Judge Daryl Loomis is an aluminum man, a human baseball bat.
Never let your anger get out of control.
In 1989, Shinya Tsukamoto arrived on the Japanese scene with Tetsuo: The Iron Man, a biomech wonderland of violence and metal. A clanking soundtrack and an impenetrable plot combined to make a cult movie that, in my early days, nobody had ever seen before. Then, in 1992, he returned with Tetsuo II: Body Hammer, virtually the same film, but longer, in color, and more outwardly disgusting. Now, in 2009, he is back once again with a third version, Tetsuo: The Bullet Man. Again, there is much at the end of this trilogy that is the same as the original and the sequel, but this time, the film is in English and features a Caucasian actor in the lead. It's not much of a change overall, but Tsukamoto displays increasing directorial skill over these years. What I've enjoyed about the first two films remains intact, but all that is difficult about them remains, as well.
Anthony (Eric Bossick) is an American who works in Japan with a native wife and a beautiful young son. While walking to work with his boy one morning, a car comes speeding through the tunnel and hits the boy, seemingly on purpose, brutally murdering him. Anthony's grief and rage get the better of him and, slowly, he starts to change in horrific ways. His body becomes iron, his skin like a robot, and his anger appears to have accelerated this process. With his new body and his new attitude, he begins his hunt for the killers. He not only finds that, but a history of his family that he never knew, and a plot to turn Anthony into a human weapon, the ultimate killing machine.
There's a band out of Japan called Ruins, a duo featuring a bass guitar and a drum kit, in which both members sing, or sort of sing. While they are stunningly proficient with their instruments, I can only listen to about fifteen minutes of their work on my best day, much less most of the time. Just because I can't listen to a full album without hurting, however, doesn't detract from their power; in fact, it adds to it. I react in a similar way to Tetsuo: The Bullet Man; it's a film that is technically well made, but one that you have to turn away from once in a while. It's not that it's so absurdly violent, but it is a graphic assault on the senses. It's a feeling I like very much, but in small bursts. This is twenty minutes longer than the original, and it feels just as slow, but Iron Man is more efficient and the better film.
With a soundtrack of metallic clanks and industrial noise, a cast (aside from the lead) who can barely speak English, and subject matter that goes way over the line of the grotesque, there is a limited audience for Tetsuo: The Bullet Man, but I don't think Tsukamoto believes any different. They are graphic, sexual, and mean, but carry the same appeal as the early work of David Cronenburg (Rabid). Bossick is no great shakes as an actor, but at least he delivers his lines with reasonable clarity, as opposed to the rest of the cast, who make it necessary to keep the subtitles on, despite the fact that the film is English. The direction and editing is much more dynamic than previous films. It's no technical masterpiece, but it works well. The loudness of the soundtrack and the audacity of the story crack me up, which is half of what I need to enjoy a film, and it goes at least that far.
Tetsuo: The Bullet Man comes to us from MPI under the IFC Midnight label with mixed results. Compared to its two predecessors, the film looks great, but next to the standard of the time, it isn't so hot. The film is grainy, with an interlaced look that is often distracting. It's a cheap film that was shot on video, but it looks like it was made a decade ago. Whether Tsukamoto is working with old or inferior equipment, I cannot say, but it's not a very strong transfer. The sound is considerably better, though. The 5.1 mix is quite strong, with clanking and headaches in all channels. The dialog isn't as loud or as clear as it could, or needs to be, but the noise is the bread and butter of the film; the plot doesn't exactly make logical sense anyway. The only extra is a trailer.
Bullet Man is not the greatness that is Iron Man, but it's functionally far better than Body Hammer. In the end, they all make me laugh, so I can't complain.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2011 Daryl Loomis; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.