Japanese Title：鉄男 Tetsuo II Body Hammer
Romaji: Tetsuo II: Body Hammer
UK DVD Release Date: 08th October 2012
UK Distribution Label: Third Window Films
Original Japanese Release Date: 01st July 1989 (Japan)
Running Time: 83 mins.
Writer: Shinya Tsukamoto
Starring: Tomorowo Taguchi, Shinya Tsukamoto, Nobu Kanaoka, Keinosuke Tomioka, Torauemon Utazawa, Hideaki Tezuka, Tomoo Asada, Sujin Kim, Iwata,
Shinya Tsukamoto made a stunning debut with Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1988) which became a massive cult hit. It allowed him to explore projects beyond the indie scene which he came from and so, for his follow-up, he picked the more mainstream Hiruko the Goblin in 1990, a film based on a manga by a favourite writer of his. It was a success. In 1992 he went back to the film which made his name but with a bigger budget and bigger ideas.
Tomoo Taniguchi (Taguchi) is a salary man who lives a happy life with his wife Kana (Kanaoka) and their son Minori (Tomioka). Then his life is shattered when his son is kidnapped by a group of skinheads lead by a mysterious man (Tsukamoto) and a mad scientist who then target him for a series of experiments designed to turn him into a human weapon.
Tetsuo II: Body Hammer is classed as a reimagining of the first film. It uses the same ideas, actors and themes but broadens its palette by morphing from pure horror into, what Tsukamoto describes in an interview on the DVD extras, an urban action thriller. It is a choice which reaps rewards because the sequel feels totally fresh.
The first thing to note is the colour. Unlike the original which was shot in black and white, this was shot in 35mm colour. While the original felt brutal and oppressive, the colour here allows Tsukamoto a wider range of tones to explore his ideas. This world is close to our own with mellow blues and clean whites from the sun indicating safe havens but when things get really dark and the attacks and mutations begin those colours are replaced by scarlet sunsets, dark blues of towering buildings, stifling oranges from furnaces and harsh blacks from shadows bisecting the screen. The use of colour is vibrant thanks to the fact that Tsukamoto has worked on rebalancing them for this new release. While there may be colour what has not changed is the fact that the camera and visual effects are still insane.
Once again the world Tsukamoto envisions is one where the impersonal and unnatural nature of spaces, towering buildings and stretching corridors, swallow up characters. It is not uncommon to see character framed in window panes. There are places of danger like the abandoned factories and junkyards full of mysterious skinheads who train with construction tools around blast furnaces. Then there are the commercial areas of glass and concrete. In contrast, the family home is a happy bubble flooded with light, almost dreamlike when compared to the brutal environment outside, the camera sways gently around and zooms in on happy faces. It cannot last as the skinheads invade it and from this point on the darkness and energy pick up.
The will to kill. That’s what counts.
Tsukamoto once again plays with the temporal space through editing, under-cranking and stop motion. We see the main protagonist zooming through the environment at super-speed or standing still on subway platforms as commuters rush past him and in other scenes the fast intercutting shots of buildings from different angles show just how removed he is from the world especially when mixed with slow contemplative family scenes. During chase scenes, the constantly moving and lolling camera convey the sense of panic and during the messy transformations the camera is obscured by condensation on the lens and there are frequent uses of close-ups on face pulled into painful masks by hatred.
The visual effects are also excellent with great visuals of bodies morphed into monstrosities. Hearts have the flesh replaced with metal, valves and ventricles are pipes. Again we get stop-motion scenes of metal wires surrounding and penetrating bodies, reconstructing them into unholy images in sequences where the messy combination of flesh and metal rival anything seen in Videodrome and the phallic chest gun is reminiscent of Geiger’s work on the Xenomorph in Alien. It all gives way to a Godzilla style monster at the end but one made from the detritus of modern society.
Again, the performances are excellent with Taguchi given more space to sway the viewer and make them sympathise with him throughout the horror. He is convincing in his meekness and in his kind nature and when the horror begins he’s running more than fighting. He looks scared witless until he transforms into a monster which is when he looks pretty insane. I am convinced that there are few actors who can convey horror and bewilderment as well as him. Shinya Tsukamoto replaces the manic psycho from the first film with a villain who is as cool as ice and totally mysterious.
Tetsuo II: Body Hammer shifts the franchise from pure horror full into a more accessible action film and while it is not as startling as the original it is a very finely polished and well made film. The viewer is given more plot and narrative to deal with and while the cause of the transformation isn’t easily explained it is still compelling. It is surprisingly close to Nightmare Detective (no bad thing because I like that film a lot) in terms of certain aesthetic choices and its story. It is also peppered with many deliberately absurd moments which leaven the atmosphere and caused me to laugh out loud quite a few times. Again, this is a film I highly recommend and since it comes with the first film in the Tetsuo re-release, this is the perfect opportunity to pick it up.