Japan's curious comic culture floods 'Tetsuo bTC

October 01, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

For connoisseurs of the unbearable, "Tetsuo" is a must-see. It's about people who have sex with metal, that is, when various metallic shards, bolts, springs, and nuggets aren't exploding out of their thoracic cavities.

The rest of us may have some trouble with the much-beloved Japanese cult classic, which seems to draw a passionate audience wherever it shows, as it will surely do at the Charles, where it opens today for a five-day run.

Perhaps only the inane language of its own press materials can quite capture the true intensity of bizarreness that floods every frame of "Tetsuo." Some anonymous PR flack sums up one baroque twist of action thus: "On [the hero's] way to work, a woman in glasses at the subway station appears to sprout metal tentacles and attacks him." No, we are not in Kansas.

Where we are is a sub-sub underground of the Japanese sexual imagination. The men of that busy nation, when not working themselves neurotic, are noted for a peculiar affinity for lurid bondage comic books, which they read with complete lack of self-consciousness on trains to and from company headquarters each and every workday. "Tetsuo" seems to take that well-documented characteristic and expand it not mathematically but exponentially, into zones beyond comprehension, beyond strange, beyond bizarre, even beyond sick.

It is a universe unto itself. It begins with the delightful image of a man hacking his leg open, inserting a new metal thigh bone, crudely bandaging the gaping wound shut, and going out for a walk. So before you're two minutes into it, you're so far out of sight of the shore you may gasp for air.

It then follows the adventures of an apparently mild salesman (played by Tomoroh Taguchi) who seems to be turning into a robot, which has serious consequences for his sex life, as his girlfriend (Kei Fujiwara) soon finds out. The centerpiece of the movie is a terrifying tryst between these two ardent seekers of the truth beyond truth. Director Shinya Tsukamoto makes Clive Barker look like A. A. Milne.

Tsukamoto is frequently compared to David Lynch by his admirers, and the movie has something of the lurid, black and white fever-dream intensity of Lynch's "Eraserhead." But that's all: "Eraserhead" was primarily a triumph of ambience, a sense of darkness all the more terrifying for the lack of concrete imagery. "Tetsuo" is as explicit as a war atrocity. It's for the strong of stomach and bleak of spirit. Leather masks are optional. Include me out, thank you very much.


The Iron Man'

Starring Tomoroh Taguchi

Directed by Shinya Tsukamoto

Released by Original Cinema


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