Tetsuo III: The Bullet Man

Shinya Tsukamoto returns with the third entry in his hyperkinetic cyberpunk monster movie series, Tetsuo The Bullet Man.  In a bold move, he casts an American in the lead role (Eric Bossick) as well as in several of the supporting roles, and has English as the speaking language for the majority of the film.  I wasn’t sure how much I would be into this “Americanization” of the Tetsuo franchise in a seeming attempt to pull in a bigger Western audience, but after watching the movie I was a little on the fence with the performances, but overall I didn’t feel the change hurt the movie at all, and it was still exploding with that same trademark insanity and style (albeit using more modern technology).

One thing I’ve read about this movie is that the digital photography (yep it’s shot digital, but not cheap home movie looking digital, this thing looks really polished) detracts from the movie’s style.  Admittedly there’s no beating the original’s gritty black and white 16mm photography, but I actually thought this one looked really good, and was a very big improvement in terms of look over the second entry which looked very muddy and smeary and honestly had too much color in it for its own good.  Here we get a totally de-saturated image that really brings the franchise back to its black and white roots, but with the added benefit of little bits of color (mostly the red blood that get’s splattered around generously throughout the movie) really popping out of the image.  I actually like the cold, digital look the movie has and feel that it lends the movie a very “dystopic future” feel which works well with its subject matter.

No review of a Tetsuo film would be complete with mentioning the soundtrack.  The visuals in these movies only make up half of the whole experience; the other half belongs to the amazing sonic experience delivered by the music.  Honestly Tetsuo II’s soundtrack was nowhere near as amazing as the classic original (unfortunate bit of trivia here, the master tapes for the original films soundtrack were lost, so the only way to hear it in its original form is to watch the movie, the soundtrack for the first two movies that was released as an album has all of the songs, but all of the ones from the first film are re-recorded and fail to capture the same sound as the ones in the movie).  But Tetsuo III is neck and neck with the first movie for me in terms of the soundtrack.  Harsh, bracing, and adrenaline pumping industrial music is the name of the game here.  Everything in it sounds like it’s been made by pieces of metal banging and scraping together and it fits the movie like a glove.  That and the movies theme (which plays at the end credits) is actually a brand new song by none other than industrial greats Nine Inch Nails.  Apparently Trent Reznor is a big fan of the Tetsuo films, and he tends to be very generous to artists involved in projects he likes so when the film was announced he promised the director a new song for the soundtrack and then a year later deliver on that promise with Theme to Tetsuo The Bullet Man.  The track every bit as harsh and metallic as the rest of the score, but still with that unmistakable Nine Inch Nails sound.  And this baby will get a lot of old school Nine Inch Nails fans blood pumping because it totally harkens back to the ultra aggressive Broken/Fixed era, with some Downward Spiral thrown in for the more epic parts (yes epic and harsh, fucking great!).

Oh and another thing regarding the soundtrack to this movie:  the DVD I watched last night had what was literally the most punishingly loud soundtrack mastering I have ever heard (even more brutal than Terminator Salvation, and that’s saying something!).  I watched it a full 10dB lower in volume than I normally do, and there were times where this movie still straddled the line of being uncomfortably loud.  If you want to give your home theatre sound system a work out, Tetsuo The Bullet Man will fucking rape your eardrums (in a good way).

The movie keeps to the short one hour running time of its predecessors, and even though I am generally a fan of longer movies (90 minutes never seems long enough to tell a really good story) the short running times actually work to these films benefits.  Tetsuo is all about intensity, and the style of filmatism would probably start to cause physical side effects if drawn out for too long.  The camera is almost never still and constantly mimics the emotions of its central character, which for most of the film is in a state of extreme mental anguish, panic and then ultimate rage.  So what this means is you get ultra fast edits, extreme shaky cam and hyper speed time lapse photography all assaulting you constantly.  The movie essentially never takes any time to sit still and coupled with the sonic assault makes for a viewing experience unlike anything else (even within the cyberpunk genre, and there’s other director’s who’ve tried, trust me).  Normally I’m not really into shaking cameras around to make a scene more “intense” like many modern American director’s seem to be doing these days, but Tsukamoto knows what he’s doing here, and these movies really wouldn’t work if done any other way.

As I mentioned before the red in this movie definitely pops thanks to the otherwise nearly black and white image, and the blood definitely gets splattered in this movie’s action sequences.  People get limbs blown off and are blasted to rat shit with their blood artfully (yes artfully is what I said, the Japanese and some of the European directors, like Dario Argento, really know how to make a blood splatter a thing of of artistic beauty) spraying and splattering on the walls.  So gorehounds should be pretty happy with this one too.

The only area I am a little conflicted is the performances.  As I said this movie is mainly in English, and you definitely get the impression that the person directing the movie does not speak English himself (at least not as a first language).  Dialogue often comes across as a little awkward, not only for the Japanese actors speaking English (it’s like they practiced saying the words, but the emotional weight isn’t behind them the same way as if they had said the same dialogue in their native tongue), but for the English ones as well and I think it’s probably because the director’s grasp on the nuances of the language simply isn’t there.  All that said, it also lends the movie a sort of weird early “Cronenbergean” vibe as many of his films had similarily detached feeling performances and in a way actually sort of works with the man becoming machine themes of the film.  I still enjoyed the movie, but admittedly the actors in the first two films seemed more emotionally invested in their lines speaking in their native tongue and I felt they were superior to this effort in that respect. Then again I don’t speak Japanese so maybe they weren’t after all, only the Japanese would know I guess.

You don’t need to have seen the first two Tetsuo films to see this one (each is its own self contained entity, basically just a revisitation of the same themes but with different characters and slightly different stories) so don’t hesitate to track this down and check it out.  If you’ve never seen a Japanese cyber punk film before, this will very likely get you very interested in checking out what else the genre has to offer (which I heartily recommend, totally killer stuff) and this movie should appeal to fans of intense action, science fiction, monster horror and also to the art film crowd.

Very highly recommended.  Watching on drugs may cause permanent side effects, you’ve been warned.