Review: Tetsuo, the Iron Man (2010)

You never forget your first Tetsuo. Director Shinya Tsukamoto‘s 1989 industrial classic The Iron Man was a cold, hard slap across the face of film and music. Nearly two decades after the sequel, Body Hammer, he returns to his searing indictment of modernity and destructive capitalism.

The tetsuo – the iron man whose body is in rebellion as the organic transforms into metal – is different in every film. Photographer-turned-actor Eric Bossick takes the lead this time as Anthony, an American salaryman and familyman living in Tokyo with his Japanese wife and their child.

It’s horrifying enough for him that his infant son was not just murdered but seemingly assassinated: He’s also besieged by a series of unsettling questions. Why did his wife seem to be listening to the murder on the phone? Why has his father been taking blood samples from the family since his mother died of cancer? And why does the blood smolder on contact with air?

Tsukamoto has upgraded/evolved the hardwired aesthetics of the first two films in the cycle. Body Hammer, in hindsight, was so smeared with 80s’ neon that it has aged badly, so he cleaves closer to the shadow-drenched, bleached-out feel of the black-and-white original. Percussive, impressionistic and, even though it is performed in English, it retains the cadences and inflections of a Japanese-language performance. The end result seems oddly pre-dubbed, but it’s a huge improvement over other more overtly Americanized re-engineerings of J-Horror like Pulse and The Grudge.

While Tsukamoto’s work has undoubtedly influenced more recent splatter horrors like Tokyo Gore Policeand Machine Girl, there is none of their humor here. Instead, this is a long-overdue trip back into the brain-melting furnace of a series he ignited 21 years ago. Anthony’s own transformation into a biomechanical demon reflects the director’s core, disturbing idea: That this increasingly inorganic world will no longer rot, but rust.

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