Tetsuo: The Iron Man

Several years ago I was talking to someone about strange films and happened to mention Tetsuo. Obviously, he asked me what it was about and I had to admit that I wasn’t entirely certain.

Having watched the film a few times since, I have come to the conclusion that, while the actual narrative is very simple — if rather strange — the visual style of the film is such that it sends your mind in all kinds of weird directions.

All this is my excuse for cribbing the synopsis from the IMDb:

A businessman accidentally kills The Metal Fetishist, who gets his revenge by slowly turning the man into a grotesque hybrid of flesh and rusty metal.

Yep. This is a film about a Japanese salaryman turning into metal. And with a synopsis like that, it should come as no surprise that the film itself is a unique mix of horror, science-fiction and surrealism. Mainly horror, but it’s the surrealism that really makes this film stand out.

Shot in black and white to emphasise the starkness of the metal, this really is a visually inventive film and one that makes heavy and effective use of stop motion animation. In fact, it’s a lot more animated than I remembered, yet the animation fits well with the like action to create an alternative, and rather disturbing reality.

Whether Tetsuo is an unnerving exploration of the dehumanising effect of industrialisation, or simply a young and innovative director pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved is a question for the viewer and a reflection of what the audience brings to the film. But it is a film that is as unnervingly effective now as it was when it was made 30 years ago.

I’m not sure I would go as far to say this is an enjoyable film, but it is a very effective one, and one that stays with you long after you’ve seen it.

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