Saturday, October 23, 2021

TETSUO: THE BULLET MAN (2009) Movie Review

Scare-A-Thon Totals to Date:

Total Movies Watched: 21
Total First Time Views: 14
Amount raised for ALBANY PARK THEATER PROJECT: $1,674.75

Tetsuo: The Bullet Man (2009) d. Shinya Tsukamoto (Japan) (71 min) (1st viewing)

A couple’s life is shattered when their son is brutally, intentionally run down in the street, their grief driving them into separate spirals of misery. The businessman father Anthony (Eric Bossick) seeks muted solace in endlessly humming the “Mockingbird” nursery rhyme that his parents taught him while Yuriko (Akiko Mono) announces that she must have revenge on Tom’s murderer (played by writer/director Tsukamoto), eventually leaving Anthony. His inner turmoil – and his mysterious genetic origins, thanks to his mad scientist father Ride (Stephen Sarrazin) – transform him into a hulking metal beast, literally armed to the teeth with firearm muzzles. Now the past and the present will collide, with mayhem on the menu.

Tsukamoto’s astonishing 1989 feature debut announced a major and strikingly original filmmaking presence, providing him with lifelong cache among underground film fans. Unfortunately, every time he revisits his source material, as in 1992’s Tetsuo II: Body Hammer and now this belated, bigger-budget remake/follow-up, he attempts to impose a traditional narrative onto a scenario that ideally works as a fever dream, with exponentially diminishing returns.

The original film survives purely on its no-budget moxie and breathtaking energy, mind-blowing imagery married with a pounding industrial soundtrack that allows the viewer to ignore that none of what we are witnessing makes any logical sense. What we certainly didn’t need more of was a “rational” explanation of how a human being could suddenly transform into a mixture of flesh and metal. We sense that we aren’t intended to take any of what is transpiring literally, that is is an expression of pure emotion exploding at the screen, a sensory feast rather than an intellectual exercise.

To its credit, the Bullet Man doesn’t try to explain everything, but it doesn’t do itself any favors with a backstory about Ride creating an android version of his wife Mitsue (Yuko Nakamura) after she develops cancer and then it HAVING A BABY. Couple this with a cliched governmental cover-up of Ride’s experiments and a squadron of generic bad guys out to erase Anthony, and the whole thing starts to feel very C-grade sci-fi.

The biggest stumble, at least for international audiences, is Tsukamoto’s decision to shoot (ha) in English, making the tin-eared, pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo dialogue all the more cringe-worthy. Especially when his game but middling cast is not up for the challenge. (Interestingly, the director delivers the most compelling performance… in his native tongue. Hmmmm.)

I was fully prepared to be disappointed by this viewing, having already heard much of the complaints voiced herein expressed elsewhere, so the wound didn’t cut as deep as it might have. Truth be told, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had been led to believe, and Tsukamoto still possesses an amazing sense for visuals (the bled-dry cinematography) and rapid-fire editing, all set to Chu Ishikawa’s grinding beat (and a closing titles theme by Nine Inch Nails). It’s more a step down than unqualified failure, more cautionary tale than a total waste of time.

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