Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Original Iron Man: The Body Horror of Shinya Tsukamoto

Tetsuo: The Iron Man, 1989
With Iron Man 3 now in theaters, there is no better time to talk about the original Iron Man.  Of course, that's not the franchise launching Marvel vehicle from 2008, but the Japanese body horror freak show that is Shinya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo: The Iron Man.

Tetsuo is about as far from a shiny, tent pole blockbuster as you can get.  Produced in Japan in 1989 and given narrow distribution in 1992, Shinya's film is a breathless, industrial collage of desecrated flesh and industrial synth.  Where Tony Stark's metamorphosis from man to machine leaves him sexier and more powerful, "Salary Man," the films nearly anonymous "protagonist", suffers through a feature length ordeal of violent insertions and bursting blood sacks as his body rebels against itself.  His limbs bloom with tumor-like growths.  He is raped by a woman with a dancing metallic cable emerging from her navel.  He has sex with his girlfriend, only for his penis to transform into an immense, bio-mechanical drill (a prop that seems to have been copied in spirit in Noboru Iguchi's splatter horror camp fest The Machine Girl and its notorious "drill bra").  There is no hint of super heroism here.  This is The Elephant Man by way of David Cronenburg, Robocop as re-imagined by Jan Svankmeyer.





The Disney approved Iron Man follows the road of body horror straight into action movie heroics, with sleek metal suits shot like car commercials and endless opportunities for personal redemption.  Tetsuo's landscape is one of twisted metal and bulging rebar where there should be bone, the film a sometimes incomprehensible assault of jumps cuts and auditory explosions.  One of the film's first images is of a man slashing open his leg and inserting a metal rod into the wound, only to watch as his flesh is invaded by maggots.  In his panic he is struck by a car, and his spirit proceeds to haunt the driver from within, a cackling glam rock demon housed in a womb of cables and steam .  The film seems to possess a barely contained subconscious, a bubbling inner chaos raging its way towards inevitable escape.



It is hard not to remember the American Iron Man when a voice from within the man's subconscious intones, "There's a piece of metal stuck in your brain.  You'll die if its removed."  But where Tony Stark becomes a man redeemed by his kinship with machines, Salary Man's merging with the industrial is one that leaves all humanity far behind.  There is no, "Genius, billionaire  playboy, philanthropist " here, no catch phrases or anything likely to earn a $680 million world wide gross.  But there is a drill dick.  Maybe they're saving that for Iron Man 4.



Tetsuo: The Iron Man is out of print on DVD, but is availalbe on Netflix.        

   

1 comment:

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