In preparation for this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, I cozied up with a copy of Tetsuo: The Iron Man, director Shinya Tsukamoto’s 1989 sci-fi mindfuck. The film holds its own as a low budget visual masterpiece, sporting only a handful of dialogue, impressive prosthetics and a phenomenal, pounding soundtrack. With the third film in the series, Tetsuo: The Bullet Man, Tsukamoto keeps the material anything but stale, but his form has suffered gravely over the years. While the film’s concept is solid (man turns into gun) there is far too much time wasted on narrative, an odd complaint to say the least.
In general, I deride films for poor narrative structure (a festival disease, if you ask me), but the thing about the original Tetsuo is that the story is told so vividly through the visuals, that things like character and plot development rightfully fall to the wayside. Fantastic, horrific events just occur in front of you, inexplicably. There was an arc, but it manifested itself in the amount of iron that sprung out of the hero’s body.
Tetsuo: The Bullet Man gets off to a clean start. Anthony, our hero, is obviously going through some kind of mechanical change. After the death of his son, he turns into a gun, meaning if you get him angry enough, rounds of bullets shoot out of his chest. Since assassins are chasing him, he gets angry a lot, so he turns into an even bigger gun. The “bullet man” costume is nice. It is all mechanical, with only a few (possibly) digital flourishes towards the end of the film. It’s impossible to explain what the iron and brimstone costume actually looks like, but it’s quite wonderful.
Here’s the problem. This film is mired in back story, for no reason! It truly is enough to know that Anthony is slowly turning into a monster, but we spend more than half the film building up his history. Why is he turning into a gun? He’s basically an android love child…blah blah blah. There is a ridiculous amount of time spent on this, leaving us with only about twenty decent minutes of movie. Now it’s true that those minutes are pretty great, but the remainder is completely boring.
All that being said, Tetsuo: The Bullet Man does stand as a pretty decent example of what a low budget sci-fi looks like in 2010. Tsukamoto makes excellent use of a rolling video shutter and snap zooms, giving us a frenetic look that couldn’t exist a decade ago. There is no questions that he took great strides to push his limits, but the slow and confused narrative makes it a tough 74 minutes to sit through. If you are a Tetsuo fan, you’ll still fine something to love nonetheless.