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Tetsuo: The Bullet Man

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Tetsuo: The Bullet Man


Japanese filmmaker Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo series returns for a third installment, and anyone who’s seen the first two knows what that means: Screaming rage! Smoking metal! Horrible mecho-biological transformations! A constantly shaking camera! FILMMAKING AS MULTIPLE EXCLAMATION POINTS AND ALL CAPS!!! OK, maybe that last bit is an exaggeration—1989 founding cult classic Tetsuo: The Iron Man featured its share of quiet dread—but only by a little. Tsukamoto wouldn’t be the first genre filmmaker to take up a franchise again after a long (nearly 20 years), seemingly merited dormancy, but he just might be one of the few not out simply to throw some red meat at the fanboys and cash in. There’s something so single-minded about the Tetsuo aesthetic and themes that the uncomfortable possibility presents itself that occasionally Tsukamoto has to make movies about salarymen whose suppressed fury transforms them into metal monsters.

Indeed, once again, Bullet Man splits the difference between the incoherence of Z-horror and the aesthetic rigor and surrealism of the avant-garde. It’s the first Tetsuo filmed in English, but even with the subtitles on it’s not clear exactly why sinister forces had to mangle Anthony’s (Eric Bossick) young son with a car. The American ex-pat is even more horrified when his dying boy makes machine screams and bleeds motor oil. As his wife (Akiko Mono) urges him to seek revenge, he tries inexplicably to tamp down his anger. Smoking black metal starts bursting through his face, however, and before long his torso is a mass of machine guns, literally triggered by rage and aimed at squads of assassins and the series running antagonist known as the Metal Fetishist, or just “the Guy” (Tsukamoto himself).

The themes (imperiled children, milquetoast monsters, science run amok, issues with the ladies) and their repetition from film to film reek of juvenile obsession; the characters, plotting, and dialog are 8-bit simple. But Tsukamoto isn’t kidding around here. Where the older films were grotty, grimy affairs, Bullet Man bears a slick digital sheen—which Tsukamoto applies to a cavalcade of the grottiest, shiniest visuals he can manage. It’s about texture and kineticism as much as anything else—the inky ferrous hunks Yuriko tenderly pulls off Anthony’s body like barnacles, the frenzy of a multiple-automatic-weapon shoot-out in a narrow hallway, the sheaves of muzzy medical illustrations and tanned papers that periodically layer the screen, the incessant shakycam. And in those particular, obsessive areas, it’s like little else.

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