Tetsuo: The Iron Man

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Tetsuo: The Iron Man
Original newspaper advertisement
Directed byShinya Tsukamoto
Produced byShinya Tsukamoto
Written byShinya Tsukamoto
Music byChu Ishikawa
  • Kei Fujiwara
  • Shinya Tsukamoto
Edited byShinya Tsukamoto
Distributed byKaijyu Theatres
Release date
  • 1 July 1989 (1989-07-01)
Running time
67 minutes

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (鉄男, Tetsuo) is a 1989 Japanese cyberpunk horror film. It was written, produced, edited, and directed by cult-film director Shinya Tsukamoto, and produced by Japan Home Video. It is shot in the same low-budget, underground-production style as his first two films. Tetsuo established Tsukamoto internationally and created his worldwide cult following.[1] It was followed by Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (1992) and Tetsuo: The Bullet Man (2009).[2]


A metal fetishist enters his Tokyo hideout, which is full of rusted parts and photos of famous athletes. He cuts open his thigh and thrusts a large metal rod into the wound. Later, he unwraps the wound to discover it rotting and covered with maggots. He exits the hideout, running down the street and screaming until he is hit by a passing car.

A salaryman day-dreams, tormented by visions of metal and industrial machinery. While shaving in his apartment, he notices a metal spike protruding from his cheek that spurts blood when he touches it. He speaks to his girlfriend on the phone, she cannot stop thinking about "the incident".

The salaryman is on his way to work. On the platform he sits next to a woman wearing glasses. She notices an abomination of flesh and metal on the ground. She pokes it with a pen and is quickly overcome by it, becoming a zombie-like puppet of the fetishist. The salaryman flees in terror to a toilet and is briefly able to escape by stabbing the woman with a pen and then running and hiding in a workshop. She soon finds him but he is able to defeat her with his growing metal powers.

The salaryman dreams of his girlfriend, who dances erotically with a hose-like phallus before sodomizing him with it. Back in his apartment, the salaryman is horrified to see his metal transformation is accelerating. He and his girlfriend have sex. Afterwards, his girlfriend eats suggestively, each interaction with the food accompanied by the screeching sounds of metal. Suddenly the salaryman's penis is transformed into a large metal drill and he soon loses control, attacking his girlfriend. She stabs him in the neck with a kitchen knife and believing she has killed him, commits suicide by impaling herself on his drill. The salaryman awakens and realizes what has happened, while elsewhere the fetishist laughs maniacally.

The salary man's transformation into "the Iron Man" is complete. He receives a phone call from the fetishist, who tells the Iron Man that he is coming for him. It is revealed that the salaryman and his girlfriend are the ones that struck the fetishist with their car, disposing of the body in the woods and then having sex up against a tree. Upon realizing this, the Iron Man attempts to electrocute himself but it only serves to stimulate him further.

The fetishist makes his way to the Iron Man's apartment, destroying all metal in his wake. He possesses the body of the dead girlfriend and attacks the Iron Man, eventually emerging in his true form. The fetishist easily overpowers the Iron Man and shows him a post-apocalyptic vision of the "New World" - the Earth consumed by metal. A fight ensues and the fetishist chases the Iron Man across the city, before being briefly incapacitated by a vision from childhood where he is repeatedly beaten by a vagrant with a metal rod.

The Iron Man rests in an old factory, but the fetishist appears and attacks him. By now the Iron Man has transformed into an unstoppable mass and absorbs the fetishist's attack, combining the two into a single monstrosity. They charge through the streets, promising to burn the world and return it to nothing more than a rusted ball in space.



Tsukamoto had previously made two short films of similar subject matter, The Phantom of Regular Size (1986) and The Adventure of Denchu Kozo (1987), and their critical successes gave him the confidence to produce Tetsuo, all with money saved from his day job.

This was Tsukamoto's first movie shot on 16mm, all of his previous work having being done with Super 8 cameras. The camera work was split between Tsukamoto and Kei Fujiwara, both of whom also play the roles of major characters. It was shot in black and white with expressionistic lighting, as well as some stop motion animation shots to accomplish the special effects. Parts from discarded TVs were taped onto the actors' skin to create the effect of the body transforming. Tsukamoto chose these handmade methods because he couldn't afford to do it any other way.[3]

Filmed over 18 months primarily in Fujiwara's apartment, by the end of the production most of the crew broke with Tsukamoto because the filming conditions were so difficult.[1] In Tom Mes' book about the film he interviewed Tomorowo Taguchi, the actor who plays the Salaryman (the only member of cast and crew who didn't constantly live on set), who noted, "It was very tough so I quickly sensed that if you would stay with them all the time, you would inevitably get the urge to escape. So I figured that if I could keep some distance, I would be able to last much longer and keep a good relationship with them. It's true that almost every day I went there another crew member would have left. One day I arrived at the house and the lighting crew had gone, so I had to do the lighting for Tsukamoto's scenes myself. Toward the end, only the actors were still around. Nearly the entire crew had given up and left by then." [4] Tsukamoto later admitted he had considered burning the film's negative because the whole production had been such a bad experience.[3]


The film struggled to find an audience until it was shown at the horror film festival Fantafestival in Rome in 1989 and received the award for best film. It was screened without subtitles because the filmmakers couldn't afford to add them. The domestic film rights belong to Japan Home Video, and the film was given a limited release theatrically in Japan at the Nakano Musashino Hall in 1989.[1] It showed mostly in late-night screenings, but had packed audiences after the success at Fantafestival.[3]

After this success it was given a limited release theatrically in the United States by Original Cinema in 1992.[citation needed] It was subsequently released on VHS by Fox Lorber.[citation needed] The film was released twice on DVD in the United States; by Image Entertainment in 1998[5] and by Tartan Video in 2005.[6] The film was released on laserdisc in the United States by Image Entertainment in 1993.[7] All releases are currently out of print.


The film received mostly positive reviews from critics. It currently has a 77% "Fresh" rating on film review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes with an average rating of 7.2/10 based on 13 reviews.[8]

Stephen Holden of the New York Times described the film as having "hyperkinetic pacing and wildly contorted acting" as well as "a perverse sense of humor", and concluded that "the appeal...should be limited to aficionados of weird genre films."[9] Richard Harrington of the Washington Post wrote that the film is "as surreally weird as Eraserhead and as intense as a Novocainless tooth extraction", and that it has "a nightmarish hyper-reality about it, feeling like a cartoon, but more disturbing for not being one."[10]

In the period before Tetsuo screened at Fantafestival, Japanese films had been ignored by international film festivals, but its success prompted a revival of Japanese independent film in the 1990s and the attention of an international audience.[3]


  1. ^ The name of this character is translated to “Metal Fetishist” in English subtitles, but in the original Japanese credits is listed only as “yatsu”, which translates to “guy”[3]


  1. ^ a b c Mes, Tom (2005). Iron Man: The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto. Surrey, England: FAB Press. ISBN 1-903254-36-1.
  2. ^ Newitz, Annalee (23 July 2009). ""Tetsuo: The Iron Man" Gets A Crazy English Sequel - Sdcc". io9. New York City: Gawker Media. Retrieved 24 July 2009.
  3. ^ a b c d e Mes, Tom; Sharp, Jasper (2005). The Midnight Eye Guide to New Japanese Film. Berkeley, California: Stone Bridge Press. ISBN 1880656892.
  4. ^ Mes, Tom (2005). Iron Man. The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto. FAB Press. ISBN 1-903254-36-1, p 52.
  5. ^ "Tetsuo". dvdempire.com. Retrieved 8 April 2011.
  6. ^ "Tetsuo". dvdempire.com. Retrieved 8 April 2011.
  7. ^ "Tetsuo:-The-Iron-Man". www.lddb.com. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  8. ^ "Tetsuo: The Ironman (1989) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Beverley Hills, California: Fandango Media. Retrieved 20 October 2015.
  9. ^ Holden, Stephen (22 April 1992). "Review/Film; Forgoing the Flesh For Metallic Pleasures". The New York Times. New York City: New York Times Company. Retrieved 10 July 2018.
  10. ^ Harrington, Richard (24 July 1992). "'Tetsuo: The Iron Man' (NR)". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C.: The Washington Post Company. Retrieved 10 July 2018.

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