You probably shouldn’t watch this one.


This movie is significantly more intense than most. Please consider this before viewing.

It is important to me to provide comprehensive content warnings, but you should always trust yourself when deciding whether or not to watch a movie. Horror movies are meant to push you to the edge of your comfort zone, and that is one of the reasons why I love the genre so much. You can always expect frightening imagery, loud noises, scenes of intense peril, and gore even in the smallest amounts. If you have any questions, I am always happy to talk about movies.

intense violence
flashing images
screeching sounds
body grafting
lots of metal
phallic imagery

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

Language: Japanese
Directed by Tsukamoto Shin’ya (塚本 晋也)
Starring Taguchi Tomorowo (田口 トモロヲ)
Run time: 1 hr 7 min
Shot on 16mm

Our love can put an end to this fucking world. Let’s Go!

Of all the movies I write about, this is the one that you might actually want to skip. And that is totally fine. Wouldn’t that mean it shouldn’t be on the list? Oh… oh no… Tetsuo could be the list. It is intense, unsettling, disorienting, and definitely horrifying. Not for the faint of heart or the casual horror fan, this is graduate level horror.

I’m going to do a run down of Tetsuo, since it is so far out of the mainstream. It’d be difficult to discuss it without the tiniest bit of context for you. So… none of the characters have names, and there is minimal dialog. For ease of discussion, the three main characters are typically called: metal fetishist, salaryman, girlfriend. Action begins when the salaryman hits the metal fetishist with his car. Salaryman and his girlfriend dispose of the dead body. They then have some post-murder sex with the metal fetishist’s body in view, and things start to fall apart. The salaryman slowly begins to turn into a metal being. He is also stalked by freaky metal people monsters. I won’t spoil the ending, but there is flesh, a lot of metal, and some phalluses.

Why You Should Like Tetsuo

If you enjoy any of what I call ‘new wave horror’, horror movies made in 2002-2007, then you can see where the inspiration originated in Tetsuo. Even though it was shot in black and white, Tetsuo is gory and violent. This movie is hyper stylized body horror in the most extreme.

The common consensus is that the things happening to salaryman are real, he is turning into a metal person and being stalked by weird creatures. However the disjointed and disorienting style, an argument could be made that the salaryman is having a psychotic break. Frequently what is happening is unclear, or confusing, is this because salaryman is confused about what is happening, or is it because he has lost reality. It could be either, and it is an interesting discussion to have, but most people agree that the events are real. 

Cyberpunk wouldn’t be the same without Tetsuo. If the ideals of cyberpunk are living on the fringe in a technological world with a disdain for societal norms, then we’ve just described Tetsuo. One of my favorite definitions of the cyberpunk protagonist is “high tech low life” (David Ketterer). Even though the metal fetishist has crude technology, heaps of scrap metal, he encompases that definition and the salaryman is forced to become that ideal. 

Why You Will Not Like Tetsuo

Tetsuo is intense, and it doesn’t stop. There is no breathing room, no slow scenes, no reprieve. The editing is frantic, camera angles are disorienting. The grainy 16mm film adds a layer of grit to the style, but it doesn’t make it any easier to comprehend. It has a nonlinear storyline, minimal dialog, no character names, and lots and lots of metal scraping noises.

I had an overall idea of the plot of Tetsuo, but I had to get online and read a synopsis to get it straight. If you don’t know what is going on then it is just a series of disturbing flashing images. And even if you do know what is supposed to be happening, the action on screen probably won’t match.

Tetsuo is disturbing, but I have a hard time saying that it is “scary” in a traditional way. Even with all of the weird things that happen the pace is so quick that there isn’t room for things to be scary. I don’t think that makes it less of a horror movie, but if you think a horror movie needs jump scares more than heightened suspense then you might not enjoy this one.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man is definitely not for everyone. If you put forth the time and effort, it is an iconic movie that really set the stage for some of the more progressive and aggressive modern horror movies.

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