Shinya Tsukamoto returns to give us more metal mayhem in his sequel to The Iron Man.
“You feel the beauty in destruction. So go ahead, destroy. Destroy the greatest thing of all.”
When I first watched Shinya Tsukamoto’s 1989 cyberpunk horror Tetsuo: The Iron Man and subsequently learnt that there was a sequel, I remember wondering what that could possibly be about. I had suspected a movie similar thematically, but within a different continuity and with different characters, maybe. Certainly, it would keep its unique visual style. With 1992’s Tetsuo II: Body Hammer, that’s certainly partly the case.
Tsukamoto keeps his lead actor Tomorowo Taguchi around as Tomoo Taniguchi, a salaryman whose family is constantly being harassed by thugs. After one altercation, he is stabbed with a mysterious liquid and begins to – like in the first film – find he is growing machine parts within himself. When his son is kidnapped, Tomoo finds himself in a fit of rage, and grows cannons of out of his arms in anger, accidentally blowing his own son away. Enraged, he goes to seek out the man behind this – a mad scientist (Torauemon Utazawa), and the Metal Fetishist from the first film (now known as Yatsu, played by Tsukamoto), who is creating an army of metal men.
Body Hammer recycles a lot of the same themes from the previous movie, but where Tsukamoto succeeds is in how differently he approaches the subject. While the first film showed the metal as something to be feared and wary of, Body Hammer instead makes another argument, one with a transformation that is potentially useful both for an individual and to a large group of people. I mean, except when you blow your only child away with your arm cannons. They’re both negative transformations, sure, but the one in the first film felt like a curse, whereas this transformation may serve a purpose. Taguchi plays his role more or less the same way as he did in Iron Man, except in this one he’s not afraid to let the anger come out.
So, how do the transformations look? Frankly, none of them really screamed as impressive as they were in the original. The grotesque nature of the Cronenberg-inspired changes to the main guy were one of the biggest selling points, and while Body Hammer tries to up the ante with some larger machine scenes, sometimes bigger isn’t always better. Tomoo’s complete transformation looks kind of silly, and I don’t think that was the intention of the scene. However, one of the final shots involving, like the last movie, a big mish-mash of the iron men, is pretty damn impressive. Throw on that Taguchi’s absolutely manic performance (as well as Tsukamoto’s own) and you have a movie that’s if nothing else, at least pretty entertaining.
To sum it up, Body Hammer is more cohesive of a movie, with an obvious story running through it, despite its crazy editing and bizarre cinematography. As such, it feels a little bit safer and more “Hollywood” and it suffers because of it. Neither film tells a particularly engaging or deep story, so they have to rely specifically on their technical sides. This film has a much higher production value, but it’s the gritty guerrilla feel of the original that made it stand out. It was in not knowing exactly what was happening, and trying to understand through the visual metaphors and wild filmmaking that Iron Man really stood out. Without that, Body Hammer is still pretty decent in a lot of way, but it doesn’t hold a candle up to the originality and lunacy of the original.
In the end, Body Hammer is still a very solid piece of filmmaking, if you’re into that sort of thing. It has all the stylistic markings of Shinya Tsukamoto, a man who definitely knows what he’s doing at this point. It’s filled with some excellent sequences and definitely something to say about industrialisation, but if you’re looking for something edgier and stranger than Iron Man, you won’t really find it here. One more film in the Tetsuo saga was filmed, many years later, so it’ll be exciting to see where Tsukamoto takes his weird little franchise.
Verdict: Visually mad, Body Hammer makes for some uncomfortable viewing (in a good way).
Overall entertainment: 7/10
Metal Men: 8/10
Stop Motion Animation: 10/10
Favourite Character: That guy that spills his coffee during the chase sequence
Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (1992)
Also known as: 鉄男II Body Hammer
Director: Shinya Tsukamoto
Writer: Shinya Tsukamoto
Tomorowo Taguchi – Taniguchi Tomoo
Shinya Tsukamoto – Yatsu (The Guy/ The Metal Fetishist)
Nobu Kanaoka – Kana
Sujin Kim – Taniguchi’s Father
Torauemon Utazawa – Mad Scientist
Hideaki Tezuka – Big Skinhead
Tomoo Asada – Little Skinhead
Iwata – Taniguchi’s Mother
Keinosuke Tomioka – Minori