September Chills – Tetsuo: The Iron Man

Tetsuo is an odd film. Filmed in 1989, it makes the distinct choice of being a black and white feature in an era where color was all the rage. It also sticks out due to the incredibly short runtime, a mere 67 minutes including all credits.

I’d been led to believe that Tetsuo: The Iron Man was another C or D tier flick from a lifetime ago, a good pick for stoners, or one for your and your friends to watch and laugh at. One description I had heard laughing the story off as being a corny film, where a man transforms to monster having a drill bit penis. Which the latter part, is accurate, but the former part being incredibly off in my humble opinion.

That despite all the oddities that encompass Tetsuo, that in my experiance it’s a lot more then a ‘weird Japan’ schlock film. There’s some real lingering after taste to this that had me pondering it long after I watched. And not in the ‘someone’s watching me’ sort of way, but in the this is actually a terrifying idea and a lot of modern Sci-fi horror projects should dig deeper into this.

The story begins were we watch a metal fetishist (Tsukamoto Shinya) cut open his leg, and shoves a large threaded steel rod into it. Obviously, the wound festers with maggots and the fetishist, terrified by this runs into the road and is struck by a car. The business man (Taguchi Tomorowo) driving the car, and his girlfriend (Fujiwara Kei) unsure if they’ve killed the fetishist or just knocked him out, panic and end up dumping him in a ravine. The fetishist ends up getting revenge for being struck and dumped by having the businessman gradually transform into a walking pile of scrap metal.

I’m telling you this graphically because, Tetsuo is a horror movie with a lot of gore, splatter, and most critically body horror. It’s not clean or kind to any of these portrayals and censoring that would be a disservice to anyone reading this. Being honest, you’ll know pretty early on if this is for you.

That being said, Tetsuo for being so graphic had me appreciate the fact it didn’t have much of a story in the end. I wasn’t following it for plot, so I spent more of my watch time contemplating the meaning behind various scenes. I had a lot more notes posing questions about ‘what if this means x’ then I normally did but I won’t go on to bore you with every single one. What got me thinking the most, and what I really enjoyed watching the contrast between ‘outer Tetsuo’ as in the business man whose unwilling and terrified by his transformation, and ‘inner Tetsuo’ as in the metal fetishist whose accepted and dare I say delighting in his transformation. The contrast between the two men shown, until ‘inner Tetsuo’ makes his move to finish ‘outer Tetsuo’ was so suspenseful that it felt incredibly explosive when it all came to a head.

This was done with the variety of choices the film made, as in the aforementioned being filmed in black and white. This was coupled with the care of all the practical effects to make people into monsters. Truly, this was one of the best showings of practical effects I’ve seen ever, especially if you take the time to recall where the film started, and how it ended. It’s just something I haven’t seen a lot of recently. I’m really grateful that Tsukumoto Shinya, the screenwriter, director and who played the metal fetishist took the time to pour resources into.

That and how the concept of ‘speed’ was presented. In a sense, they did a stop motion type effect with the character, usually ‘inner’ Tetsuo staying in one position or set of poses, and the background constantly changing behind him. I think the proper term for this is Back/Rear Projection but I could be wrong. It reminded me of a flip-book animation, or even stop motion with the background being the focus of motion. I’ve never seen anything like it in live action film, so to see it used with repetition eventually my brain pieced together the effect it was going for and honestly that made me quite proud. It’s such a unique effect and added another layer of charm to the film.

I am morbidly obsessed with this image. Also in shot is the metal fetishist/ ‘inner’ Tetsuo.

Coupled with this was just how intense the action displayed was shone. There was a ton of times throughout the film, where we are placed in ‘inner’ or ‘outer’ Tetsuo’s vision. It gets your adrenaline pumping, only to swing the viewer back out further to take in the whole scene as a witness, and consistently switch these perspectives. It potentially could have been a bit more smoothed out, but overall the frantic nature of not knowing which is worse, being a witness or experiencing it directly, made the whole film feel that much more visceral in it’s execution.

There’s a whole onslaught of other effects and features the film utilized to the fullest that added to this story. The first being music and background sounds. There’s very little use of music, and what is used is truly jarring at first listen as a jump scare almost. Until you think back that the film is so focused on how the most mundane sounds begin to change when you’re transforming into something less then human. Added into this is the limited, but intentional dialogue; Tetsuo at no point attempts to elaborate on anything more then needed especially with dialogue and it’s awesome.

I do want to pivot a bit in my praise to talk about the part of the story that got me thinking a lot, but at the same time I’m not sure of it’s overall inclusion. That being sex. There’s a lot implied and outright sex in this movie. And I actually understand why it’s being included for once, instead of immediately writing it off as euro guro/edge lord fodder.

It’s shown early on, at least for me, that what makes the business men or ‘outer Tetsuo’ human, is his indulgence in sex with his girlfriend. That’s the whole reason he has a nightmare with his girlfriend transforming, why he immediately seeks to have it after he’s transformed a bit, and ultimately what leads his girlfriend to dying. It’s an interesting perspective especially when you take the term ‘joining two beings into one’ into account. I’d go so far as to say without sex, Tetsuo would be less impactful as a narrative. However, that doesn’t mean that any of the sex scenes get spared the gore and gritty nature of the film as a whole.

Yeah… I wasn’t lying about this.

Overall, being primed for one type of horror and walking out with a completely different experiance was something I wasn’t anticipating with this film. And I can’t say that I was disappointed. Tetsuo: The Iron Man might be a film where I’m reading too much into it, but I’m having fun while doing so. It’s certainly not for everyone, but if you’re looking for a film with amazing practical effects, some dope cinematography but isn’t too plot heavy; this is the film for you.


  1. I’m reeeally not good with watching body horror (or, to be honest, just horror in general, at least in live-action form), but this was a really interesting read nonetheless, so thank you for the write-up.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s totally fair. Horror isn’t for everyone, and I’m only just getting into it myself. lol. But I’m glad that you found this interesting! It makes me really happy to hear that!

      Liked by 1 person

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