Tetsuo: The Bullet Man

I love Tetsuo: The Iron Man. I mean, really love it. Like, filthy bathroom stall love. It’s easily my favorite cult film, if not my absolute favorite film of all time. Director Shinya Tsukamoto (A Snake in JuneNightmare Detective) used stark B&W photography, a combination of stop motion animation and live action, and a hyperkinetic editing style seemingly designed specifically to induce motion sickness to tell a tale of ever-encroaching technological malevolence, obsessive erotic desire and MOTHER FUCKERS TURNING INTO METAL BEASTS AND DUKING IT OUT ON THE STREETS OF TOKYO. It’s wonderfully nonsensical and supremely disturbing (one legendary sex scene gave horrifying new meaning to the colorful euphemism “drilling a girl”) nature has earned it accolades from the likes of cyberpunk author William Gibson and NIN’s Trent Reznor, and cemented it as a bona fide classic among fans of underground Japanese film and extreme cinema in general. Tsukamoto’s follow up, Tetsuo II: Body Hammer, was disappointing by comparison to the instant classic that came before it, but not without its own merits. Now, 22 years after the release of the original, Tsukamoto returns to the film that launched his career with the release of Tetsuo: The Bullet Man.

Made specifically for the North American market, Bullet Man is Tsukamoto’s first English language film, and from the looks of the above trailer, he is clearly having an easier go at directing in the foreign tongue than his buddy Takeshi Miike has in the past (see Miike’s Imprint for an idea of how wrong this could have went). A further appeal to Western audiences is the casting of US born actor Eric Bossick (mostly known for his motion capture and voiceover work in video games) in his big screen debut. What little story that can be gleaned from the trailer seem to follow the same beats as the first two films, with a meek salaryman (Bossick) experiencing a traumatic event (here the death of his son), after which his rage fuels his transformation into the titular Tetsuo as he seeks revenge, all the while being pursued by a mysterious aggressor (again played by Tsukamoto himself). The film favors the series’ trademark stop motion and prosthetic makeup effects over CGI, and while I was initially concerned these techniques would not hold up after two decades, after watching the trailer I have no doubt Tsukamoto made the right call, as the special effects are just as effective as they were in the original. The trailer is somewhat misleading in its claim, “Featuring Music by Trent Reznor”, but worry not, hardcore Tetsuo fans. Longtime Tsukamoto collaborator Chu Ishikawa (of band Die Eisenrost) returns to score Bullet Man with his signature brand of percussion-heavy industrial noise, with Nine Inch Nails only contributing the film’s closing theme.

After making its rounds at the festivals this past year, the film is finally getting a release here in the states, courtesy of IFC Midnight, in both Video-On-Demand format starting on January 19th and a limited theatrical run beginning on January 21st in NYC. No word yet on how limited of a release this is gonna be, but here’s to hopping more major US cities get a taste of Tsukamoto’s newest work of twisted brilliance.

– Adam Rosina

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