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DIY Thigh Implants

If you hadn't already guessed, I'm referring to the film 'Tetsuo: The Iron Man' (鉄男: The Iron Man). I hope you didn't think I was planning on jamming a metal rod into a wound on my thigh, and are now disappointed.

I've still not entirely established to myself whatever it is I want to talk about on this website, but seeing as I've discussed a variety of things - some of which not belonging to me, such as my post on Qutebrowser or my post on PC-98 era Touhou games, there's no reason I can't talk about a film I really enjoy.

A frame from Tetsuo

There are a couple of reasons I feel like talking about it. I'm interested in a lot of media and various types of art, and you may notice references around my site, but I may not necessarily talk about them: this is generally because they're well-known. I feel Tetsuo is somewhat known, but not nearly as much as it should be.

And I get the feeling, among those following my site, there are many people that would enjoy a low-tech low-life body horror film. Tetsuo is referenced as a "cyberpunk" film, but Eastern and Western conceptualisations of "cyberpunk" wildly differ - Japanese cyberpunk tends to a depiction of industrial, metallic imagery, and a narrative that can lean more or less towards being incomprehensible. A good, better-known example may be the manga series/animated film Akira. Because of Tetsuo's dark and vivid imagery, surreal pacing, and low-budget underground production, I imagine many here would appreciate it. That, and it packs a lot into the space of an hour. I'm sure you can spare an hour.

I'm sure it goes without saying, but this is an adult film, neither for young children or the faint of heart. I mean, come on.

The production also stands as an example of how much you can do on a severely restricted budget. The camera is monochrome. The animation is done with stop-motion. The metal growth was produced by taping discarded electronics to the actors' bodies. And it looks fantastic. The thought put into the lighting, angle, and perspective of the camera shows. Occasionally the film drops into long indulgent footage, scrawling over wiring, metal, and industrial components to the enthralling beat of the original soundtrack by Chu Ishikawa (石川忠). Everything adds up, contributing to the vivid, claustrophobic, unhinged feeling of the film. That being said, it is rumoured that the production was such a painful experience most of the crew aside from the actors had left, and the director - Shinya Tsukamoto (塚本 晋也) - almost burned the negatives.

Animated scene from Tetsuo, of the maggot infested wound

Tetsuo does have an underlying plot - it isn't just a film about metal monstrosities beating each other around (though there's enough of that to taste). The plot itself is fairly straightforward, though requires some attention. I'll give a rough summary of the plot below, skip to avoid spoilers. This summary explains things (as far as I understand them) chronologically, rather than revealing secrets in the same order as the film, so if you've already seen it may help you understand.

Plot (spoilers, obviously)

The metal fetishist (MF) has a chunk of metal lodged into his brain. The doctor is surprised he is still breathing and has made it to a hospital. This may explain his fascination with implanting metal into his body, or may be a consequence of it. MF is at his hideout, full of rusted scrap metal and pictures of athletes. He rips open his thigh, and thrusts a metal rod inside. Presumably later, he unwraps it, to discover the wound is infested with maggots. Terrified, he runs out onto the road, and is hit by the car of a salaryman and his girlfriend (SM and GF). He dies upon being hit. SM and GF discard the body in a forest, having sex afterwards, in front of his makeshift grave. SM is tormented by daydreams and visions of industrial machinery. A metal spike protrudes from his cheek, which he covers. GF cannot stop thinking about the accident. On SM's way to work, a woman sitting next to him notices an amalgamation of flesh and metal on the ground, pokes it, and quickly becomes a puppet of MF's spirit. SM flees in terror to hide in a toilet, but is able to kill her with his own growing metal powers. SM later dreams of GF sodomising him with a giant metal phallus. SM and GF have sex after he has woken up. They eat a meal, but SM cannot stop thinking about metal, the chewing food sounds like scraping metal. SM's transformation accelerates. His penis has been transformed into a large metal drill. SM hides from GF, afraid to let her see him. GF convinces him to come out. GF is horrified, and her rejection of him after her confidence angers SM, and he attacks her. GF stabs him in the neck with a kitchen knife, and believing to have killed him, commits suicide by impaling herself on his spinning drill. As SM regains consciousness, MF laughs at him. SM has completed his transformation, and now MF is coming to hunt him down. SM tries to commit suicide by electrocution, but in his transformed state it only stimulates him further. SM possesses the body of GF, destroying all metal in his wake. MF easily overpowers SM, and shows him a vision of the "New World" - a world overcome by metal, depicting SM as a human trapped in a pod, then screaming, consumed by metal pipes and wires and stripped of flesh. MF chases SM through the city, beating him around, before MF is incapacitated by a vision from his childhood of being beaten by a vagrant with a metal stick. MF gets up and attempts to attack SM, but SM is now too powerful, and they absorb each other, becoming a single tank-like monstrosity. They claim with the power of their love, they will burn the world and return it to a rusted ball in space.

I found the whole thing weirdly moving, almost sympathetic. If I've not convinced you yet, you should listen to my jam, it's amazing. And if you've already seen and like it, you should find more of Shinya Tsukamoto's works, other films of Kei Fujiwara (不二稿 京) such as 'Organ', and try out some music from Chu Ishikawa.

Neither the image or the animation in this article belongs to me, they are taken from '鉄男: The Iron Man' and credit goes to respective parties.

2020.12.27

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