Dir. Shinya Tsukamoto
Having never written a thing about my thoughts on the Tetsuo films on any personal blog or film community site, and this is bearing in mind I have yet to see the third film Tetsuo: The Bullet Man (2009), the obvious way forward would to cover the original Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989). But revisiting the films it's the second that I was compelled to see again first. The Iron Man is a film that I hold highly, having seen many times. Body Hammer is a film I've only seen once many years ago, the more mysterious to visit as it took on a very different tone as a continuation of the first. The film could be seen as a remake but it becomes a vastly different work. What effects viewing it is that Body Hammer lifts plot tropes from the first film, but the results are different altogether. Shot in colour and with a more structured narrative, a salary man Taniguchi Tomoo (Tomorowo Taguchi)and his wife Kana (Nobu Kanaoka) are terrorised by two bald men who shoot the husband with a mysterious gun that causes mutation. After a tragedy with their son, the husband transforms into an Iron Man like in the first film, an experiment lead by Yatsu (director Shinya Tsukamoto) with a scientist and his lair of musclemen to make a gun that can unlock the Iron Men in anyone shot with it.
The original Iron Man is, to nick the title of a film podcast, a "no-budget nightmare", a 16mm film that pushes as far as it can as an experience in terms of practical effects and camera and editing techniques on a low budget, the nightmare being the result of depicting a man transforming into machine and metal with gruesome results. With Body Hammer, as the husband and wife are continually molested until the former transforms into a violent entity with gun barrels sticking out of his chest, the result is an entirely different creation. I had always thought Tokyo Fist (1995), the film I hold as the director's best alongside The Iron Man, was the transitional feature In Shinya Tsukamoto's career. Tsukamoto has depicted the brutal and visceral, but his films continually changed in tone. Greater emotional content was added as well as a greater emphasis on female characters including them being the main characters, whilst not losing the original violence, only filtering it in more psychological or more esoteric forms. After The Iron Man, the director made Hiruko The Goblin (1991), which I might love now but was a commercial mainstream film which has left a dead end in Tsukamoto's filmography, and then came Body Hammer, which is in revisiting it the first signs of what the director's other films onwards would be like.
The transition shown in Body Hammer's content makes it a more difficult film to digest. One half if the original style of the first film - the stop motion, the rapid editing techniques and extensive use of sound and music - the other is a new emphasis on scenes of drama and moments of serenity, seeing the emotions felt by the central couple as the events take place, the two sides melding further in the later films. All tinged in a blue palette, the use of colour replaces the stark nature of the first film with a more moody tone that includes moments of the first, like a car chase which involves rocket feet that allow one individual to climb the side of buildings. As a Tetsuo film, the inspiration of kaiju films and sci-fi is still felt, in witnessing giant walking scrap heaps with men's faces fight each other, arm cannons and minions with ridiculously large plate metal costumes worn for protective purposes, but this is more than the director's original plan to make an urban action sci-fi. The violence and body horror mutation is effected by added characterisation, a back-story of lost memories of the protagonist which flesh out the world of the Tetsuo films and brings further moods to the piece. The emotions of the main characters, including the greater emphasis on the wife's position in the film, adds further. The sexuality of the first film is as well given a further tinge with a homoerotic tone of bare chested, sweaty bodybuilders in Yatsu's iron foundry lair. The aspects this film has to share with the first, including how the final fight plays out in places, do affect it, weighing it down with comparisons to The Iron Man, but the new emphasis on drama has an immense effect in changing Body Hammer into a very different continuation of the premise.
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Low
Because of the tonal shift, there is less emphasis on an abstract tone, especially as the content of the first Tetsuo movie was as much about the abrasive filmic structure and the visceral being married together, whilst the emphasis on drama and calmer sequences between the action changes Body Hammer significantly. But that doesn't mean it completely ditches the abstract content. There are still scenes where the visuals and audio content, including the score by Chu Ishikawa, take over and create a total sensitory effect on the viewer like with the first film. The most significant example is near the end with a "mind meld" sequence that goes to a molecular level, rapid images of biological and psychological images that are so carefully structure that the clip was used in Mark Cousin's film documentary The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011) and compared to Abel Gance. The more quiet sequences also have a dreamy mood to them, such as a tranquil scene at a gym swimming pool, which evokes the later more drama based films like A Snake Of June (2002) and Vital (2004). The final scenes of Body Hammer also become more abstract than The Iron Man, whose meaning will tease my thoughts for a while.
Tetsuo: The Iron Man is the best film of the two I've seen, (Tetsuo: The Bullet Man notwithstanding yet to be seen), but Tetsuo II: Body Hammer proved to be underrated, a minor work in comparison but still very strong considering the context of when it was made. It marks the moment where the director I admire went from The Iron Man and continued to be as good as that film in a very different way onward.