Tetsuo: The Iron Man

Content warnings: this movie contains blood and body horror, as well as some sexual elements and themes of rape.

There are some screenshots of the film at the bottom of this page.

doesthedogdie warnings
full movie on archive.org

Tetsuo: The Iron Man, or simply Tetsuo in its original Japanese release, is a 1989 black and white body horror film by Shinya Tsukamoto. Tsukamoto wrote, directed, produced, and even starred in the film, which explores the gruesome transformation of an average salaryman into a metal monster.

The movie begins with The Metal Fetishist ('Yatsu' in the original Japanese credits) slicing open his leg and inserting a piece of rebar into it in search of sexual pleasure. Upon realizing that the metal was rusty and covered in maggots, he panicks, fleeing into the road where he is hit by a car.

Elsewhere, a salaryman prepares for work, only to find a piece of shrapnel growing from his cheek. The blemish pops and sprays him with blood; he covers it with a bandage and heads to the train station. The women sitting next to him reaches out for a strange piece of metal that parasitizes her and melds into her body. She gives chase, but the salaryman stabs her and escapes. He has a dream that night of being assaulted by his girlfriend with a metal hose.

The salaryman's metal transformation worsens. His penis transforms into a drill and he seems to lose his mind, attempting to assault his girlfriend after they have sex. She fights back and wounds him, but is pierced by the drill and killed.

The salaryman and his girlfriend, as revealed in snippets throughout the movie, were the ones to hit Yatsu with their car. He managed to survive, watching them have sex against a tree after disposing of his body. Yatsu can freely control metal and uses his supernatural powers to torture the salaryman in his new body. Ultimately, the two are fused together into one large, biomechanical creature, and plan to turn the entire world into metal.


I have been wanting to watch this movie for a long time, ever since I read about it on Bogleech's list of his favorite Halloween movies four or five years ago. I have been putting it off forever because I'm really not good at watching horror movies, so I always said I'd get to it eventually. However, YouTube recommendations actually did their job for once, and I found out that Nine Inch Nails (!!) did the theme song for the third movie, Tetsuo: The Bullet Man.

NIN is one of my favorite bands so I was like, okay, fuck, maybe it's time I revisit the idea of watching this movie. I then found the OST for the original movie as well and realized I had to watch it as soon as possible. (For real, if you like grating industrial music, this shit rocks.) Luckily, it didn't take too long to find out that somebody had uploaded the movie to archive.org, so I didn't have to hunt it down.

The only scene that really bothered me was about 4 minutes in, when Yatsu carves his leg open and sticks the metal in. It only lasts about a minute, and that was the grossest/most realistic gore in the movie to me. Everything else was very obvious practical effects.

The plot was a little confusing to piece together, and the movie is not very strong in terms of storytelling. There's very little dialogue throughout the 67-minute runtime. It's very clearly an experimental, thematic film, so going in with that in mind will probably help you enjoy it more. Like I said above, the soundtrack is absolutely killer, but it didn't seen to shine as much in the movie as it does on its own.

I liked the stop-motion scenes of characters travelling, where they were simply standing as the road flew past them. It felt very unique. When it happens to the salaryman near the beginning of the movie, it felt as if he sort of just dissociated and found himself at home before he knew it. In the final climax, it's used moreso to have the metal creatures move in a very non-human and unnerving way.

The idea of metal parasitizing people's bodies was very cool, even though it's never really explained how or why it happens. The only thing that Yatsu says regarding it is that Yatsu's metal was rusty, and the salaryman's wasn't, implying some kind of difference in quality without explaing it any further. Yatsu has a flashback to a doctor telling him that he has a piece of metal 'artistically' stuck in his brain; I kind of interpreted that as being the source of his fetish and maybe his powers as well.

I thought it was insanely cool that Yatsu's memories and visions have a grainy VCR overlay over them, as if he sees everything through a technological lens. Something similar happens to the salaryman about 23 minutes in when he's playfully feeding his girlfriend, and the sound of her chewing is replaced by grating metal screeches. The intrusion of metal into the salaryman's senses made his transformation feel more psychologically damaging than initially let on.

Yatsu's motivation was a little hard to figure out. He seemed to want 'revenge' on the salaryman at the end of the movie, and seemingly tried to kill him, but there were also undeniable sexual elements involved. Since he was able to force the salaryman to have certain visions, the dream involving his girlfriend takes on a new meaning, as if it was a message from Yatsu to him. He also puts on lipstick and brings flowers when he comes to meet the salaryman in person, and even crawls out of his girlfriend's body, as if trying to replace her. It doesn't seem too farfetched that Yatsu would take in the stimuli of being hit by a car and seeing the salaryman and his girlfriend having sex and combine those into one feeling. He also wants to share the new world with the salaryman and invites him into it; and when they fuse together, he explicitly says, "Our love can put an end to this fucking world." While I was watching, I couldn't help but be reminded a little bit of the novel Crash by J.G. Ballard (which I literally have in my room and need to finish reading lol), which deals with a protagonist who has a fetish for car crashes.

The movie is very short, and didn't feel like a slog to sit through, even though not a lot of things really happen in it. It had some interesting imagery in it as well. I can finally cross it off of my watchlist, and that's good enough for me. Plus, I found some insanely good music to preoccupy me for the next few weeks, thanks to the soundtrack!

Here are a few screenshots I took while watching.

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