Tetsuo: The Bullet Man (2009) Movie Review

Japanese filmmaker Shinya Tsukamoto’s delirious 2009 sci-fi actioner “Tetsuo: The Bullet Man” is, if nothing else, one hell of a ride. The film is a dizzying, disorienting, and frequently maddening experience, and it’s certainly not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. The sensation is akin to the sort of visceral response associated with the music of Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, or Autechre: the presentation is initially jarring and unpleasant, but you slowly begin to see a method to the madness, a beauty to the chaos. All of this may sound strange to those who aren’t familiar with the “Tetsuo” franchise or the aforementioned electronic musicians, but it’s the only way I know how to adequately describe the film to anyone who hasn’t properly consumed the insanity on their own.

The film opens with the vehicular murder of a small boy, an event that’s witnessed by his horrified father Anthony (Eric Bossick). Although he’s deeply shaken by this unspeakable crime, Anthony appears strangely aloof when it comes to the death of his child. This behavior hasn’t gone unnoticed by his emotionally devastated wife, who feels that they should track down the guilty parties and make them pay for what they’ve done. As he begins searching for answers, our hero discovers some very strange secrets from his childhood, which may help to explain why, exactly, his entire body is transforming into a pile of twisted metallic weaponry capable of mass destruction.

It’s truly hard to say whether or not “Tetsuo: The Bullet Man” is a good film. It’s nowhere near as entertaining — or accomplished, for that matter — as “Tetsuo: The Iron Man”, nor is it as disappointing as its spineless sequel, “Body Hammer”. There are several moments sprinkled throughout the film that are truly captivating, though the majority of them are purely visual. Watching the titular abomination wreak havoc on a team of well-armed, highly-trained soldiers is nothing short of brilliant. Assuming, of course, that you have a high tolerance for epileptic camerawork and loud industrial music. And while you might find yourself unable to look away as the feature quickly spirals into a surreal, mind-rotting display of cinematic ADD, justifying the film’s existence becomes increasingly difficult.

The truth of the matter is that Tsukamoto really isn’t doing anything different with the story this time around. Certain minor elements have been altered and the characters have been slightly tweaked, but the core premise remains exactly the same. Man goes crazy, man transforms, violence ensues. Keeping things simple is one thing, rehashing old ideas is another. What’s even more distressing are the performances; none of the actors seem to have a firm grasp of what the director is trying to accomplish. Eric Bossick’s David Byrne-esque nervous energy definitely makes his character’s mental collapse seem entirely plausible, but his inability to deliver a single line of believable dialogue ultimately works against him. Then again, perhaps this is what Tsukamoto had in mind. Given his penchant for weirdness, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised.

Unless you’re a die hard Shinya Tsukamoto fan with a soft spot for the director’s ambitious “Tetsuo” series, I seriously doubt you’re going to appreciate what this remarkably talented filmmaker was trying to accomplish here. Even as a devoted follower of the man’s work, I’m having a hard time deciding how I feel about the production. Tsukamoto’s knack for visual anxiety is in full effect, though it’s not enough to hide the fact that there’s really isn’t much of a story to tell. It’s a damn shame, as I had hopes that this would be the jolt of energy the franchise needed after “Body Hammer”. As it stands, “Tetsuo: The Bullet Man” is a marginal film with limited appeal. Mildly disappointing, yet oddly alluring.

Shinya Tsukamoto (director) / Shinya Tsukamoto and Hisakatsu Kuroki (screenplay)
CAST: Eric Bossick … Anthony
Akiko Monô … Yuriko
Yûko Nakamura … Mitsue
Stephen Sarrazin … Ride
Shinya Tsukamoto … The Guy