If you want to start your year off right with one of the bleakest films ever made, then look no further than the TIFF Bell Lightbox’s New Year’s Day screening of Tetsuo: The Iron Man. Shinya Tsukamoto’s depraved 1989 masterpiece is no easy watch, but it is cinema in its purest form. As a result, it is a must-see from TIFF’s stop-motion animation retrospective.
Out-of-print since the mid-2000s, Tetsuo: The Iron Man is a glimpse into humanity’s most destructive thoughts. And, while there is a narrative, the film succeeds most as a philosophical exploration – as every moment is open to multiple interpretations.
Tsukamoto created a conceptual monster with this film, and he does not seek to appease a large audience with overwrought explanation. From the opening, the ideas rain down on the viewer at a jarringly fast pace. At once we are presented frantic images of a man cutting open his leg, maniacal screaming laughter, howls of pain, flesh infused with metal and maggots, wires, and a TV switching from static to brief glimpses of the past.
Initially, Tsukamoto’s relentless style of conveying horror on screen takes some time to get used to. Because of the film’s pacing, it is hard to know where to focus. The camera angles are disorienting and the point of view between the film’s protagonist and antagonist changes direction on several occasions. There are no clear-cut beginnings or ends to the scenes. Rather, the film is a malleable substance that presents itself one way early on, but continues to change shape throughout the film, as if being molded and grown by the likes of a mad scientist. Layer after layer is added to the film’s erratic and unpredictable frame. The concept grows like the disease that consumes the characters in the story, and inevitably, the audience as well.
Tetsuo: The Iron Man screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Friday, January 1st at 9 pm. Purchase tickets here.
Click here for a full schedule of the Magic Motion: The Art of Stop-Motion Animation retrospective.