Tetsuo II – Body Hammer

(Shinya Tsukamoto, Japan, 1992)


After the cult success in Japan of the first Tetsuo – The Iron Man film in 1989, Shinya Tsukamoto did some work in the mainstream film industry, making commercials and a relatively normal feature, Hiruko the Goblin (1990).

He returns to the perverse saga of his favourite anti-hero in Tetsuo II - Body Hammer which, like the successive films in the Mad Max series, has very little relation to its predecessor.

Although Body Hammer still bears traces of Tsukamoto's love for the kinetic, hallucinatory cinema of David Cronenberg and Sam Raimi, this sequel draws upon the more sombre and reflective futuristic visions put on screen by Chris Marker (La Jetée, 1962) and Andrei Tarkovsky (Solaris [1972] and Stalker [1979]).

Taniguchi, an ordinary family man (again played by the remarkable Tomoroh Taguchi) is preyed upon by a vicious street thug Yatsu (Tsukamoto) and his gang, who are equal parts human and machine.

Subject to horrific experiments by a giggling mad scientist, Taniguchi becomes dimly aware that he is personally connected, through his repressed childhood, to this band of evil mutants.

Body Hammer dispenses with the underground style of The Iron Man. Slick and atmospheric, it has a quality of blinding spectacle reminiscent of Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) and Leos Carax's Les Amants du Pont-Neuf (1991). Although Tsukamoto is no longer piecing together his own grisly special effects out of stray pipes and wires, his approach to filmmaking remains artisanal and highly idiosyncratic.

This second Tetsuo film lacks the gruesome, misogynistic sexual extravaganzas of the first. Dark eroticism is here replaced by ultra-violence, with Taniguchi's entire body turning into a phalanx of guns whenever he gets angry.

More like a particularly extreme and inventive Hong Kong action movie than a cyberpunk novel, Tetsuo II - Body Hammer is a riveting, mind-boggling ride.

© Adrian Martin January 1995

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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