Shinya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo has been one of my favourite ultra underground Japanese films for some time now. I've watched it many times, and the film is always as effective, stunning and outstanding as it was when I first saw it. Now I viewed it again last night, and I am totally shocked and speechless, when it comes to this masterpiece of Shinya Tsukamoto, the genius multi talent behind films like Tokyo Fist (just don't try to watch if you think Raging Bull is too much), Gemini and Bullet Ballet. If I had to choose one film among all the films that really blew me away like this, I'd probably choose Tetsuo.
The "plot" and premise is simple. A metal fetishist (played by the director himself) inserts pieces of metal into his own body with often bloody results, understandably. He becomes run down by a car after which the fetishist starts to have very severe changes in his body and starts to mutate into human/metal monster and the man who ran him down starts to have similar changes in his body, too.. What follows is 60 minutes of total surreal mayhem, nightmarish imagery and use of perhaps all the imaginable cinematic techniques in editing, photography and music. You have been warned!
It is hard to describe with words the power of this film, which has often been referred as a combination of Lynch, Cronenberg and of course Anime and Sci-fi. The photography is stunning to say the least as director's 16mm camera twists, turns, runs, falls, climbs, zooms and does all the possible ways the director could invent to create this kind of atmosphere. The film consists of (very) fast edits, flashbacks, nightmare sequences and images and fast forward photography that spiced with incredible soundtrack is something never before seen. The soundtrack is made with different sounds of metal hitting together, scratching against something and most notable, there is also synthesizer use to create very ominous and threatening atmosphere that never stops, and the music is again one of the most important elements of this film.
The effects are totally outstanding as the director made them by himself. The film is black and white and that is of course great choice to nightmare film like this. Tsukamoto also wrote, directed, photographed, art directed and edited this film among special effects, and the most help he got came probably from Kei Fujiwara, who plays the girl friend in the movie, and she also directed her own similar film, Organ, in the middle of the 90's. It is incredible how Tsukamoto managed to do all this by himself and the help of some others, but due to his talent, it all becomes possible. This film is very low budget, but it is the kind of punch to senses that only very few big budget films have managed to give. If I had to choose one "big budgeted" film that has almost equally stunning atmosphere and power, I'd mention Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream, which is another masterpiece from this young director/writer. Still Requiem and Tetsuo are very different films, but their power is almost - if not entirely - equal.
The theme of the film is obviously the fear of technology and how far it will be developed. The film ends pretty pessimistically and it underlines the fears and threats that are in the air and were in Tsukamoto's mind, too. The images of huge metal machines and motors at the beginning of the movie, are very ominous and the machines seem to be alive and are very nightmarish overall, even though they should be DEAD machines because metal doesn't live, at least yet. This reminded me of work of David Lynch and his Eraserhead and Lost Highway, which both create something very ominous, dangerous and very scary with these similar techniques of close ups of water spilling, engines working and smoke coming closer. Just remember the images of radiator and coffee-pot in Eraserhead and mystery man and smoke (among many others) in Lost Highway. The feeling in Tetsuo is exactly similar, even though the things themselves are not scary or threatening, because they should be only dead pieces of metal and plastic, products in other words.
Shinya Tsukamoto made also sequel to Tetsuo, but it is in color and never as stunning as this brilliant original, but still worth checking out for lovers of this kind of cinema. Shinya Tsukamoto is among Takeshi Kitano, Takashi Ishii and Takashi Miike the most interesting, personal, creatively lunatic and overall stunning artists to come from Japan today, and by watching their films, all the nonsense entertainment coming too often from Hollywood nowadays is easy to forget and just concentrate on these miracles in the field of cinema. Cinema is magic and Tetsuo is one example to show that for the lovers of independent films, since this is not going to reveal to mainstream audience due to its difficult imagery, violent scenes of nightmarish terror and overall personality that demands a lot from the viewer. This is far too difficult and intelligent cinema for mainstream audience, and thus would never come out from some big studio that wants only money and commercially potential films.
Tetsuo is a 10/10 masterpiece and one of my personal favourites. I've tried to describe this film as clearly as possible, and without using too many praising adjectives, and since this movie's power is somewhat hard to describe with words, I recommend that all the lovers of Japanese cinema and the ones who think they're interested in Tetsuo check this out and see and experience the magic for themselves.
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