You Should Watch Tetsuo

This is 'Tetsuo: The Iron Man' (鉄男: The Iron Man). It's feverishly vivid and brutal, compacted into a short film on an extremely tight budget. It is full of disturbing themes, imagery, and body horror. I love it. If you know you're going to hate it, skip out now. I feel Tetsuo is somewhat known, but not nearly as much as it should be, which played a substantial role in me deciding to talk about it. Alongside that, I get the feeling many people on this site would enjoy this sort of film. Just a hunch. And it's an hour long. You can spare an hour, right?

A Frame From Tetsuo

I recommend listening to my jam from the official soundtrack, it's pretty great.

Tetsuo is referenced as a 'cyberpunk' film, but Eastern and Western conceptualisations of cyberpunk somewhat differ - Japanese cyberpunk often tends more to a depiction of industrial, metallic imagery. A better-known example may be the manga series/animated film Akira. Those that enjoy cyberpunk will likely enjoy this, but it may not be what you normally associate as cyberpunk.

The production 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 primary actors had left, and the director - Shinya Tsukamoto (塚本 晋也) - almost burned the negatives.

Animated Image of Maggot-Infested Wound from Tetsuo

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 straightforward in principle, though requires your attention to notice it at play behind the scene-to-scene gore and violence. I'll give a rough summary of the plot below. Considering the nature of this film, it's hard to be 'spoiled', but skip this last part if you'd like to avoid that. 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.


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 MF's makeshift grave. SM is tormented by daydreams and visions of industrial machinery, from the enraged ghost of MF. A metal spike protrudes from his cheek, which he covers. 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: 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 rod. MF gets up and attempts to attack SM, but SM is now too powerful, and they absorb each other, becoming a single tank-like amalgamate. They claim with the power of their love, they will burn the world and return it to a rusted ball in space.

The whole thing was pretty moving.

NB: 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.