"Tetsuo: The Bullet Man" at the Burton Theatre


Here’s one for the cyberpunks. Japanese filmmaker Shinya Tsukamoto is so cyberpunked-out that even his computer-free material, such as Tokyo Fist (the most vicious and bloody/sweaty/teary boxing film since Raging Bull), is hyperkinetic to the point of being overwhelmingly futuristic. This weekend, the Burton Theatre will be showing Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Bullet Man. Allow me a moment to explain why you should attend.

The Bullet Man is the third film of the Tetsuo trilogy; it is preceded by Tetsuo: The Iron Man and Tetsuo II: Body Hammer.

I first caught The Iron Man at around age 13 on a battered VHS tape. Like David Lynch’s Eraserhead, The Iron Man is the type of film that is strengthened by the crackling, static effect afforded by the VHS format. I realize some cinemaniacs will want my head for saying such a thing, but really—one of the charms of The Iron Man is its B-&-W griminess, and any way of making the film’s images muddier and sounds screechier should be fully exploited so as to increase the overall feeling of otherworldliness.

The Tetsuo films follow a consistent narrative format: droned-out cubicle-dweller undergoes a brutal transformation from man to machine. The film’s commentary plays on age-old sci-fi themes—man creates machine, machine subsumes man, man becomes machine—but the film’s power lies more in its style than in its content. Flesh chunks, wires, cables, spurts of unidentifiable fluids—these are the hallmarks of the Tetsuo experience.

(On a semi-side note: it would be myopic to assume Tsukamoto is not onto something with these films. Some readers might be interested in the latest escapades of the brilliant artist and NYU professor Wafaa Bilal, who had installed into his skull a titanium plate to which a camera is intermittently attached. Are we now in the midst of a countdown to humankind’s Tetsuo moment, when wires replace veins?)

By making the switch to color, the second Tetsuo loses some of the first’s power. Nonetheless, some new energy is added in the second by a more detailed story and a few haunting flashback sequences.  The Bullet Man must surely have few bizarre surprises of its own.

It should be noted that the rising steam and attractive dinginess of the Cass Corridor (where the Burton is located) offer the perfect setting in which to view such a kinky film. I will leave you with a scene from The Iron Man that helped to ensure I’d never be a good Catholic boy again. Here the protagonist tries to fuck his girlfriend with his newly-mutated drill-cock. You can’t find such cinematic charm and elegance just anywhere. (If you are one of those with a stomach of silly puddy, don't push play on this clip.)


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