Review: Tetsuo (The Iron Man) (1989)

I have an absolute argument-winner: the next time someone tries to dispute that Japanese filmmakers are weird, I can show them Tetsuo. Then, after I’ve revived them and stopped them gibbering, they’ll have to admit that yes, I’m right, and yes, Japanese filmmakers come from another planet. The film damn near sucked out my brain like a whelk.

If you make it as far as the salaryman being pursued through the train station by a secretary who’s unnacountably turning into a homicidal machine, you’re doing well. That’s about ten minutes into the film, and it just gets worse. There’s about 30 words of dialogue. That’s not lines, my friend, that’s words. So don’t worry that you can’t keep up with the subtitles. “But how will I know what’s going on if there’s no dialogue?” you ask. Well, just don’t bother: you won’t ever know what’s going on even if you had the complete script and the director’s brain in a jar.

And that director: if you took David Cronenberg and force-fed him LSD from birth, then spliced his genes with those of a David Lynch likewise drugged, then kept the resulting beast awake for 10 days watching a time-lapse tape of MTV, you still wouldn’t get close. This film was made by someone from another planet, and probably another galaxy. They’ve got damn good taste in music, though: a tight semi-techno beat suffuses the whole nightmare and well makes up for the lack of dialogue.

I’ve gotta say, though, that the characterisation leaves something to be desired. After all, if a man suddenly produced a two-foot metal screw from his trouser area and drilled through the table with it, I for one would scarper at speed. Not so the character credited as “girlfriend”. No, this brave lass drags herself to the door behind which her semi-metal beloved has hidden himself and declares that “not much scares me”. Power tools do it for me, sister, and you’d have been wiser if they’d had the same effect on you.

Despite being filmed in black and white, with far too much wibbly wobbly camerawork, Tetsuo is one film that I’ll never forget, no matter how hard I try. It’ll probably stick with me into my next life, too, dammit. See it if you feel brave enough to confront great big gobs of weirdness, and assorted ironmongery.

4.5 metal protrusions out of 10.
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