The Geisha of Gore vs. TETSUO: THE BULLET MAN
The Geisha of Gore: TESTUSO THE BULLET MAN
(NOT YOUR MAMA’S KAIJU)
Review by Colleen Wanglund
I was lucky enough to see a screening of Shinya Tsukamoto’s TETSUO: THE BULLET MAN during The Tribeca Film Festival here in New York City in April. It was followed up by a very cool Q&A session with director Tsukamoto, Eric Bossick (who stars as Anthony) and the producer. Tsukamoto discussed the difficulty he had getting the funding for BULLET MAN, mostly due to the length of time since the last sequel (1992). What finally enabled him to make this film was the partnership with an American production company—also the reason for the film being done in English instead of Japanese. Shinya Tsukamoto is not just a director, but also an actor, writer, editor and cinematographer. He has embraced the cyberpunk movement, with his movies frequently dealing with the alienation of people from one another and society as a whole. Tsukamoto also likes to cast himself in the role of antagonist, preferring to be the character that makes you think.
Shinya Tsukamoto began his cyberpunk series back in 1989 with TETSUO: THE IRON MAN. It stars Tomorowo Taguchi as a ‘salaryman’—low on the totem pole of the Japanese business world—involved in a hit-and-run accident while driving home with his girlfriend. The opening scene shows the supposed victim (played by Shinya Tsukamoto) inserting metal objects into his body through self-inflicted wounds, and that’s bizarre enough. However, after the salaryman has hidden the victim’s body, he begins to slowly change into a hybrid human-metal ‘monster’, or kaiju. We soon see that the ‘victim’ (we’ll call him The Guy) is not dead and is manipulating our salaryman. The Guy wants to create a monster and destroy Tokyo. This theme seems to parallel the old Godzilla movies—a monster (or kaiju) created out of the detritus of society and then destroying the very same society that created it. There is also a bit of sexual innuendo here. The Guy seems to enjoy some kind of sexual gratification while inserting the scrap-metal into his body. At one point we see that The Guy watched the couple having sex in the spot they dumped the body (they thought he was dead). The innuendo is glaringly evident when the salaryman’s penis turns into a large power drill! It makes for some interesting and twisted scenes with the girlfriend. Part of what makes this such a good movie is the use of stop-motion camera work and prosthetic effects. The salaryman doesn’t change all at once. It happens in stages. What also makes this movie so good is that it is done entirely in black and white, emphasizing the nightmarish quality of the circumstances our salaryman finds himself in.
TETSUO: BODY HAMMER, the first sequel, was released in 1992, and we see our Iron Man (Tomorowo Taguchi again) is married and has a son. His son is kidnapped by skinheads and murdered, but we don’t yet know why. Then the salaryman—in this movie his name is Tanaguchi– is kidnapped by the skinheads. We see The Guy, played by Shinya Tsukamoto again, is behind it, but is not interested in merely manipulating our salaryman Tanaguchi, he’s also begun experimenting with new metals and the injection of an oxide. There is a bit of an origin story going on, for both the salaryman and The Guy. It was The Guy’s father who started it all….for both The Guy and for Tanaguchi. We also discover that emotion and will is pivotal to the transformation from human to metal monster. The Guy needs Tanaguchi to want revenge for the death of his son and to become enraged.
I was not as happy with BODY HAMMER as I was IRON MAN (or BULLET MAN, as you will see). It’s filmed in color, which I feel causes it to lose something, although Tsukamoto uses blue and orange filters to give the feel of black and white and adds a starkness to the surroundings. The movie is still manic and claustrophobic like IRON MAN and BULLET MAN, and there’s an added fear of heights, too. One thing I didn’t understand was the gang of skinheads. I mean skinheads in Japan? At first I thought The Guy was looking to create an army of monsters, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. The gang members are nothing more than tools for The Guy to test his theories and advance his experiments. The origin story is great and goes a long way to understanding The Guy and why he’s doing what he’s doing, but the rest of the movie felt pointless to me. It just doesn’t quite fit with the original TETSUO or the third movie in the trilogy, and I didn’t think it was necessary.
In this final installment of the TETSUO trilogy, director Shinya Tsukamoto closes out his cyberpunk series with a bang. Coming more than twenty years after TETSUO: THE IRON MAN and more than a decade after the first sequel, TETSUO II: BODY HAMMER, THE BULLET MAN was filmed almost entirely in English. Anthony (Eric Bassick) is an American living and working in Tokyo with his Japanese wife Yuriko (Akiko Monou) and son Tom. We also meet Anthony’s father, Ride (Stephen Sarrazin), who is obsessed over Anthony and Tom’s health, taking blood samples on a weekly basis. Initially we are told that Eric’s mother died some years earlier due to cancer and Ride is just afraid that Eric and Tom may become sick as well. Yuriko is practically a recluse who hates Tokyo and you can almost feel this quality to her. She falls almost completely apart after she hears over the phone about the death of her son at the hands of the original Tetsuo maker (Shinya Tsukamoto). Anthony, who totally loses it after witnessing Tom’s death, begins to change. At the urging of Yuriko, Anthony lets his want for revenge get the better of him and begins his transformation into a kaiju–The Bullet Man. We learn this is exactly what The Guy wants—for Anthony to change and destroy Tokyo once and for all (again, a nod to Godzilla). Negative emotion is the key to the transformation. We also discover why Ride was obsessed with the health of his son and grandson and what role he may have had in Anthony’s condition.
Once again Tsukamoto uses stop-motion animation and prosthetics for special effects, and for me, this works so much better than CGI ever could. Tsukamoto has also gone back to filming in black and white on this one, which invokes a dehumanizing and almost abstract quality to the story. You can see Anthony’s agony as he changes bit by bit, and becomes even less human. His transformation becomes practically complete when he discovers how he became what he is. The film itself is unrelenting in its manic camera shots and extremely claustrophobic with its very tight action scenes, which take place in small spaces. During the Q&A after the movie’s screening Tsukamoto said that the space where a lot of the action takes place was based on the hallway in his own apartment. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie with its twists and unexpected ending (which is ALWAYS a plus for me). What I also found interesting was the fact that Yuriko plays a major role in Anthony’s transformation as well as what happens to him later on. And no, you do not necessarily have to have seen the first two movies to watch this one. Unfortunately, there is currently no plan for distribution here in the United States, but I’m sure it will be available on DVD within the year through Hong Kong.
Overall the trilogy is definitely worth watching. Shinya Tsukamoto’s TETSUO trilogy tells of the dehumanization of our modern, high-tech society. There are few characters and virtually no extras, stressing the alienation of the individual. Shots of the city are devoid of any people. According to Tsukamoto himself, the manic and claustrophobic qualities of the movies are meant to represent modern Tokyo, probably the ultimate cyberpunk city. The music in TETSUO: THE BULLET MAN was done by Nine Inch Nails, one of Shinya Tsukamoto’s favorite bands. Even though I was somewhat disappointed in TETSUO: BODY HAMMER I still say you should add all three TETSUO movies to your Netflix list…..they are a must-see.
© Copyright 2010 by Colleen Wanglund