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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 7/2/99

Works of Shinya Tsukamoto

reviews by Todd Doogan, special to The Digital Bits

Tetsuo: The Iron Man Tetsuo: The Iron Man
1988 (1998) - Kaijyu Theater (Fox Lorber/Image)

Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/D-

Specs and Features:

67 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Snapper case packaging, film-themed menu screens, scene access (10 chapters), languages: Japanese (DD mono), subtitles: English

Tetsuo II: Body Hammer Tetsuo II: Body Hammer
1992 (1999) - Kaiyu Theater (Manga Video)

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/ B+/B

Specs and Features:

83 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, production credits, filmmaker Shinya Tsukamoto biography, anti-drug trailer featuring Chuck D. of Public Enemy, Manga fan club information with web links, video commercials and a preview of movies currently available, film-themed menu screens with animation and sound effects, scene access (12 chapters), languages: Japanese (DD 2.0), subtitles: English

Tokyo Fist Tokyo Fist
1995 (1999) - Kaiyu Theater (Manga Video)

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B+/B

Specs and Features:

90 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, production credits, filmmaker Shinya Tsukamoto biography, anti-drug trailer featuring Lauryn Hill, Manga fan club information with web links, video commercials and a preview of movies currently available, film-themed menu screens with animation and sound effects, scene access (14 chapters), languages: Japanese (DD 2.0), subtitles: English

If I were to compare Japanese director Shinya Tsukamoto to any other filmmaker out there, I'd say that he's even parts David Cronenberg and David Lynch - that's not in style, but rather in his subject matter. Like Lynch and Cronenberg, Tsukamoto uses the human body as a vessel for an even greater art form. To these filmmakers, flesh is just no big deal. But, flesh twisted around something else, like TV tubes, rusted metal or a broken fist -- now that's something completely different.

Shinya Tsukamoto was born January 1st, 1960, in Shibuyu, Tokyo. He had the requisite filmmaker's childhood, playing around with his family's Super 8mm camera, and acting in his own productions. His hobby was eventually put on hold, when he began to study the fine arts, and acting in theater. At 22, Tsukamoto started working in advertising, directing commercials. He eventually quit, in 1986, to start his experimental theater troupe, Kaijyu Theater ("phantom theater"), which he still runs and participates in. Three plays in three years at Kaijyu, led Tsukamoto to break into filmmaking with a small independent film, entitled Tetsuo: Iron Man.

Tetsuo: Iron Man

Filmed in stark, black and white 16mm, Tetsuo: Iron Man concerns your seemingly average, everyday Japanese Salaryman (Tomoroh Taguchi), who unexpectedly finds a metal wire sticking out of his chin one morning. As he attempts to pull it out, he starts to pour blood. The merging of man and metal has begun. Meanwhile, a metal fetishist (Shinya Tsukamoto), inserts pieces of scrap into his flesh, runs into the street madly, and is hit by a car driven by our Salaryman. The two men's lives are now sealed together (and sealed quite literally), with a series of rapid nightmarish images, showing pipes, wires and rusty scrap growing everywhere on them, until they merge together on a mission to destroy the world.

Tetsuo: Iron Man is a punch in the gut. It's grand cyberpunk filmmaking, but it is so much more than that. It's short, and to the point, and is as frenetic as all get out - jump cuts, flashes of disturbing images, and the incorporation of several stop-motion techniques. It's hard to really talk about - it's stream of conscience, and very visceral. This is filmmaking that should be seen and discussed. It's the type of movie that's sprung on you, and gets caught in your eye. Once you get it out, you're scarred - but not necessarily hurt. It's a good pain.

The disc from Image is a good-looking one. The film is a very grainy black and white, so you're not going to get a crystal clear film. I did detect some noise in the blacks on the disc - and it's a common problem with all three of the Tsukamoto films reviewed here. It doesn't distract - but what are you gonna do, you have to point it out. Video and audio wise, it's an okay DVD. I do have one complaint about a typo on the back, listing a short film called Drum Struck that is supposed to be included. It's not on the disc, so don't look for it. I tried everything to find it, refusing to believe it was just a typo. But it's a typo, folks - a typo that includes frickin' credits on the back of the box. So, aside from credits to a film not on the disc -- there aren't any extras. I personally would have liked some extras.

Tetsuo II: Body Hammer

Remaking, rather than continuing, the now already classic, cyberpunk essay Tetsuo: Iron Man, Tsukamoto updated the strange life and times of Taniguchi (from the first film) with Tetsuo II: Body Hammer. No longer an innocent bystander, Taniguchi (again played by Tomoroh Taguchi) is forced into battle with a gang of thugs, who have a mysterious agenda. Only after they abduct his son, does Taniguchi find the strength to release the violence he holds inside. This "will," when fully realized, turns Taniguchi from a mild-mannered vacationing tourist, into a bloodthirsty, biomechanical killing machine. Stepping above the monochromatic world of the original film, Tsukamoto chooses to blend the film with colors of molten metal, and the harsher, dark blues and silvers of a congested cityscape, illustrating his themes with an angry palette of colors. Tetsuo II: Body Hammer is a rapid-fire montage of images, drawn from a part of the human mind few can imagine. Tsukamoto pulls off what many other filmmakers have failed at before: He pulls his audience into a world where they are forced to think like the characters they are observing.

I think this is one of the rarest examples where the sequel surpasses the original, and that ain't a bad thing. I think they both stand on their own very well, but as you can tell, Body Hammer has much more of a storyline, and is therefore, very much more audience friendly. Think Evil Dead as compared to Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn.

Tetsuo II: Body Hammer is a fine disc. It's not perfect, but it's pretty good. The colors are sharp, and the sound is nice and evenly mixed. Again, like Iron Man, there's a problem with solid blacks - which in the films of Tsukamoto, is common. If he's not filming night shots, he's cutting to jarring black screens. He knows how to off set his audience, and with his theater background, it's understandable that he would "cut the lights" so to speak, between scenes. Extras include a bio of the filmmaker, a trailer, and some info about Manga the company.

Tokyo Fist

Shinya Tsukamoto's Tokyo Fist isn't easy an easy film to watch. In fact it's pretty hardcore, even for fans of Tsukamoto's work, and fans of hardcore horror movies in general.

Tokyo Fist is strikingly similar to Tetsuo I and II in theme, in that it's about people who are turning into grotesque monsters, except the two main characters are using the human body to change the human body (make sense?).

An insurance salesman named Tsuda, and his girlfriend Hizguru, both live the standardly predictable Japanese life. Tsuda is overachieving in life, and running around making customer after customer, as Hizguru waits at home bored. There's not much going on with these two, when in walks an old school friend of Tsuda. Tsuda's friend Kojima is a professional boxer, and when he steps into their lives, nothing will be the same again.

Right from the start, there's a sexual tension between Kojima and Hizguru. Nothing goes on between the two, but that doesn't stop Tsuda from slowly going crazy with jealously. In a moment straight from the old comic book ads, where of the beefy guy kicks sand in the face of the weakling, Kojima beats the stuffing out of Tsuda when he is confronted. Hizguru witnesses the attack (which is pretty violent and disturbing), and it turns her on, and unlocks some dark door in her soul. She likes the idea of uncontrolled violence, and starts down a path of sadomasochism, piercing herself much in the same manner that the fetishist does in Iron Man. The new world view of Hizguru doesn't help Tsuda, and he leaves her to starts down his own road - becoming a monster in the boxing ring.

Metaphor, symbolism, and a twisting, turning visual style, will definitely make you see a parallel to the upcoming David Fincher film The Fight Club. It'll be interesting to see if there is much influence from Tokyo Fist on that film.

As I said in the above, Tsukamoto pulls no punches (pardon the pun), and it's a hard film to stomach. His style is very offsetting, and you won't truly find your bearings when watching the film. He draws you into this world, but almost makes you as paranoid as Tsuda. You're constantly looking around, trying not to stare directly at the screen. It takes a little while to get used to his filmmaking style, but in the end you'll be glad you did.

The DVD of Tokyo Fist looks very much like Body Hammer. Colors are nice and sharp - but again, we get into problems with the blacks. It's noticeable, but not something that's going to ruin the movie for you. It shouldn't keep anyone from picking up the discs. Extras are the same as Body Hammer, except there's a different rock star telling people not to do drugs on the PSA.

Bottom Line

Shinya Tsukamoto is a very different filmmaker, and fans of such different films will eat this stuff up. I remember the first time I ever saw one of his movies - it inspired me to go out and find other movies just like it. The only thing is, there isn't anything just like his stuff. You'd think that would be a problem, but it's not. Because at least now, a few of his movies are on DVD. And that's a very good thing indeed.

Todd Doogan
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Tetsuo: The Iron Man

Tetsuo II: Body Hammer

Tokyo Fist

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