It’s never a good sign when I begin my notes to a film with an exclamation of my distaste at what I’m seeing on screen, so the fact that the first scrawling for Tetsuo is “Gah!” should be viewed as a sign for bad things to come. This expression of shock and mild gagging was to a man, who apparently is named the Metal Fetishist (Shin’ya Tsukamoto, who also wrote and directed this), cutting a gouge down his leg and inserting a metal rod into it, parallel to the bone. Bear in mind last week I suffered a mild leg injury via bicycle accident (slamming on my brakes when a car turned without indicating led me to rake my leg down the metal grip-studs on my pedal, leaving me looking like I’ve survived a mild velociraptor attack), this visual did not go down well with me. Nor did the wound being filled with maggots. Delightful. The man who inserted the bar into his leg – which by no means impedes his ability to walk or run on it – seems to be turning into a man made entirely of scrap metal. Whether he is intending to or it is happening beyond his control is just one of the many questions Tetsuo throws up that I’m more than OK not receiving an answer to.
When the man finds a small piece of scrap jutting from his cheek, he goes to pick at it as though it were an unruly zit or a hair he’d missed whilst shaving, only for it to burst like a water balloon full of tomato soup. Later, after being in a car accident with a saxophone soundtrack, he sits next to a girl who pokes at something I referred to as mechanical roadkill, which latches onto her hand and seems to become part of her, controlling her actions like some kind of puppet. She chases him, leading to a fight in which she explodes her own breast by clenching it with one hand, a hand that also has some kind of mouth on it. In the ensuing skirmish he defeats her, but not before his own hand and feet are afflicted with the same scrap metal scourge. Oh, and there’s a woman with one of Doctor Octopus’ tentacles attached to her groin like a strap-on dildo, which she uses to anally rape a man. It should be noted that this man has a drill for a penis. Yeah. And not a battery-operated hand tool for drilling wall plug holes. This thing looks more like mining machinery. It would do some damage if used for anything other than dirt excavation. I was almost hoping for a scene where he had to change the bit, using the chuck key, and replace it with something more useful like a Phillips screwdriver, maybe putting up some shelving, but alas no.
In case you haven’t gathered yet, this film is batshit bonkers. There appears to be no attempt to explain anything that’s happening, with only a throwaway line at the end implying that the initial metal bar was rusty, which infected his cells and made him part machine. It doesn’t explain why he was inserting it into his leg to begin with, and I’m really hesitant to just say “the Japanese certainly do make some crazy films” by way of justifying Tetsuo‘s existence. I can’t fathom it’s inclusion on the 1001 list, and it’s been removed from the edition I’ve got, so I can’t even read the write-up that will occasionally offer some kind of explanation. However, and I find this just as bizarre as anyone else who might have seen this, I didn’t hate it. I normally have very little time for films that offer no satisfactory explanation to their audiences, and this is most certainly not a film I’d recommend, but I found a few scenes to be genuinely enjoyable and I laughed more than once. Whether I was supposed to or not remains to be seen, but I laughed nonetheless.
The most enjoyable scene for me was a dinner sequence. After the Doc Oc tentacle rape, the woman and the man in question have dinner, except everything the woman inserts into her mouth sounds like machinery. Her teeth on the metal fork sound like screeching gears. Chewing is gunfire. Licking a skewered sausage sounds like sharpening knives, and it’s evident that the man is getting turned on by all this, and I found it all to be hilarious. Profoundly nonsensical, but hilarious. Also, the stop-motion effect of the scrap metal forming over the various characters in the film was quaint, a throwback to an earlier way of doing things.
You don’t need to watch this film. It’s available on Youtube, and barely over an hour long, but there’s a lot more bad to be gained from it that good. There’s a lot of images I’d be happy to remove from my memory, and very few I’d be happy to keep, and the lack of any kind of explanation is just frustrating.
Choose Life 4/10