While it had its stylistic fore bearers and influences, TETSUO: the Iron Man (1989) had to be one of the most widely distributed cult films to hit the vhs isles of major US video chains and remains one of the gold standards of indie-cult and cyberpunk film making. It was the kind of unique, head trip film that became quickly recommended as a "weird" film amongst my teenage friends. It served as a good launching point for a career, and it is the career of TETSUO director Shinya Tsukamoto that is the focus of this 53 minute documentary.
Along with some omniscient narration, the doc is structured around a single sit down interview with Tsukamoto and plays out in linear fashion from his first films as a teen to his 2002 feature A Snake of June.
The early 8mm stuff from his teens and student film days are obviously the rarest and therefore most interesting clips. He explains how he started off, like most kids, just wanting to make monster movies (Kaiju flicks). These glimpses also show that he was pretty advanced and ambitious, adapting stories, developing his trademark frenetic editing and camerawork, as well as, in one case, making a full-fledged, epic length, Kurosawa-ish drama. We get to see one of his television commercials, a job he quickly grew disillusioned with, abandoning film for theater productions before mounting TETSUO. It was that film's success at international festivals that would result in his reconsidering a career in film making. He amusingly remarks that though the film had success, it inevitably only won Jury Prizes. Not 1st, not 2nd, not 3rd, just the Jury Prize, which he equates to saying, "It was a different film. Thanks for making it."
Tsukamoto also talks about his career as an actor, appearing in movies like Ichi The Killer, the Maiku Hama films, Chloe, and Travial. Difficulties also come up, like TETSUO 2's long production schedule and Bullet Ballet's difficult editing process. Unfortunately, when it comes to his method, personal themes, and collaborating, the film keeps it pretty simple and basic, barely skimming the surface. For instance, he speaks briefly of Tokyo Fist co-writer Hisashi Saito, whom Tsukamo would also act for, but there is no mention of his most frequent co-collaborator, composer Chu Ishikawa. You just dont get a full and total sense of the man/the artist. The doc ends on a good note with Tsukamoto musing over how he has so many ideas for projects he couldn't possibly fit them into a lifetime.
The DVD: Pathfinder.
Picture: Not much to speak of on this end. Clearly intended as a direct to tv or video production. The interview pieces are in standard full frame and the film clips are, when appropriate, in non-anamorphic widescreen. Not the highest quality budget and productionwise, so its strictly the basics.
Sound: Japanese Stereo with English subtitles. Again, like above, the audio is very simple but clean and well-presented. The subs are a little disappointing because they only translate the narrator and Tsukamoto, therefore all the film clips are untranslated.
Extras: Shinya Tsukamoto Filmography. --- Essay by Rosemary Lawrence.--- Trailers for his films. --- And, finally a pretty deep Still/Slideshow Gallery.
Conclusion: Chalk this one up as a fan only affair. If there was a little more meat on it, I'd love to give a broader recommendation to possibly turn on non-Tsukamoto fans, but as it is, it isn't very probing, just a surface skimming look at a very individualistic film maker. I'll give it a rent it, really only purchase worthy for Tsukamoto's hardcore legion of followers.