Tetsuo: The Bullet Man (2009)
: 4/5 (above average)
Well, Shinya Tsukamoto has finally fulfilled his obligation to the fans, it has finally come out on DVD, and this Tsukamoto fan-boy has finally watched it. What we end up with is something that seems to try to appeal to the fans, and the mainstream, and those two directions just seem to cancel each-other out. It is both not a very good Tetsuo
film, as well as not a very good conventional film, but still a fun time that reasonable fans can cope with. It now has an English speaking cast, and for whatever reason that comes off as unnatural and stilted. There is a hefty portion of the film dedicated to explaining how Tetsuo was created, and by the standards set by other sci-fi films that explore government conspiracies and terrible weapons of destruction, this felt rather ham-fisted. It felt like the film was taking a nap, and I got the exact same feeling when Tetsuo II
added the origin of the two boys at the end. It is like he wanted the story to make sense to those looking for conventional narrative, but also wanted it to echo the plots of the first two, and it just didn't really work that well. Taking it in either extreme direction would've been much better than this hybrid, and I guess I just don't understand why the last Tetsuo
film, which he is only making because he promised the fans, wouldn't be obviously better as a complete homage of the art-heavy original. To say it is only about marketing is to totally undermine that the first Tetsuo
was an international hit that launched his career as a serious film-maker.
That isn't to say it doesn't have its moments. If anything it is the more conventional segments that really shine here. That doesn't mean the plot or acting are stellar, but that the film stays consistently beautiful and interesting with lovely cinematography and production values. The sound quality and score both meet and perhaps surpass the originals, and the makeup effects of Tetsuo's transformation are much better this time around. His skin grows seemingly random formations of iron when he gets angry, but the iron actually decays and slowly falls off once he is relaxed, very cool idea. It is when certain characters start speaking and explaining that things come apart at the seams a little bit. This seems to be the risk when such an off-beat film-maker tries to direct something normal, and you can really see his limitations here. He doesn't really have much experience with normal
, where when he goes for something like Vital
it is clear he has been honing his craft for decades now. I think after seeing the two Nightmare Detective
films and now this go in such a direction, that it is obvious Tsukamoto is interested in improving as a more conventional film-maker. I think this would've been far better a film with an all Japanese cast, no pop stars like we saw in Nightmare Detective
, some of the blatant explaining replaced by vague suggestion, and a bit more of his weird Tsukamoto flair.
There was a surprising lack of the stop-motion stuff from the originals, though it is most definitely there and looks better than ever. Instead he tries to let Tetsuo jumping around the room with wild camera movement carry the battle scenes, and there just isn't anything like the epic stop-motion bike ride battle through the city from Tetsuo II
. Another aspect that was toned down significantly was the eccentric Tsukamoto moments. He was in the film, but we never really saw anything like the creepy stalking of the man in the tunnel with the POV shot, pretending to shoot him with a cocked finger, or the maddeningly repetitious buddy-buddy slapping of the doctor's shoulder. Tsukamoto under his own direction can create some unforgettable characters, and that just seems totally absent in The Bullet Man
. I realize he is getting older, and his face isn't quite as striking as it used to be, but his personality was still sorely missed. All in all this film had aspects that were better than the first two, but missed too much of what made the first two international cult hits. I do recommend it, and it is ok as a Tetsuo
sendoff, but just know what not to expect.