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Film / Tetsuo: The Iron Man

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Tetsuo: The Iron Man is a 1989 Japanese cyberpunk Body Horror film by cult film director Shinya Tsukamoto. This, his third film, is an extremely graphic but also strikingly-filmed fantasy shot in the same low-budget, underground-production style as his first two films. Tetsuo established Tsukamoto's fame and created his worldwide cult following. It was followed by two sequels, Tetsuo II: Body Hammer and Tetsuo III: The Bullet Man.

It follows the tale of a man who, after hitting a metal fetishist with his car, attempts to hide the mess by dumping the body into a ravine. To his dismay, he finds that the dead man is getting his revenge - by forcing the driver to transform into a walking heap of scrap metal.

Not to be confused with that Tetsuo or that Iron Man, though there are certainly similarities with the former.


This movie contains examples of:

  • Abandoned Warehouse: The final confrontation between the salaryman and the Metal Fetishist in the first film takes place in one of these.
  • Actionized Sequel: Both 2 and The Bullet Man, according to Word of God.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: It is implied, but not confirmed, that the couple in Phantom in Regular Size had the decency to send Yatsu to the hospital unlike their counterparts in The Iron Man.
  • All There in the Manual: Unlike the sequels, The Iron Man doesn't explain why or how Yatsu has powers over metal; its predecessor "The Phantom of Regular Size" gave a possible answer in that metal from the car collision have embedded into Yatsu's body, the thought of dying caused his cells to mutate with the metal and helped him develop psychic powers. Although the trailer did mention psychic powers, it was not mentioned in the movie.
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  • And I Must Scream: Heavy overtones of this in the first film.
  • Animesque: The first film. To quote a YouTube commentator:
    Movies like this, Meatball Machine and Tokyo Gore Police remind me of trippy live-action anime. So bizarre yet I love this shit.
  • All Just a Dream: The main character has a dream that his girlfriend turns into a machine-woman with a metallic probe that seems to be made from a vaccum cleaner. She then proceeds to rape him with it... and yes, it is every bit as disturbing as it sounds.
  • Arm Cannon: The second and third movies show that murderous intent seems to manifest this (among other things) if the hate behind it is strong enough. In reality, people who are capable of this were actually part of an experiment to create humans who could become living weapons.
  • Bald of Evil: 2 features a whole gang of 'em, working for both Yatsu/The Guy/The Metal Fetishist and a Mad Scientist.
  • Big Bad: Yatsu, the Metal Fetishist who started the Salaryman's transformation.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: The Salaryman and his girlfriend do not seem to act like good people, considering that their reaction to hitting a wounded man with their car is to dump the corpse (or not) in a ravine and have sex over where they dumped him, most likely with the body facing them, considering the angle we see it from. So that means that the Metal Fetishist should be better, right? Well...
  • Body Horror: We have several shots of metal protruding through the protagonist's flesh, gradually mutating him into a man made of metal over the course of the film.
  • Cultural Translation: The third movie has an American protagonist, but it is still set in Japan.
  • Cyberpunk: Things go to hell when average salary men get transformed into machines.
  • Death by Sex: See below.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The first film is entirely in black and white.
  • Depraved Homosexual: The Fetishist may very well be this, as he's obsessed to terrifying extremes with the protagonist, and is willing to destroy the entire world with their "love."
  • Downer Ending: The first film. The protagonist and antagonist merge together to form one organism and they will use their combined power to destroy the world, due to the last lines of the film. Also, for the Salaryman, he seems to have become fully submissive and under the control of the Metal Fetishist (although he may just be pretending to act like that just to avoid more pain).
  • Driven to Suicide: In The Bullet Man, Anthony attempts this. It doesn't work.
  • Double-Meaning Title: Tetsuo is a very generic name in Japan, similar to John, representing the protagonist's salaryman life, and the word for iron is "Tetsu".
  • Dull Surprise: Eric Bossick and Stephen Sazzarin in The Bullet Man. Both rarely show any sort of emotion throughout the movie. When Anthony begins to transform, however...
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: The Bullet Man, which doubles as a Surprisingly Happy Ending. Anthony is able to defeat the Metal Fetishist, save his family, and restore his body to its normal state. Five years later, he's shown having a happy life.
  • Erotic Eating: The salaryman cooks and feeds dinner for his girlfriend and as he's doing this, he hears metallic noises.
  • Extra-ore-dinary: The Fetishist seems to have power over metal, not just an ability to produce it from his own body. The Salaryman seems to discover this power too, and even briefly turn the tables on the Fetishist (it's hard to say for sure).
  • Fan Disservice: The Erotic Eating scene juxtaposed with metallic screeching noises was definitely not meant to be sexy.
  • Freudian Excuse: Several flashbacks from Yatsu's POV imply he's such a twisted, depraved fanatic because a piece of metal was lodged in his head since childhood, beaten into him by a cruel vagrant, leading him to develop an unhealthy sadomasochistic obsession with the element as it transformed him physically and mentally. Then these two jerks run him over and make out over his still conscious body. You can imagine his mind isn't in the right place after all that.
  • Finger Firearms: Yatsu possesses one in Body Hammer.
  • Gainax Ending: 2 ends with Tomoo (the Salaryman) walking with his family through a ruined city.
  • Game Over: The first film ends with this as an after-credits message in lieu of "THE END".
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: In The Bullet Man, Anthony loses it after learning about the Tetsuo Project. Complete with Laughing Mad and all.
  • Gratuitous English: This Bullet Man poster's tagline says "DESTROY WORLD".
    • While the movie is in English, Yatsu shouts out some very Engrish-y terms like "COME ON COWBOY!"
  • Hulking Out: The nature of Anthony's transformation in The Bullet Man.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Of the mechanical kind
  • Human Weapon: Both the Salaryman and Yatsu in 2.
    • Anthony and his son(s) in The Bullet Man. Turns out Dr. Ride (his father) created a Tetsuo replica of his dying wife. Then, he inseminates it, resulting with Anthony. This is shown in all of it's violent glory when Anthony single-handedly defeats an entire SWAT team..
  • I Have Your Wife: The bad guys kidnap the salaryman's son (and later his wife) in Body Hammer.
  • Kaiju: Anthony's final form The Bullet Man could qualify as this, being massive in scale and having the power to destroy much of Tokyo. Unfortunately the cinematography makes it quite difficult to get a good look at what the kaiju in question actually looks like.
  • Kick the Dog: Yatsu transforms the Salaryman's cat into a living metal sculpture that's desperately trying to move.
  • Le Film Artistique: The movies are black and white (except the sequels), has a small budget, uses unusual film techniques and the plot is full of Mind Screw and very open to interpretation, if we add that the movies are Japanese the series fit the trope perfectly.
  • Lipstick-and-Load Montage: The antagonist is shown changing his hairstyle, painting his lips, and putting on eye makeup before his confrontation with the protagonist.
  • Mad Scientist: A character simply named "Mad Scientist" appears in Body Hammer. Yatsu himself is apparently one in The Bullet Man.
  • Mind Screw: There's a reason why it is often compared to Eraserhead.
  • Mythology Gag: Anthony in The Bullet Man does the same frenzied "dance" the Salaryman did in The Iron Man.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: The antagonist is called "The Metal Fetishist". When he was alive, he enjoyed shoving bits of metal into his body.
    • After the main characters run over him, the protagonist's girlfriend gets aroused. She later gets aroused when she shoves a knife into the main character's neck in hopes of killing him.
  • No Name Given: In the first movie, nobody is actually named. The Metal Fetishist is commonly known as Yatsu but that's not a name but instead Japanese for "guy".
  • Omnicidal Maniac: The Metal Fetishist.
    How about turning the whole world into metal? You and me. And we can rust the whole world and scatter it into the dust of the universe. Our love can put an end to this fucking world! LET'S GO!!!
    I don't want money. Destruction is all I need.
    No, I'm not going to end it with a cheap shot like this. What I want, Anthony, is for you to show the stupid people of this world what life is really like. Brains and blood splattering. That's reality. Come on, destroy all of our lazy peaceful dreams. Awaken to your destiny!
  • Our Zombies Are Different: His dead girlfriend is briefly brought back due to the antagonist's manipulation. Then he teleports out of her somehow.
    • The woman who chases the protagonist on the subway seemed like one as well. In fact, since the antagonist dies, comes back, and infects the protagonist, one could almost see this as some crazy zombie flick.
  • Phallic Weapon: There is a lot of phallic imagery in the first movie and they tend to be associated with pain: Salaryman's penis turns into a drill, a young Yatsu was assaulted by a man who pulled a metal rod from out of his crotch and the metal monster in the end looks like a penis.
  • Primal Fear: The final battle of Bullet Man takes place in a crevice barely wide enough to turn around in, not to mention the other instances of claustrophobia in it.
  • Remake: Of Tsukamoto's first film, The Phantom of Regular Size.
  • The Right Hand of Doom: Almost every character in the movies end up sporting a big, clunky metal hand (or an Arm Cannon) at one point or another.
  • Rule of Scary: Watching this movie can bring up many questions, such as "How is the protagonist able to live with all that metal growing out of his body?" or "How are the rocket jets in his ankles fueled?" or even "How is this even possible?" The answer to all these is because Shinya Tsukamoto hates you and does not believe in this peculiar idea you call "sleep".
  • Silence Is Golden: As a nod to its Eraserhead influences, the movie has minimal dialogue.
  • Stop Motion: The most common method of special effects. Somehow, the jilted movements make everything creepier.
  • Straw Nihilist: The salaryman and the Fetishist turn into this by the end, deciding to team up to turn the entire world into metal. Probably a result of Sanity Slippage induced by their brains turning to metal.
  • Surprisingly Good English: The Bullet Man's dialogue certainly counts. It helped that the script is translated from Japanese, not to mention this being (so far) the only film to feature Americans.
  • Synchronization: When Yatsu possess the lady with glasses, he can feel the pain she would have felt. Not that it stops him anyway.
  • Take a Third Option: In The Bullet Man, Yatsu/The Metal Fetishist plants a bomb on Yuriko's necklace. He gives Anthony two choices: kill him or let her die. Anthony, realizing that either choices will drive him into destroying the world, forcefully absorbs Yatsu into his body, reverting him back to human form.
  • Tank Goodness: Towards the end of Body Hammer, Tomoo, Yatsu, and the skinheads join together to form a giant tank-like thing.
  • This Is a Drill: The driver's penis transforms into one of these. During sex with his girlfriend.
  • Thematic Series: The movies all tell their own stories, but share several elements, including a saleryman turning into metal after encountering Yatsu, the metal fetishist; people turning into weapons and all end with the saleryman fusing with Yatsu, for better or for worse.
  • Transhuman: Arguably, the protagonists. Sure, they become grotesque walking lumps of scrap metal, but as the films go on, they can sprout guns from their bodies, become giant tank things and crawl on walls.
  • Two-Faced: Temporarily, one side of Anthony's face is completely transformed and inhuman in The Bullet Man.
  • Unreadably Fast Text: Yatsu's slideshow in The Bullet Man.
  • Unstable Genetic Code: Anthony's transformation is due to him having "android DNA" in The Bullet Man
  • Unwilling Roboticisation: A common theme in the trilogy.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: On closer inspection, the salaryman has two cats but we only one of them turn into metal.
  • You Wouldn't Like Me When I'm Angry: Anthony becoming enraged due to the murder of his son causes him to start transforming in The Bullet Man.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: In The Bullet Man, Yatsu/The Metal Fetishist pulls this on both his mooks and the PMC pursuing Dr. Ride.
  • Wall Crawl: In the third film, after transforming, Anthony somehow gains this ability despite having a metal body that presumably weighs several hundred pounds.
  • Widget Series: A very weird series of art films.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: While mutating everyone and everything into metal is not the way to cope, Yatsu's own situation is pretty horrible. He suffered a brutal beating as a child that fused metal to his cells, gradually consuming his mind, and lived a pitiful existence as an insane vagrant before he was run over. He's in a great amount of physical and psychological pain, and it's implied his torment of the salaryman is out of a need to share that pain with someone. The later films seem to drop this aspect however, as he's far more malicious while also being more lucid, yet still sociopathic.
  • World of Symbolism: Some say the movie is about modern humanity's overdependance on machines. Others think it is a metaphor for homosexual awakening. There are probably many more theories out there.


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