Cyberpunk Review » Tetsuo (The Iron Man)

January 14, 2006

Tetsuo (The Iron Man)

Year: 1988

Directed by: Shinya Tsukamoto

Written by: Shinya Tsukamoto

IMDB Reference

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Very High

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Very High

Rating: 10 out of 10


Tetsuo The Iron Man screen capture


Overview: For another movie that taps out the weird shitometer scale, and the pinnacle of Japanese cyberpunk flicks, Tetsuo is simply terrific! I must warn you that this movie is NOT for everyone. We get a bevy of disturbing images, including extreme body manipulation, anal rape of a guy by a mechanically "enhanced" female, rape in the reverse by a man with a literal "power tool," and truly the most bizarre set of images one can imagine. But in all this, there are some truly interesting messages that emerge. Unlike other Japanese Cyberpunk films such as Rubber’s Lover, which is more of a one track film (extreme situations to prompt greater than human abilities), Testsuo provides a wonderful commentary on the direction of mankind.


Tetsuo The Iron Man screen capture

This is one of the best opening symbols for any movie I can remember. It sums up Tsukamoto’s message perfectly!


Tetsuo’s Message: While Tetsuo is a really bizarre, low budget, surrealist underground Japanese cyberpunk movie, it has a number of interesting themes running through it. On a societal level, Tetsuo explores how man’s technological dash to the future has resulted in an acute fear of technology, and that its ever encroaching progress is destroying our humanity.  This is symbolically represented by a runner surrounded by scrap metal, and then later, a man in running gear who’s slowly being taken over by machinery when competing with another machine man.

Tetsuo The Iron Man screen capture


The clear message at the end is that by constantly competing with one another in our strive for perfection in an orderly society, we are destroying humanity at its core. Technology is our tool of choice for this destructive competition. The shot of the augmented foot above really captures this well, as does the race scene below.

Tetsuo The Iron Man screen capture

I can’t convey how truly disgusting this scene comes across


On a personal level, Tetsuo explores how guilt and repression can turn people into virtual "monsters." In this, we see an instance where an accidental car crash makes someone completely lose all sense of humanity and boundaries. This seems to fit with Asian cultures in that they are usually very reserved, but when they "cross" that line, the level of anger and craziness almost doesn’t have a limiter.
Tetsuo The Iron Man screen capture


In combining this with the societal thought, Tetsuo posits that we are using technology as a crutch to cover up our own frailties, but that in doing so, we only serve to subvert our humanity. When this subversion is released, it becomes a perversion of immense proportions. In this sense, Tetsuo truly stretches the cyberpunk notion of "no boundaries" to its fullest.

Tetsuo The Iron Man screen capture

Yes, she’s about to do what you "think" she’s planning to do with that thing!"


The Bottom Line: Tetsuo is a great example of what a low-budget scifi film can accomplish. I thought the cinematography is absolutely brilliant. We get cool stop-motion animation, incredibly interesting shadows and film angles, and wonderful use of different shot textures. The industrial sound track furthers the truly bizarre mood. Truly, I can’t say enough of how impressed I am by this film. Again, Tetsuo is DEFINITELY not for everyone, but it certainly belongs in the top 10 best cyberpunk films ever made!

Tetsuo The Iron Man screen capture


Screen Captures - ADULTS ONLY: I do have a second page of screen captures, but I MUST warn you - these are VERY graphic. They show one of the most intense sex and violence scenes every put on film. If you want to get a sense of he the extent that Japanese cyberpunk fullfills its “no boundaries” approach, take a look. But this page is intended for adults - and truly, only a few select few of those. Don’t look if you’re not comfortable with watching these things.

Tetsuo Page 2: Screen Caps - ADULTS ONLY–>>


This post has been filed under Man-machine Interface, Awesome Cyberpunk Themes, Horror, 10 Star Movies, Japanese Cyberpunk, Surreal Cyberpunk Movies, Awesome Cyberpunk Visuals, Cyberpunk movies from 1980-1989 by SFAM.


[…] Just a note on my Japanese Cyberpunk reviews. I’ve decided that in order to review these properly, I need to show some of the truly graphic shots. So far I’ve dont this with I.K.U. and Tetsuo, but will certainly do this with Rubber’s Lover (review not up yet) and others as I review them. Why? Many reasons: […]

April 15, 2006

Glam Creature said:

Absolutely fantastic. One of the greatest movies, if not The Greatest Movie, I’ve ever seen.

July 26, 2006

lalao said:

Good review but I disagree in that I don’t think they are competing in
the end but the fetisist is contoling the other one

SFAM said:

Hi Lalao, welcome to cyberpunkreview :)

I didn’t get that by watching it. To me it seems clear that the entire movie is about technology enabled competition and how its destroying humanity, society and the world. The next time I watch this though, I’ll pay attention at the end to see if your thought works.

August 4, 2006

mattness said:

Tetsuo is really, REALLY weird movie.
I’ve seen 10/10 points on SFAM list and checked this one.
Random thouths after the movie:
Poor copy, Some gore porn (tahat SO japanese - for bad and for good), strange chronology, kind of remorse-movie, (note to director: this naked-man-in-the machine - that idea had potential).
Why main character was attacked by a woman on metro station?
My lack of English and concept (opinion) is the only comment I can add.

I’ve liked 12 monkeys - it was good brain-exercise - where is beginning and where is the end in this? When I found the answer, I was really proud of myself.

But this movie?
I’m lost. I’m defeated.
Tetsuo is really, REALLY weird movie.

SFAM said:

Hi Mattness, I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you. I hope my review - both the write-up and the screencaps on this page and on page 2 at least gave you a sense of what you were going to get prior to watching it. Tetsuo is definitely a VERY weird movie - read my write-up on

Again, with Tetsuo, narrative is conveyed symbolically. My “Tetsuo’s Message” part of the review covers this. But yeah, its a completely and utterly different kind of movie from 12 Monkeys, and can’t really be judged in the same way. The barrage this movie leaves on your senses is at least half the purpose. Tetsuo is extremely influential both to cyberpunk as a genre, and in that it really got the extreme Japanese movies going in the full force we see today.

DannyV said:

That comment on how reserved Asian culture is is right on the money. When they go over the line, they REALLY go over the line. Takashi Miike is a fine example of this.

October 19, 2006

Uther said:

Hey, I’ve only wanted to comment here because of 3 reasons,

1. this website is great! absolutly fantastic, i just found it and most of the movies i like and books i read (games too) are cyberpunk, so um, congratulations, keep it up!

2. tetsuo the iron man was a great great movie, ive watched it twice already but the only tiny thing is how dizzy it makes me… i agree on the content of your review, but i think, that maybe it has to be about control too, our eagerness to control , and how we have taken technology to do so, and it hasnt worked, technology will end controlling us …

3. i dont remember, but… excellent website (my english is not to good, its not my main language)

November 11, 2006

SFAM said:

Hi Uther, great point! Yes, along with competition, control is definitely the goal fo the competition. I may want to update my review. :)

January 5, 2007

ethernode said:

I downloaded it
I started to view it
I failed :p

I could’nt stand the degree of darkness more than 10 minutes, which is definetely a sign of HIGH cinematographical talent; i think i never was that impressed/moved/terrorized by a movie.

Such a film could harm children’s spirits.

BTW this is my first post, this website is truely a blessing !!! Thank you !!!!

Any intention of doing cyberpunk music reviews? The style isn’t really official, but i know some that pass (along dark ambiant, glitch/noise, minimal dub, indus…). Go check “General Dub” which is truely a madness (yay they really are comin from the future).

January 16, 2007

leorivas said:

Well, I saw this wonderful movie but had a some different view on the message it delivers: first, you got this two guys apparently not related one another.
One of them is a frustrated athlet, beaten up by his father when child, tries to become better by cheating (represented here by the steel bar he inserts into his leg… could this mean some drug?)..note that rust might mean shame.
We also have this second guy, some sex-distorted who uses the same ..drug?.. to have better sex, this only lead him to kill his girlfriend on one of his distorted sex sessions.
The sex guy, run over the sports guy with his car and didnt help him, yet, he gets rid of him throwing him on a hill, even finds it so cool that have good sex with his girlfriend once again in front of him!. (Note that this second guy turns into shiny metal).
At the end, the sports guy finds a way to take revenge with a fight, but then they find that joining forces they complement each other…-or-… Some other homosexual related stuff understandable only for oriental people (just take a look at the penis shaped vehicle they made at last, this is not the first place where you will find it on japanese culture), this migth mean strength, power, etc. At last they will take over the world!
Rusty metal: shame, fear
Shiny metal: will, desire
Surely there is more simbolism around this movie, but at first sight, dont find relation with over technolgy-zation of humans, but it indeed does send the message that the way to de-humanize humans is through a mechanic entity of a human, that is the reason why the director or writer decided to show it that way.
Comments? Letme know what do you think of this. Thanks

SFAM said:

Hi Leorivas, I certainly hadn’t though of the rusty metal/shiny metal symbolism. I will certainly pay attention to this next time I watch it. While I certainly agree with you about the dehumanizing through turning humans into mechanical entities, my take on this movie definitely differs from yours. To me, the movie screams the message of technology enhanced competition destroying humanity, but this could easily just be my own biases coming back. In any event, this is not surprising though that people can come away from very different meanings from a movie such as this.

March 23, 2007

Billy G said:

i cannot wait to see this movie, it looks so creepy! i will be ordering it very soon. this site is great, it has turned me on to many movies i have never heard of before, is this movie in english?

SFAM said:

Hi Billy, um, No. No English dubbing. But not to worry, dialogue really plays a secondary role here.

March 29, 2007

David said:

Bit of a head-fcuk, and a bit a comical at certain times (intentionally?). But if you’re looking for a sci-fi movie that’s a bit alternative to watch, watch this!

August 10, 2007

Engberg65 said:

When I saw TETSUO part 1&2 clips it scared the living daylight out of me, but when I saw Akira it was like the link between the other two movies that I saw. So the next time you wanted to Akira 2, forget it I don’t think Katsuhiro Otomo is not thinking of making of the second one because what Shinya Tsukamoto did to make his movie, but if Katsuhiro Otomo wanted to he had to talk to Shinya Tsukamoto first.
“AKIRA, TETSUO: The Iron Man, TETSUO 2: Body Hammer” is the Trilogy of those three I don’t care what they say.

August 21, 2007

APX said:

bro, I can’t see this, it sucks,
I watched 25 minutes and deleted it from my PC.
And I can see much more gore without problem, but I don’t see the point in this movie.
The acting is horrible,no dialog, no history.
Please people, don’t start a flame war, I respect that you found this movie really interesting, but doesn’t works for me.

November 14, 2007

Divinyl said:

This is great! Some really nice screen shots and I like that you explore the ideas about its ‘message’ around technology. Nice job! I have just blogged on my own thoughts on the film…would be great if you could come across and check it out…let me know what you think :o)

November 20, 2007

DanNoir said:

I found this movie in my nearby video rental store. The DVD package looked very interesting, but this movie was the most frightening, disturbing movie I’ve ever seen. I had nightmares about it and I really wish I’ve never rented it. It was so horrible and disgusting, more like a really evil horrormovie. I hate horrormovies…

Lucky it was a double-dvd-feature with Electric Dragon 80,000V, so that my money wasn’t wasted in the end.

January 11, 2008

Da5id said:

I watched this movie for the first time last night based on the 10 star rating here. I’m steadily going through and watching the movies listed near the top that I haven’t seen. Thanks for the great site!

It’s an amazing film. What I find so interesting is the different interpretations people have posted. It really is a successful work of art if so many people are getting so many different ideas out of it. Here are mine:

To me it was obviously a story of revenge. The character who gets hit by the car and left for dead, but is able to live because a piece of metal is stuck in his brain holding his mind together… barely, seeks out the couple who left him in the ditch. Evidently because of the rebar he stuck in his leg and the shard of metal implanted in his brain, he is able to “control” metal to some degree and use it like a virus in order to destroy the two people from the car… That’s about as linear as I can get with this plot.

The symbolism for me seemed to be the corrosiveness of revenge. The hit and run driver was heartless and the runner deserved his vengeance, however that vengeance ate away at him just as much as the one he hated and in the end they become the same thing. I didn’t see much symbolism about modern technology because there didn’t seem to be any real “technology”… just bits of metal growing like fungus. The imagery of the biological and technological combining so you can’t tell one from the other was outstanding and definitely the best I’ve seen in any live action production, I’m just not sure if it even mattered that it was “metal”. Would not the story have been the same if the director had used plant life melding with human life? Tetsuo: The Carrot Man. It may not have been visually as appealing, and the initial scene of the runner trying to artificially strengthen himself is the catalyst for all that follows, but the actual use of “technology” is very low even there as it’s just a bit of rebar jabbed into his thigh… the rocket ankles were cool though.

In the end, for me the story was about how justice can indeed be served through hate and revenge, but the cost will be your humanity. Very Jedi.

March 15, 2008

Syndicate772 said:

Wow, this movie sucked.. I can’t believe it got a 10 star rating

June 19, 2008

Soulmaster said:

Why IMDB says it’s 1989?

[…] I really have to catch some Asian cyberpunk pieces and do some comparison, maybe from Tetsuo? […]

November 18, 2008

Replicant said:

Hey people, I love the website.

I wanted to know if someone could tell me what specifically is on page 2 of this review?? I’m to scared to view it for fear of being eternally scarred but I’m too curious to not. Is it like a vagina being chain sawed?? or is it some horrifying faces of dead people.??

November 19, 2008

SFAM said:

Hi Replicant…um, yeah, actually you’re fairly close! Not chain sawed but um, drilled…

January 27, 2009

Anonymous said:


August 10, 2009

comp. Trash. said:

At first watch Tetsuo wasn’t completly my kind of movie but the more I wached this movie the more I liked it. The beginning for me is one big adrenaline shot, the combination of the visuals and the music is an orgasm for the eyes, ears and mind. nice review. Big Up the this site.

September 17, 2009

Anonymous said:

I didn’t watch the movie yet, but today, I saw it’s trailer. Although the trailer wasn’t very brutal, it was the most scary movie trailer I’ve ever seen. If the trailer is so good, the film must be truly brilliant.

February 7, 2011

movers said:

Iron Man is one of the great super heroes because he creates his power through his own means rather than gaining it arbitrarily.

February 15, 2011

locksmith said:

I love Iron Man!! Robert Downey Jr. is charming and endearing and made me love this movie!

April 29, 2011

EDAitch said:

For me i saw the story as being about a man finding his sexuality and being confused and somewhat frightened by it. I can see where you got your inturpertation too.

July 5, 2011

Vampyre Mike said:

@Locksmith, very funny ;) LOL

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