Tetsuo: The Bullet Man (2010) Review
What if you got angry enough that you grew metal parts out of your body and became a hideous man-machine capable of destroying everything in your path? Shin’ya Tsukamoto wants to show you how in the most gruesome way possible in the third in the Tetsuo series; Tetsuo: The Bullet Man.
Out of all of the sub-genres of horror the one that unnerves and creeps me out the most is what they call “Body Horror.” Perhaps it is because it is the distortion of the one thing we all take for granted: the own body. We all exist in our own skin 24/7, 365 days a year. Seeing it unnaturally altered, perverted and twisted in often hideous ways makes for a special kind of “ick” factor that few could deny. David Cronenberg did much to push this “body horror” idea in movies like Videodrome andThe Fly to disgusting effect. Meanwhile in Japan, cult film director Shin’ya Tsukamoto made a name for himself with his frenzied, bizarre and deeply unsettling 1989 featureTetsuo: the Iron Man. In it, an accident leads to a man’s urban angst and repressed anger transform him into a human/machine hybrid with horrifying results. Shot with a franetic, over the top style the movie both disturbs and exhilarates as the viewer is strapped to a rocket and blasted through a series of nightmare-ish scenarios leading to a stunning and creative ending. Shot in stark black and white and filled with bizarre stop motion animation effects, it is a timeless classic.Tetsuo II: Body Hammer came in 1992 and was shot in color and though still full of Tsukamoto’s signature craziness it’s a little more conventional in it’s storytelling and proved not to be quite as deranged at its predecessor. The story itself could even be interpreted as more of a different take on the same story and concept rather than as a true sequel.
Post Body Hammer Tsukamoto made a number of movies that explored some of the themes ofTetsuo such as Tokyo Fist and Bullet Ballet but fans would have to wait a great deal longer to get a real sequel to the original and 2009 saw the release of Tetsuo: Bullet Man. Interestingly, despite being set in Tokyo this is a largely English-language movie with Anthony, an American protagonist. Anthony is married to Yuriko and they have a son together called Tom. Anthony was raised in Japan by his father who insists on giving both his son and grandson physical check-ups that Anthony attributes to the death of his mother some 20 years prior. On their way walking home after the visit, Tom runs off ahead of Anthony and barely avoids being hit by a car. Anthony’s life is changed forever when the car then backs up, running over his son and killing him. He sees something unexplainable during the murder of his son that foreshadows what is to come. Indeed Anthony has anger management issues that he attempts to control by singing the nursery rhyme his mother would sing to him when he was a baby. However, the death of his son and his wife’s angry demands for revenge finally push him over the edge and his body starts to sprout metal parts, slowing turning him into some sort of uncontrollable weapon of mass destruction.
Prior to Bullet Man being released Tsukamoto said that he intended this third movie to actually be a way of reintroducing the series to a western audience. This does make sense as we are now looking at 25 years since the first Tetsuo was unleashed. The result of this however is the most conventional story to yet appear in this trilogy of films, with numerous recurring themes from the other films (especially Body Hammer) but the body horror aspect of the movie is compromised somewhat in the process. Perhaps aided by the harsh black and white of the original, that film’s depiction of the protagonist’s transformation was very disturbing. Here, whether it’s the clarity of the digital HD with which it was shot or budgetary restraints, Anthony’s transformation does not portray that same sense of hideous bodily distortion. Perhaps my feelings are colored by the fact I had watched the two earlier Tetsuo movies but by comparison the body horror aspects are somewhat muted here. Alas another issue is Eric Bossick as Anthony who unfortunately is not an especially interesting main character, not helping that his performance is further and further negated as his “Bullet Man” costume becomes increasingly bulky and elaborate. The supporting cast is solid but unspectacular, with the exception of Shin’ya Tsukamoto himself.
Tsukamoto appears as the catalyst for the events of the movie. What links all of the Tetsuo trilogy is his appearance in all three as a character known as “The Metal Fetishist” or “The Guy” who has his own nihilistic reasons for triggering these terrifying mental and physical changes in his victims. Tsukamoto is an experienced actor appearing in a number of his own films and others such asIchi the Killer and Marebito, he is a sinister presence and his recurring appearances in the Tetsuofilms suggest that these are all variations on the same theme rather than being any sort of linear sequels to each other. What Tsukamoto also does with some measure of success is bring the frenzied, disorientating shooting style that made the original so unique. Bizarre stop motion shots of what look like wires and metal are quickly cut with images of gears and heavy machinery, mixing into Anthony’s recurring nightmare of something inhuman coming for him. Speaking of disorienting, the cinematography is hyperactive, the camera rarely stays still especially when Anthony is going through his transformations or when he is forced to use the weapons growing from his body to bloody effect. Tsukamoto has attempted to bring together both a more linear, less esoteric storyline while still putting as much of the trademark crazy style that made the original Tetsuo: the Iron Man such a cult favorite.
He is largely successful. Die-hards may find aspects of the film underwhelming but those newcomers who are not familiar with the previous two films but want to check something out a little different, by all means give this a look. Being that these movies do not follow anything close to a linear timeline you can watch this without having any knowledge of the previous entries in the series. It will prime you, but not wholly prepare you, for what his earlier offerings have in store.