Half Empty, Since 1998

Summary of, and comments on the 1990 film by Japanese director Tsukamoto about a man who is infected and conquered by metal.

Marty's Notes On "Tetsuo 1: The Iron Man"

Marty Spellerberg. February 2nd, 2000

Narrative in this is a bit ambiguous, but let me try to outline it in the following. A guy sticks a metal rod in his leg and while he’s hobbling down the street he gets hit by a car because the driver too busy having sex with his girl to swerve out of the way. They pick up his body and take him out to the forest and this gets them so hot and bothered that they start going at it again. So, as a sort of punishment for all this, the driver is infected with metal when he cuts himself with his shaver and, while on the commuter train, is attacked and further infected by a woman who has the metal infection bad. He starts dreaming of getting fucked up the ass by a big metal 6-foot long penis and the next day when he’s going at it with his girl his penis becomes a nasty drill and as the infection takes his body he kills her with it. The guy with the pipe in his leg starts talking to him (telepathically?) and reanimates his girl again before confronting him personally.

Pipe-guy has also become metal but he’s all rusty because his pipe was rusty, but driver-guy is shiny because his razor was clean. Halfway through their confrontation shiny-guy is faced by an older man who says he is his father and every time the old guy hits him with a big staff the rusty guy feels it too. At the end of their fight rusty-guy and shiny-guy combine into what looks like an ugly rendition of the statue of liberty with a shotgun and, expressing how good they feel about the transformation, decide to turn the whole world into metal. At least, that’s as best as I could figure it out.

I found the homosexuality in the film rather interesting – how he kills his girl during sex but it’s not what he intended and only feels satisfaction when he merges with the other guy, the guy who was like him and understood him. But his merger with the rust-guy was extremely painful, beginning with the sex nightmares, the destruction of all of his former life and even rust-guy’s brief appearance as the reanimated girlfriend. And, if that older man was really his father then his anger, his blows that affected both of them could be representation of society’s, the establishment’s disapproval of same sex relationships.

The film was a barrage of the senses, beginning with the horrible scene of the opening of the leg and continuing with the industrial soundtrack into scenes like the gruesome killing of the girlfriend. I have seen images similar to many in that film in Japanese pulp culture and I do suspect that this film influenced much of it, rather than vice versa. This seemed to have some depth, some cohesion to the attitudes presented where much of the manga and anime seemed to use the images unjustifiably, as if they’re in fashion. I do believe that much of the power of this film lies in it being live action, being horrible in its ugly actuality in a way drawings can not. The use of animation techniques such as pixelation also added to the effect, being disorienting where smooth effects, especially computer graphics, might be distracting.


Marty’s Japanese Film Notes

These notes were compiled in the winter of 1999 as part of Marty’s studies at the Ontario College of Art & Design. They may contain references to ideas in texts and credit is given to the authors.