Jack’s Freaky Flick Pick | Movie Review: Tetsuo the Iron Man (1989)


After waking up in the hospital with cotton balls stuffed into my ears and nose, groggy and wickedly sore on the left side of my head, the attending nurse relayed the story that I had apparently told her in my induced sedation after bursting through the emergency room doors at four in the morning with blood and snot and cerebrospinal fluid smeared all over my face and shirt, my nose and ears leaking like fire hoses, my teeth chattering as I screeched like a pterodactyl, “moshi moshi! moshi moshi!” and yelled some drivel about homoeroticism.

The nurse told me that the director of the 1989 Japanese film Tetsuo the Iron Man, Shinya Tsukamoto, broke into my house in the middle of the night, jammed a funnel into my ear, and poured his insane cyberpunk body horror ideas into my brain like a frat bro would slosh beer down his own gullet. Apparently I had staggered through the street, just narrowly avoiding several cars as I blew raspberries at them, convinced that I was going just as fast with my “zoomy shoes.” Before I was discharged, the doctor wrote me a prescription for some benzos and suggested I watch some totally average and harmless movies, like Dan in Real Life or We Bought a Zoo, to offset the insanity of Tetsuo.

Alright, so… I’ll just file this one under the “What The F*** Did I Just Watch?” category. Here is my attempt at a summary: A guy who likes to insert scraps of metal into his body (played by the director) is hit by a car. The drivers, who are the protagonist and his girlfriend, do not help the metal fetishist, but instead go off by some tree to have sex. The protagonist is possibly possessed(?) by the metal fetishist, as more and more of his body turns into metal. The protagonist has an eventful dinner with his girlfriend. The metal fetishist calls the protagonist on the phone and then they have an epic showdown. The end.

Obviously, I don’t know what to say about this movie. It did entertain me, mostly because of how utterly insane and original it is. The design of the “iron man” was so alien and fascinating, it’s like the movie creators looked through a metal scrapyard and glued as much as they could on the guy. Chu Ishikawa’s killer soundtrack has an industrialist punk vibe, using what sounds like metal pipes banging on more metal pipes. There’s also some unusually placed jazz and sound effects that are hilariously incongruous with what is actually happening. While the music clangs, characters zoom through the city in trippy stop-motion. It’s a wild ride.

I would be remiss not to mention the abundance of homoerotic imagery that the movie employs, but I honestly have no idea what it all means. Does it mean to explore some underground Japanese gay culture? Is the whole movie a commentary on being in the closet? I’m not sure, but I love it. I recommend Tetsuo to anyone who has an hour and fifteen minutes to spare and wants their preconceptions about film to be completely shattered.

Here’s what you’ll miss if you cover your eyes:

Metal zit popping

Prehensile metal snake penis

Suggestive sausage licking

Drill penis

Rocket feet

And so much more…

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