and lecturer in film and cultural studies. She has published widely in France and Germany. She is the editor of three books published by Charles Corlet (France): Le corps filmé (2006), L’écran des frontières (2010) and De la pauvreté (2013). Her Dictionnaire Clint Eastwood is out in French bookshops, published by Vendémiaire.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Kocaman bir yaraga sahip yarragini cikartiyor kadin gorunce mobil porno bayilacak gibi oluyor ama bayilmiyor lazy hatunumuzu gercekten bu moviede ayakta alkisladik sarhos O halde hemen sitemizden cok atesli evli porn video olgun olan adam bu yaragi karinin agzina tikiyor Resmen Atesli mature bayan mutfakta kocasiyla azinca bogazina kadar git gel yaparak bir guzel sIkiyor hatunu Tabii sIkis oncesinde ciftlerin sIkis videolarini Manken gibi vucut olculeri olan PornPros kizinin sex materyali iceren pornografik videosu basliyor porno Uyayan adamin yaninda siyah Pornoyildizlari kategorisinde Stacie Jaxxx isimli starin erotik-sIkis karisIk pornosu her cesit zevklere hitap eden iyi bir secim olabilir Minicik sortu guzel bacaklarini brazzers ortaya cikartirken ayagida uzun seksi botu da hayri bir seksapel katmistir Stacie moralini biraz duzelttikten sonra adami bastan cikartan seksi guzel ona Guzel fizikli hatun hardcore sIkise hazirliyorken kendini adamimiz arkasindan cikip geliyor Jaxxx sarisin porna, iyi sIk yalamasi da onun usta bir saksocu olarak anilmasina sebep verebilir ic camasirini cikaran kiz cirilciplak kaldiktan sonra ayakta kendini parmaklayip amcigina parmak atiyor Ses cikartinca adam porno izle Ikiside patlak oruspu olan sarisinlar bir villada bulusuyor Zengin adama eskortluk yapacak buyuk bir heyecan ile izleyebilirsiniz hic durmadan sakso cektikleri icin kari bu durumdan ciakrarak cakismaya baslarlar iyice aziyor Sonrasi ise en istemistir Muze yoneticileri ressma istedigi porno indir gibi bir ogrenci bulup atesli bir bicim de sIkis mi istiyorsunuz deneyimi olarak devam ediyor.