Today I watched Shin’ya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (1992)
Tetsuo II does not follow up where the last film left off but is rather a thematic and stylistic sequel, building on the themes and imagery of the last film but in a new story. And it is a much more coherent story as a gang of bodybuilding machine fetishists attempt to create a fusion of man and mechanical weapon. To this end they harass a salaryman (played by the same lead, Tomorowo Taguchi) and his family of a wife and son. This salaryman has a mysterious past often alluded to throughout the film that possibly justifies his oncoming horrific metamorphosis.
By using a modicum of conventionality in establishing the protagonist the film actually manages to increase the effectiveness of it’s more surreal and non-conventional elements. The protagonists family creates an emotional resonance that was lacking in Tetsuo the first and because we can identify with his need to protect his family from this harassment there is a greater sense of tragedy in his inevitable transformation. Taguchi does an incredible job with the roll with great physical acting which is necessary as he has little dialogue to work with, he is a fantastic physical performer who can elicit a lot of emotion with his movements.
This really is an expansion on everything that worked in the first film, the synthesis of man and machine is now juxtaposed with a comparison of the human body to an organic machine itself. The cultish villains, led by Tukamoto (himself an accomplished actor) creates opportunities to explore the effects of technology on society as a whole instead of simply the individual. Speaking of this bodybuilding machine cult the perverse element of the last film has been changed to a largely masculine theme, drawing a parallel between the idolization of violence and masculine sexuality. And once again Chu Ishikawa delivers a musical score that pummels you with industrial auditory violence, which I was remiss in my duties for not mentioning in my review for the first Tetsuo.
On top of all of these ideological expansions to the previous work the imagery has recieved a massive overhaul as well. While some might lament that it is in colour instead of the previous work’s stark black and white, I think Tsukamoto’s use of colour here is a revelation and adds far more than subtracts to the film. This visual improvement lets the audience get a much better view of the fascinating special effects and wicked costume design that this series does so well But in full disclosure maybe my opinions on this one should be taken with a grain of salt (well, lets be fair, every critic’s opinion on anything should be taken with a grain of salt) because this is really one of my favorite films of all time and has been ever since I first saw it oh so many years ago. I cannot help but be enraptured by this brilliant melding of family drama, paramilitary homo-eroticism, and monstrous transhuman terror. 5/5