First edition published July 2005
FAB Press
7 Farleigh
Ramsden Road
England, U.K.
Text copyright © Thomas Mes 2005
The moral rights ollhe author have been asserted
Foreword copyright © Takashi Miike 2004
Front cover illustration:
Tetsuo II: The Body Hammer
Back cover illustrations, cllockwise from lop centre:
Tetsuo II: The Body Hammer, Tokyo Fist, Tetsuo II: The Body Hammer, Vital
Frontispiece illustration:
Shinya Tsukamoto during the making of Vital. Copyright © 2004 Tom Mes
Stills and illustrations in this book are copyright © as lollows:
The Phantom of Regular Size: © 1986 Shinya Tsukamoto I Kaijyu Theater
The Adventure of Denchu Kozo: © 1987 Shinya Tsukamoto I Kaijyu Theater
Tetsuo: The Iron Man © 1989 Shinya Tsukamoto I Kaijyu Theater
Hiruko the Goblin: © 1990 Shinya Tsukamoto I Kaijyu Theater
Tetsuo II: The Body Hammer© 1992 Shinya Tsukamoto I Kaijyu Theater
Tokyo Fist© 1995 Shinya Tsukamoto I Kaijyu Theater
Bullet Ballet © 1998 Shinya Tsukamoto I Kaijyu Theater
Gemini: © 1999 Aiko Nakano, courtesy of Sedic International
A Snake of June: © 2002 Shinya Tsukamoto I Kaijyu Theater
Vital. © 2004 Shinya Tsukamoto I Kaijyu Theater
Stills and illustrations in this book are courtesy of the following organisations and individuals: Hiromi Aihara, Kaijyu
Theater, Kuriko Sato, Sedic International, Shinya Tsukamoto and the author's private collection.
This Volume copyright © FAB Press 2005
World Rights Reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or Iransmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including
photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
hardback: ISBN 1 903254 35 3
paperback: ISBN 1 903254 36 1
Iron Man.
The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
by Tom Mes
Foreword by Takashi Miike
Layout by Harvey Fenton,
aher an original design by Martin Mes
My heartfelt thanks go out to the following people who made this book possible:
Most of all, of course, to Shinya Tsukamoto for his openness, his generosity, his boundless
enthusiasm for this project and for all the films.
To Shinichi Kawahara, who gives new definition to the term reliable.
To Kiyo Joo of Gold View and Keiko Kusakabe of There's Enterprise, for their enthusiastic
To Hiromi Aihara, Tadanobu Asano, Kei Fujiwara, Teruo Ishii, Chu Ishikawa, Nobu
Kanaoka, Ken Okubo, Tomorowo Taguchi and Koji Tsukamoto for taking the time out to
talk so passionately about their work with and views of Shinya Tsukamoto.
To Takashi Miike, for being unique in any medium.
To the cast and crew of Vital, for hospitality and karaoke.
To Takahiro Ohno and all at Sedic International for the many materials related to Gemini.
To Harvey Fenton for being a true independent and for his continued faith in my writing.
To Roland Domenig, Martin Mes and Bas Roijakkers for their invaluable input and
To Jason Gray for solving the kanji problem, once again.
And also to Marc Caro, Jonathan Clements, l'Etrange Festival, Luk van Haute,
International Film Festival Rotterdam, Herman and Marijke Mes, Takashi Nishimura of
UniJapan Film, Sho and Kurara Sato, Jasper Sharp, Makoto Shinozaki, Brad Warner of
Tsuburaya Productions and Yukiko Yamato of TBS.
And finally, my gratitude and love to Kuriko Sato, who could not be thanked enough even if
I dedicated every single book to her.
Dedicated to the memories of
Sh6 Sat6, Nel Rijke-Barendregt and Billy
" What I Know About a Man Named Shinya Tsukamoto" by Takashi Miike
Shinya Tsukamoto's Metal Vitality
Monster Boy
2 Savage Theatre
3 The Phantom and the Brat
4 Metallic K.O. - Tetsuo: The Irn Man
5 Hunting Demons - Hiruko the Goblin
6 Return to Metal - Tetsuo II: The Body Hammer
7 Fists, Fury and Feminism - Tokyo Fist
8 The Black Hole - Bullet Ballet
9 Taking a Stroll - Gemini
10 Rainy Season - A Snake of June
11 The Tell-Tale Heart - Vital
12 Like Going Fishing
Epilogue. Tetsuo Strikes Back
Shinya Tsukamoto films on DVD
Notes and bibliography
What I Know About a Man Named
Shinya Tsukamoto
" Huh? He's just a regular nice guy."
This was my honest impression when I first met the peculiar film director Shinya Tsukamoto.
It must have been around 1996 or '97, if I remember correctly.
The location was a hotel in Tokyo.
The occasion was the wedding of Koji Tsukamoto, protagonist of Tokyo Fist and the director's
younger brother. Director Tsukamoto followed all the required Japanese customs as he
served as the groom's older brother, in front of the many guests that had come to celebrate
the young man's new life.
In other words. In accordance with Japanese conduct he humbly bent his back, lowered his
head and said,
"Thank you for all the kindness you've shown my brother. He's still young, but I hope you will
be good enough to continue to support him in the future."
And he delighted in his younger brother's happiness more than anyone in the room. The
heartwarming personification of the good older brother. He had kind, peaceful eyes ... he
really did.
At that moment.
" Hah! Just as I thought, he is crazy after all."
This was my honest impression when I met the peculiar film director Shinya Tsukamoto for
the second time.
It must have been about two months after the wedding party.
The location was a rundown building in suburban Tokyo.
At the time I was making a kitschy yakuza movie called Full Metal Yakuza. But I ran into
some problems and couldn't use the arranged location for the next day's shoot. For a poor
director a single day's delay can have disastrous consequences, so we tried everything we
could to find a new suitable location.
Good news arrived. Director Tsukamoto happened to be shooting his new film Bullet Ballet
in just that kind of place.
Right! I thought of his peaceful eyes, the kind glance of the good brother. Those eyes must
be able to help me. I called him up straight away.
" Mister Tsukamoto, I'm stuck. Please allow me to use a tiny corner of your location."
As I expected.
" Be my guest."
The shooting day. Just after I arrived, I went to look for director Tsukamoto to thank him.
There he was. Director Tsukamoto was looking into the camera and giving indications for
the lighting. Fake blood gushed from the head of the man lying on the floor in front of the
lens. Even so early in the morning there was a curious tension in the air. Director Tsukamoto
seemed unhappy with the composition, looked up from the viewfinder and glanced at his
script with a frown. Then his eyes looked in my direction.
8 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
These eyes were wild. Totally wild.
Drugs are illegal by Japanese law, so there are very few wild-eyed people in Japan.
In other words, these eyes are naturally wild. Not because of a drug administered from the
outside, they are naturally wild because of the adrenalin secreted by the brain.
" . . . Yikes! He . . . he's already wild-eyed from morning."
I couldn't talk to him. I shuffled back to my set and began filming. I shot for dear life to shake
off the spectre of those eyes. I don't remember exactly, but I think I must have done about
80 set-ups that day. It was an average number for me at the time.
Well, I'll go back to thank Tsukamoto and then head for home. Even Tsukamoto wouldn't
continue being wild-eyed for that long . . .
" No way! . . . Th . . . that's not."
Director Tsukamoto was looking into the camera. Fake blood gushed from the head of the
man lying on the floor in front of the lens ...
You mean you've been working on the same shot since this morning?!
Looking up from the viewfinder and glancing in my direction, the director noticed me standing
stunned in a corner.
" You finished already. Good work."
He smiled at me, still wild-eyed.
I will never be able to beat this guy.
This is him: tough and generous madman Shinya Tsukamoto.
PS.: Younger brother Koji, whose union with the woman he loved was celebrated by so
many, recently departed on a new journey in search of more freedom . . . . By himself.
- Takashi Miike
November 30, 2004
Shinya Tsukamoto's Metal Vitality
The importance of Shinya Tsukamoto's work for and within Japanese cinema is incontestable.
By bringing back the attention of the international film community to Japan with his first
feature Tetsuo: The Irn Man in 1989, he was a pioneer in advocating the nation's contem­
porary cinema abroad.Takeshi Kitano, often seen as the leading light among today's Japanese
filmmakers by foreign critics and audiences, made his directorial debut the same year, but it
would take another four years for the rest of the world to properly get wind of him.
The international breakthrough ofTsukamoto and Tetsuocame at a time when Japanese
cinema seemed all but forgotten by foreign minds. The monolithic Akira Kurosawa and a few
survivors of the generation that had come to prominence in the 1960s - the filmmakers who
made up the Japanese New Wave, most notably Nagisa Oshima and Sh6hei Imamura -
still gained praise during the '80s, but it can be argued that the 1983 Palme d'Or for Imamura's
The Balad of Narayama in Cannes had less of an impactthan the award for Best Film for Tetsuo
at the relatively modest FantaFestival in Rome. The reason is that not only was Tetsuo a
film by a director from a new generation, it also brought a new generation of foreign fans to
Japanese film. Rather than being built on the remnants of the past, it gave Japanese cinema
a future. As such, we can safely call the film a watershed.
The paradox of the situation is that Tsukamoto was not a product of the Japanese film
industry. He was a total independent, making films with his own money and equipment, and
with a group of friends and like-minded individuals as crew and cast. His sensibilities weren't
formed by years of apprenticeship at a film studio, as was the case with most filmmakers of
the generations before him, but by a love of monster films, science fiction and horror: the same
influences that put their stamp on the new generation of spectators that came to see his films.
This would seem to mark Tsukamoto out as a cult filmmaker, a director with a loyal
but ultimately limited audience. In some ways he is. Despite ample critical praise and awards
at prestigious film festivals like Venice - the same festival that catapulted Akira Kurosawa to
global fame by granting him the Golden Lion for Rashomon in 1951 - the audience for his
films is relatively restricted, probably due in no small part to a style and subject matter that
are too intense and overwhelming to appeal to mass audiences, either at home or abroad.
However, to tag Tsukamoto as merely a cult filmmaker and his work as audacious
exercises in genre reflection would be a mistake. His films exhibit a degree of social relevance
that makes him one of the most perceptive and persistent commentators among Japanese
filmmakers active today. While he is still often regarded as a " cyberpunk director " - which
insinuates that his obsessions are with technology and science fiction rather than with human
beings and the present time - this label has long since become obsolete. Tsukamoto moved
away from SF after only two films, Tetsuo: The Iron Man and its sequel Tetsuo II: The Body
Hammer (1992), and his work greatly benefited from the increased distance; as an artist he
came to full maturity only after he let go of the cyberpunk and sci-fi influences.
In simple terms, Tsukamoto's films form a critical observation of life in contemporary
urban Japan. But since there are more than a few similarities between life in Tokyo and in
other cities across the globe, the relevance of his work isn't limited to the borders of the
Japanese archipelago. Tsukamoto's protagonists are people who go through the daily routine
of life in a daze, bearing the inconveniences, the pressures and the aggravations of urban
10 I RON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
existence because they can't imagine it being any other way. They deal with those irritations
by gradually growing numb to them, but they have to sacrifice their vitality, their emotional
and physical sensations, in the process. To help them rediscover what they lost, the filmmaker
in less than subtle ways rips their sense of false comfort (a family, a classy apartment, a
steady income) to shreds and puts them through hell in order to have them re-evaluate their
lives, their own bodies and what exactly it is that they truly hold dear. When they emerge at
the other end, they have changed, sometimes beyond recognition but always for the better.
This process forms the motif that runs through his work and that returns in his films
time and time again. Instead of repeating himself, however, Tsukamoto explores this theme
in a subtly different manner with each film, giving it more nuance, more resonance and more
breadth, or letting it evolve into new directions. Every Tsukamoto film is a leap forward for
him as an artist.
Although not a few filmmakers show similar evolutions in their bodies of work, they
rarely demonstrate such a clear growth process from film to subsequent film. What makes
this possible for Tsukamoto is the fact that he is the sole creator of his work. Evidently he
works with a cast and crew, but he is one filmmaker who can truly be called independent,
one who writes his own screenplays, raises his own money and produces, designs, shoots,
edits and frequently also stars in his own films. Directors sometimes complain that they
never get to make the films they care about most. Shinya Tsukamoto, however, makes only
the films he cares about most. Very seldom accepting offers to work with an outside producer,
he is literally uncompromising when it comes to cinema.
That uncompromising spirit will hopefully become abundantly clear in this book, which
contains not only critical analyses of the films, but also goes into their history and into
Tsukamoto's own life and development. Chapters 1, 2 and 3 deal with his formative years,
from childhood and his first experiments with filmmaking by using his father's 8mm camera,
via his activities in amateur street theatre, to the two short films that form the rehearsals for
his later features, T he Phantom of Regular Size and The Adventure of Denchu Kozo. Then
in chapters 4 through 11 each of his eight feature films receives detailed, individual treatment.
These chapters are each divided into three parts: the background and production history of
the film ( I), the critical analysis, which looks at the film in the context of his entire body of
work, focusing on Tsukamoto's development as an artist ( I I), and finally Tsukamoto's own
feelings about the film, looking back at it today ( I I I). In the twelfth and final chapter we take
a look at his extensive credits as an actor in other directors' films, including those by Takashi
Miike, Takashi Shimizu, Teruo Ishii and Alex Cox. The two concluding appendices contain
Tsukamoto's complete filmography with cast, crew and technical details, and a list of DVD
releases of his films around the world.
Via these elements, Iron Man: The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto will hopefully not only
give a fascinating and important filmmaker his due, but above all enhance the understanding
and enjoyment of this great director's films on the part of you, the reader and viewer.
NB: A note on titles, names and transcriptions. Films are mentioned by their English titles
whenever possible, with the original title and year of release in brackets. In cases where a
film has no official English title, the Japanese is used, followed by a translation in square
brackets, like so: Don ten [tr: Cloudy sky].
12 I RON MAN· The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
In cases where a title contains katakana renditions of foreign words, I have chosen
to give literal romanisations instead of replacing them with their English equivalents. There
are many arguments for and against this, and I can sympathise with each side to a certain
extent. In the case of this book, though, literal romanisation helped avoid many a confusion,
for example between Tsukamoto's theatre company KaijG Shiata (written in katakana) and
his film production company Kaijyu Theater (written in English).
Transcription of Japanese words follows the Hepburn system. The use of a circon­
flexes on vowels, such as 6 and G, indicates that the sound of the vowel is prolonged in the
pronunciation of the word.
Names are given in the following order: given name first, family name second (Shinya
is the given name, Tsukamoto the family name). The Japanese order states the family name
first, but since this book is primarily aimed at non-Japanese readers I have chosen to use
the Western order.
. t
• . "
Hasu no Hana Tobe
1. Monster Boy
When Shinya Tsukamoto was born in Tokyo's Shibuya ward on New Year's Day 1960, the
city was undergoing a rapid transformation. Reduced to ruins by the American bombing
raids in the spring of 1945,1 Tokyo was frantically catching up with an economic growth
which its antiquated infrastructure couldn't support. In the early '50s the plan had been
launched to bring the Olympic Games to the Japanese capital by the next decade, as a
way to signal the country's return to the international community after its wartime past, but
above all as an incentive to develop Tokyo's urban infrastructure.
When the Olympics were opened in Tokyo in October of 1964, the city had completed
the construction of miles of new roads, the elevated Metropolitan Expressway, the monorail
between the city centre and Haneda Airport and the high-speed Shinkansen bullet train
that reduced the travel time to Osaka from 6.5 to 3. 5 hours.
The hub of Olympic activity, Shibuya saw the most radical of transformations. Yoyogi
Stadium, with its famed suspended roof designed by Kenz6 Tange, was constructed a
stone's throw from the Tsukamoto family home in the Jingumae area. Nearby, the Olympic
Village took up residence in the former quarters of the American Occupation Forces - once
referred to as Washington Heights - in the area that would later become Yoyogi Park.
"That period was really the start of urban development," says Shinya Tsukamoto,
remembering his early childhood in Jingumae, "with new buildings being constructed in
most of the empty lots. There were very few empty spaces left for us to play in, except for
one really big one that was closed off with a fence. I mainly played in an indoor playground
that was built for the neighbourhood children and which was next to my elementary school."
However, in between the brand new thoroughfares that formed the city's main
infrastructure the changes took place at a much slower pace: "I lived halfway between
Shibuya station and Harajuku station. Today Harajuku is a real hotspot, but when I lived
there as a kid only the main street Omotesand6 was a little bit like that, with shops on either
side of the road. The side streets were very calm and there was nothing of any interest. Actually,
many of my friends from that neighbourhood lived in old, decrepit houses."
It is more than feasible that this early experience of seeing a city surround and
encroach upon his living space was a strong influence on the motif of destruction of the
CHAPTER 1 I Monster Boy 1 5
Shinya and K6ji Tsukamoto.
urban environment that would recur in
Tsukamoto's films two and a half decades later,
originating perhaps in a wish for more space
and liberty. "Compared to children who grew up
in the countryside, who could play in the
mountains or fish in the river, us city kids were
really underprivileged. I was kind of boxed in
between the buildings and construction sites,"
Tsukamoto explains.
His brother Koji, two years his junior, has
similar memories of a lack of space to play in:
"When I was in the second grade of elementary
school and Shinya was in the fourth, we
sometimes played baseball in the empty lots.
We joined a children's baseball team together.
We tried to practice a lot, but it was difficult to
find and rent space to play properly, so usually
we would go to a high school playground very
early in the morning when there was nobody
there and we'd play until the first students
showed up."
In between the concrete and fences Shinya set out to, as he calls it, search for
adventure. Inspired by mystery author Edogawa Ranpo's series of Shonen Tanteidan [tr:
Boys' detective group] children's books, he formed his own gang of young sleuths with
neighbourhood friends and played in empty houses, air raid shelters or abandoned car
wrecks. "We would sometimes go to a shelter in the ShoW area, where the TokyO department
store is today, but I preferred the empty houses and broken cars. Looking back, that specific
area still had a very post-war ambience. I was four years old when the Tokyo Olympics
happened and the city was very much modernised by that time, but there were still areas
that were the same as they were right after the war."
Ranp02, Japan's foremost 20th-century author of mystery, detective and horror fiction,
and whose work he would later adapt for the screen with Gemini, was one of Tsukamoto's
earliest cultural influences: "I was reading Ranpo's children's books in the final years of
elementary school and the first few years of junior high. I think there was already an animation
series that was based on Ranpo's work, but it was a bit too cheerful for me. It lacked the
dark, almost perverse atmosphere of Ranpo's writing. For example, the covers of his Shonen
Tanteidan books would feature boys in shorts who were locked in a basement and were
threatened by snakes crawling up their legs. I was much more attracted by that dark edge
of the books. Later in junior high I started reading Ranpo's adult stories and I noticed that
my early impression of his writing was correct. He was a kinky person. He probably tried to
avoid the kinkiness when he wrote his children's books, but nevertheless it was present,
you could sense it. Later on when I read for example The Caterpillar [/momushl], The Human
Chair [ Ningen /su], or Stroller in the Attic [ Yaneura no Sanposha], I noticed that his taste for
perversion was very similar to mine. I had a similar feeling from reading his books as from
leafing through the SM magazines I read when I was in high school."
1 6 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
"As children we once watched the movie
The Ghost of Yotsuya [ Yotsuya Kaidan] on TV,"
remembers Koji, illustrating his brother's
fascination with the darker side of fiction, "and
neither of us could sleep that night because we
were so frightened by the film. In our room we
had many stickers of the cartoon Obake no Q­
tar6[tr: Q-taro the ghost], which were kind of cute
drawings, not really scary, so Shinya tried to
reassure us both by saying: 'We're not scared
of Obake no Q-tar6, so we shouldn't be scared
of ghosts either'."
The kaiD eiga or films about giant
monsters like Godzilla, Gamera and Mothra
were another of Tsukamoto's childhood
passions. "My mother took Koji and me to the
cinema to see the Gamera movies every
summer holiday," he remembers. "I was a big
fan of Gamera in the early years of elementary
school, so it was an occasion I always looked
forward to. On the way to school I would see
Shinya and K6ji with their mother, Mieko.
the posters advertising the new film, so when I came home that day I asked my mother to
take us to see it. In later years when I started making films myself I liked Godzilla more, but
in elementary school I preferred Gamera. Godzilla is the product of the atomic bomb, he
was dark and scary and more for adults. Gamera is green and he could fly and breathe fire,
and he also had his own theme song. Gamera was a monster who was a friend of children,
so when I was little I preferred Gamera. I remember well that they were selling Gamera
figures in the theatres, but Koji and I were too shy to tell our mother that we wanted to have
those figures, so we always went home empty-handed."
Seeing the giant, reptilian kaijDdestroying modern cities on the big screen connected
with the young Shinya's feelings about the oppressiveness of his urban environment. The
spectacle sowed the seeds of inspiration, which were further fed by a television series
that used a similar premise and which Tsukamoto today considers his main creative
influence: Ultra Q.
First airing in 1966, the show was the brainchild of special effects wizard Eiji Tsuburaya,
the man who had designed and built Godzilla. Sometimes considered the Japanese equivalent
to The Twilight Zone, though perhaps more for its cultural impact than for any actual similarity
in plots, Ultra Q characteristically featured the sudden appearance or awakening of a giant
monster at the start of each episode. Often emerging as a result of human activity, the
monster would spend the next 25 minutes running amok and destroying a city, a dam, a
power station, or another symbol of twentieth-century technological progress. Gomess was
a Godzilla-esque giant lizard (in fact made from a recycled Godzilla suit with horns and a
few tuf1s of hair added) awoken from his underground sleep by the construction of a railroad
tunnel. Garamon was a creature who emerged from a meteor, while the winged Peguila
with his freezing breath was discovered during an Antarctic expedition.
CHAPTER 1 I Monster Boy 1 7
"The series started when I was six years old and I was very fond of it," Tsukamoto
recalls. "Its influence on me and on my work continues to this day, particularly in its combination
of incongruent factors, the sudden introduction of an alien element into human civilisation."
Indeed it's not hard to see the connection between the plot structure of the Ultra Q episodes
and the structure regularly employed byTsukamoto, in which the introduction of a new character
forms the catalyst to major changes in the life and (urban) environment of the protagonist.
Tsukamoto feels the value of the series goes beyond the vicarious joy of watching a
giant monster crushing buildings, however: "That combination of mismatched elements
sometimes gave Ultra Q a kind of surrealist atmosphere. I have the impression that the
people who made the series were intentionally injecting elements of Surrealism or Dadaism.
In high school I was quite curious about Surrealism and I think that was a result of watching
Ultra 0." The fourth episode in the series, Mammoth Flower, is a case in point, its central
threat being not a hideous monster, but a giant plant that grows up against an office building
and develops a single bud from which emerges a gargantuan but gorgeous flower.
In the years before he came into contact with a film camera, Shinya Tsukamoto's greatest
wish was to become an animator. His favourite animation series included Gigantor ( Tetsujin
28-G6), The Sensational Harris (Harisu no Kaze), Hoshi of the Giants (Kyojin no Hoshi) and
Tomorrow's Joe (Ashita no J6), all of which featured a boy protagonist striving to achieve
great deeds. Hoshi of the Giants and Tomorrw's Joe respectively featured a rookie baseball
player and boxer, while Gigantor (whose Japanese title evocatively translates as 'Iron Man
Nr. 28') revolved around a giant robot controlled by the underage son of its inventor. Tsukamoto
professes that these four series had a strong effect on him: "I completely identified with the
protagonists. Tomorrow's Joe was about a rookie boxer who makes it big purely by talent
and will power and that story was a big influence on me. Watching Gigantor I felt like it was
me who operated that big robot."
Two other animation series he never missed a single episode of were Lupin III (Rupan
Sansei) and Triton of the Sea (Umi no Toriton). "Lupin 11/ was really high quality animation,"
he remembers, "in car chase scenes the tires would squeak and bend. Sometimes, especially
on weekends, I would watch it with my father and he really liked that series too. Watching
Triton of the Sea with him was a bit embarrassing, though, because it was a lot more childish
than Lupin. I liked it nevertheless and never missed an episode, because it contained two of
my favourite subjects: a boy protagonist and the sea. Just the fact that it contained those two
elements made me love it. The sea gave me a hunger for adventure. Every summer our family
would go to the seaside and sometimes I would build boats out of wood to play with. I loved
the feeling of going on an adventure and for that reason I preferred the sea to the mountains."
Tsukamoto's feelings over watching Triton of the Sea with his father were indicative of
the relationship between the two. Although he was often absent from the family home due to
work obligations, which in Japan also tend to gobble up most of someone's private time, Kazuo
Tsukamoto made an indelible mark on the household and on his eldest son: "My father studied
art in university, so his taste and opinions were very clear. When we watched TV together he
would always tell us which programs were good and which weren't. When I was drawing or
painting, he would come over and criticise it, with few words but very harshly. He would look
at it and say 'Your painting is pointless,' then walk away. After that I would be so angry I would
tear up what I was doing. I worked with oil paint and a palette knife, and after he said something
like that to me, I would get the urge to cut up my painting with the palette knife."
1 8 IRON MAN· The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
Lef: Tsukamoto (third from the left) in one of his high school plays.
RighI: Father Kazuo Tsukamoto with his Karmann Ghia.
"My father," his brother K6ji recalls, "was the kind of person who would often tell us: 'Being
number one is all that matters. Being number two is the same as being number 100, so you
always have to be on top'. I loved doing sports and whatever sport I was taking part in,
whether it was running or swimming, I would push myself to become number one, and I
usually did. For Shinya it was a lot more difficult to get our father's approval."
Both boys felt a fear of their father, but at the same time his absence created a kind
of detachment that made it a little easier for them to deal with his behaviour. On weekdays,
he often left for work early before they woke and wouldn't return until after they had gone to
bed. Tsukamoto saw him less as a father than as "a very strict uncle" on account of his absence.
The inevitable result was that the boys felt a lot closer to their mother Mieko. Tsukamoto
considers the degree of importance his parents had for him as: "Father 1, Mother 9."
"Perhaps you could even say I have an Oedipal complex," he admits with a smile. The
central presence of women in his films would seem to underline this. When asked about
this aspect of his work, Tsukamoto refers to his feelings about his mother: "I don't know
why exactly, but when I look at my mother, who is part of a previous generation in which a
woman's situation was weaker and aimed at supporting the man, I feel compassion for
her and I get this urge to be supportive to women. It's easier to talk about my father, because
there are many episodes and anecdotes, but my mother was much more important to me.
She really sacrificed herself and all her time to raise us. When K6ji and I moved out of the
house, she felt very empty and didn't know how to fill her time. When I saw that happen, I
felt very thankful, but also very sorry for her."
Their mother also bore the cross of her husband's behaviour, seeing him treat himself
to pleasures he kept from his family, like his red Karmann Ghia sportscar. "My father liked
cars and fancy clothes, and he would prefer to spend his money on those things than on
his family. We would be eating cheap fried snacks for dinner, but at the same time he would
buy himself an expensive car or clothes," Tsukamoto remembers.
CHAPTER 1 I Monster Boy 1 9
"I used to think that Shinya must really hate our father," Koji ponders. "Recently I'm
not so sure any more; he seems to hate him, but he seems to love him at the same time."
Tsukamoto himself professes to having a degree of understanding and even admiration for
his father: "Essentially, I feel that my father's opinions were quite perceptive, even though
his way of putting them across was far too harsh. My father came from Fukui Prefecture.
When he was young there was quite a lot of youth gang activity, they fought each other with
self-made shuriken and knives. But they had a rule that you could only stab each other in
the legs, not in the body or face. When my father told me about how he took part in those
fights, something about those stories really fascinated and excited me. He was quite a tough
guy. Even after he moved to Tokyo, he still got into street fights on occasion. But he never
laid so much as a finger on me, not even when he was angry."
Just as it strengthened the ties with their mother, the bond between Shinya and Koji
was a strong one on account of their father's personality. The two boys shared most of their
childhood activities. Both of them acknowledge that they were very close as children, up to
and including their junior high school years. "In the diaries I kept as a child," Shinya recalls,
"I mentioned Koji very frequently, always referring to him as Ko-chan.3 We always played
together when we were children. We shared the same room at home, a tiny, three-tatami­
sized place,4 until aboutthe time when we were in high school and our family moved to a different
house. In high school we each had our own friends that we hung out with, and we went our
separate ways. That distance essentially remained until we made Tokyo Fisttogether."
"I remember very well when we were kids and we would wake up early on a Sunday
morning and play in our room together because our parents were still asleep," he continues,
"or being too scared to sleep at night. We would knock on the side of the bed to check if the
other one was still awake. We got along very well, but at the same time I could really hate
Koji whenever we had a fight. If you look back on that period as an adult, you really wonder
how children can feel such genuine hate and anger for a person they feel so close to."
"There was an episode where Koji was playing with a pair of scissors. He had run a
cord through one of the eyes of the scissors, one end of which he'd tied to the ceiling and
the other to the handle of the refrigerator. That way we could let the scissors run down the
cord. I was sitting nearby when the end that was tied to the ceiling came loose and the
scissors came flying in my direction. They hit me in the neck and I ended up with a big cut
that was bleeding pretty badly. If it had fallen at a slightly different angle, it would have been
much deeper and it probably would have looked more like the final scene of Kurosawa's
Sanjur. I still have the scar, just under the hairline in my neck. Some time after that incident
we had an argument. I forgot what it was about, but I remember we were just outside the
house. Koji started calling me names and I became so furious that I threw my precious model
gun to the ground and wrecked it. Koji taunted me, 'Hah, you destroyed your own gun, stupid,'
and quickly ran away. In anger I picked up a broken gardening tool that happened to be lying
around and threw it in his direction. I had no intention of hitting him, but it knocked him right
in the back of the head. Koji didn't stop running after he got hit, he ran straight home crying.
After I came back into the house and my mother had taken care of him, he said to me: 'Now
we're even'. I realised then that he still felt guilty over the scissor incident."
One day Kazuo Tsukamoto came home with another expensive toy with which to amuse
himself, a Super 8 film camera. This time however, it would benefit the other members of
the family, as Shinya quickly laid claim to it. "An 8mm film camera was a very rare thing at
20 IRON MAN· The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
the time," K6ji recalls, "and Shinya was really fascinated by it." Tsukamoto himself was
surprised by the ease with which his father handed the apparatus over to him: "I have the
impression he quickly lost interest in it. Normally he was very careful with the objects he
loved and always took close care of them, but whenever I asked to borrow the camera, he
would let me have it."
From the moment he got hold of the camera, Shinya stopped doing sports and concen­
trated entirely on filmmaking. With K6ji on hand as both actor and crew member and with an
assortment of school friends, he was soon shooting short films. "I often did the lighting,"
says K6ji of his work behind the camera, "and I remember very well that the light became
very hot while I was holding it. I wanted to drop it, but Shinya yelled: 'Don't move during the
shot, K6ji!' His method of making films with a small crew, with the same people doing things
both in front of and behind the camera, is something that started back in that 8mm period."
For his ordeals K6ji was also given plenty of time in front of the lens: "We made this
thing called Bruce K6j, which was basically me twirling a nunchaku around, trying to look
like Bruce Lee, who I was a big fan of at the time. I supposedly jumped onto a high wall, but
Shinya's filmmaking skills weren't so sophisticated yet at the time and he just did that with
a jump cut to me standing on the wall."Tsukamoto was genuinely impressed with his younger
brother's acting skills: "K6ji played in a lot of my 8mm films and I thought he played really
well. Especially in the sequence in the toilet in a film called Don ten." "On the empty lot near
our house we dug a hole and built a prison toilet around it," says K6ji, explaining the scene
in question. "We shot a scene where I was taking a shit and a prison guard opened the
door. I had to turn around and look shocked." Tsukamoto, without a hint of irony adds: "I
really liked his reaction and his expression. I thought he was a genius actor." When he made
Tokyo Fist twenty years later, that early enthusiasm for his brother's acting skills would be a
major factor in Tsukamoto's decision to cast K6ji in one of the lead roles.
In filmmaking Shinya seemed to have found his calling. His brother remembers him
locked up in his room for days on end: "In those days my room was next to his and all day
long I heard the sound of the editing machine coming from his room. At that point our rhythm
and way of life were very different. Roughly from the moment he quit the baseball team our
lives went in separate directions. He leaned more toward filmmaking and art, and I more toward
sports. During dinner, especially when the television was on, Shinya would eat very slowly
and study what was happening on screen. When there was something that caught his eye,
he would freeze, stop eating and study the screen intensely."
Shinya Tsukamoto's first proper film was Genshi-san [tr: Mr. Primitive]. Made in 1974,
when he was fourteen years old, the ten-minute film was essentially a variation on the kaiO
eigaformat, but with a giant caveman instead of a big monster overturning trains and destroying
buildings. "It's actually an adaptation of a short manga by Shigeru Mizuki, also called Genshi­
san," Tsukamoto explains. "I wanted to do a real monster movie at first, but building a monster
suit is expensive and difficult, especially when you're a kid. I actually wrote a screenplay for
a kaiO movie. It was already a feature-length script and I seriously intended to make a kaiO
film at first. I read a book by one of the sons of Eiji Tsuburaya that explained how to do
monster make-up. The descriptions were really detailed, but it used materials like latex,
which I didn't have. It was too professional for me at that time. Then I found Mizuki's manga,
which wasn't about a monster but about a giant, and decided to do that instead. A friend
could play Genshi-san and all I needed to make was a model building for him to destroy."
CHAPTER 1 I Monster Boy 21
With his school friend Itaru
yama playing the titular giant wearing only a mask and
carrying a big club, the film still posed a few challenges: "Since I couldn't really do elaborate
make-up effects, I just made a mask which would serve as Genshi-san's face. But the mask
I built was too heavy to just tie to your face, so I decided to attach it to a pair of my briefs. I n
order t o wear the mask you had t o put the briefs over your head," he laughs. "Since i t was
only a face mask I filmed everything head-on. If the camera turned a little bit you could see
the white underpants. I also tried to keep his lower body out of the frame, because
was still wearing his jeans." Unfortunately both the jeans and the white briefs were visible
quite clearly in the film.
Tsukamoto's first audience, though hardly a critical one, were his classmates: "I showed
Genshi-san in school. Since it was only ten minutes long I added some of the short bits I
had made with the leftover film at the end of each roll. I 'd use those remaining seconds to
film K6ji doing some martial arts. Bruce Koji was one of these things and there was another
called Intentions of the Ninja. In class, the reaction to Bruce Koji was just as enthusiastic as
to Genshi-san. Of course, to me Genshi-san was really my film and the other stuff was just
made while toying around, so I was a bit disappointed."
Though he is very critical of his entire early Bmm output, Tsukamoto is right in his
assessment that Genshi-san holds great interest within the scope of his oeuvre: "They say
that your very first film already contains the elements that will return in your later work and
in the case of Genshi-san that's really true. The story revolves around a primitive force that
suddenly shakes up a modern city. In the end an American walks up to Genshi-san and
says 'Our cities have become too modern. Please come to America and destroy our cities
too.' Genshi-san replies 'Okay,' and heads for the sea to swim to the US. For a long time
I've had the idea to make a Tetsuo in America and I guess it would be the logical sequel to
The following year Tsukamoto made two further attempts at filmmaking. The first of
these again started from a monster movie premise, as its title Kyodai Gokiburi Monogatari
[tr: Giant cockroach story] indicated. "Even though I wanted to make a monster movie, the
result isn't really a monster movie. It's set in a dormitory and there are four characters: an
old woman, a girl, a character played by my friend Itaru
yama and my character. The story
is about giant cockroaches on the loose in that building, but it's not really a monster movie
because you never get to see the cockroaches. The characters hear the rumour that there
is a monster in the building, but they never see it. Most of the scenes are just between the
main character and his girlfriend, it's a normal drama about teenagers."
At fifty minutes, it was a big leap from Genshi-san, something that brought about its
own particular troubles: "You can't shoot synch sound on Bmm, so I had to dub everything
afterward. But since I couldn't edit sound, I had to do all the sound for each scene in one
take. That wouldn't be so bad if it was a short film, but with a fifty-minute film it's a nightmare.
As the film progresses, the sound is more and more out of synch. For the voice of the girl I
asked a friend's sister, but she didn't show up. That was for a sequence between the girl
and my character, and I ended up doing the voices for both. I really had to restrain myself
to not burst out laughing during the recording." Today, Tsukamoto qualifies the film as "not
so interesting," despite the fact that its structure of a teenage love story set against a
background of monsters on the loose would return 16 years later as the backbone for Hiruko
the Goblin.
22 IRON MAN· The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
Tsukamoto (left) and his friend Itaru
yama in Tsubasa.
The director has a slightly different opinion of the other film he made that year, Tsubasa
[tr: Wing], a story about two teenage boys who build their own aeroplane out of a bicycle
and a pair of wings. "The two boys want to fly, but above ali they want to show off how cool
they are to girls. I like the atmosphere of the film a lot, stili today. I tried to focus more on the
characters and on expressing their feelings. That became more important to me than making
the images look good. The film communicates the feeling of being an adolescent."
The biggest influence on Tsukamoto's change of approach was Tatsumi Kumashiro's
film Bitteress of Youth (Seishun no Satetsu, 1974). Kumashiro was a director for the Nikkatsu
studios, which, like the three other major film studios Shochiku, Toei and Toho, was struggling
to survive in the 1970s due to dwindling audience numbers. Two studios, Shintoho and
Daiei, had already gone bankrupt by this time, providing an ominous sign for the remaining
quartet. Nikkatsu's strategy for staying afloat was to start exclusively producing softcore
erotic films under its Roman Porno (short for 'romantic pornographic') banner. As many of
its leading directors and stars fled the studio as a result of the policy change, fearful as they
were of having to spend the rest of their careers making skinflicks, the studio was forced to
build an entirely new talent base. Kumashiro, who had been an assistant director with
Nikkatsu since the late 1950s, was promoted to the director's chair and subsequently,
Roman Porno framework notwithstanding, delivered some of Japan's more daring and
interesting films of the decade.
CHAPTER 1 I Monster Boy 23
Donlen: Tsukamoto (right) and Sadao Tamamushi caked in mud for the iailbreak scene.
Bitteress of Youth was the first Japanese film Tsukamoto saw that wasn't a monster
movie and its deviation from his previous cinematic diet made an indelible impression on
him. Shot wild in the streets of Tokyo with handheld cameras, the film revolved around a
self-centered young man played by Kenichi Hagiwara, who kills his girlfriend after she becomes
pregnant. For Tsukamoto the film appealed to the dark side that had previously drawn him
to the writing of Edogawa Ranpo: "I was already a fan of Kenichi Hagiwara, who starred in a
TV series called Kizudarake no Tenshi [tr: Wounded angels] at the time. He was the reason
I was very excited to see Bitteress of Youth. Watching it I felt like I went into a dark place to
do something I wasn't supposed to be doing. It made a big impression on me and I sensed
that Japanese films possessed something very unique. Even when I watch it again today,
immediately from the opening scene it still impresses me as much as it did when I was in
high school. There are only three films that I would count as my personal favourites and
Bitteress of Youth is one of them. I would say Seven Samurai [Shichinin no Samurai, 1954]
is number one and Bitteress of Youth is third. Those are fixed, but number two depends on
my mood. It varies between Taxi Driver, Blade Runner and Sh6hei Imamura's Intentions of
Murder [Akai Satsui, 1964]."
Tsubasa was made in Tsukamoto's first year of high school and formed his introduction
to his new classmates. "Since I didn't really have any friends yet in thatfirst year, I made Tsubasa
with my oid friends from junior high. I showed the film in class and both my classmates and
my teachers liked it a lot, so much so that they chose to show it at the school festival as my
class's project. After that I didn't have any problems getting my classmates to help out on
my films. It was already like today, where a lot of my crew are volunteers who come to help
out because they like my films."
24 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
As Tsukamoto's filmmaking became his main activity, his filmgoing habits intensified
as well, largely with the aim of educating himself about the art of cinema. "In junior high I
watched mostly foreign films. There was a cinema in Shibuya called the Zensen-za that
showed double bills and I watched a lot of films there. I went there with Koji once to see
some Disney films, but they had finished showing them so instead we watched Soy/ent
Green and another film I can't remember. Watching a movie about people who were turned
into food was very exciting, because I felt that in film you could do anything. Later in high
school I mostly watched Japanese films, by directors like Kihachi Okamoto, Tatsumi
Kumashiro and Kon Ichikawa. It's a shame that I didn't see any of the films of Yasujiro
Ozu and Mikio Naruse back then. It was a period when I was really learning a lot about
filmmaking from watching films and not seeing their work at the time is something I regret."
The director to have the strongest impression on him, however, was Akira Kurosawa:
"I showed Tsubasa to a friend and he told me about Akira Kurosawa. He asked me: 'Do
you know Akira Kurosawa?' and I replied 'No.' 'You can't make films if you've never seen
Kurosawa,' he said. I headed for the Namiki-za theatre in Ginza at the first possible
opportunity to see his films. I discovered then that you can work with light to manipulate
the image. It was pretty awful that I didn't realise this before, but anyway I learned it from
watching Kurosawa."
He applied what he had learned on his next film Donten [tr: Cloudy sky], on which
he took special care of the lighting. He also switched to black and white film stock and
attempted to create a high-contrast look that announced the later visual style of Tetsuo:
The Iron Man. Adapted from a manga by Tatsuhiko Yamagami, Donten was the story of
two antiwar activists who are jailed and tortured by the authorities in a near-future society.
Escaping via the sewer system, one of them returns home to find that his brother has
come back from the front without his arms and legs. Containing a rape scene and a strong
influence from Edogawa Ranpo, it received muted reactions from Tsukamoto's parents:
"I showed my parents all my films," Tsukamoto explains, "and they both gave me their
opinions. Whenever my mother criticised one of my films, I became really depressed. The
first film neither of them liked much was Donten."
Negative reactions didn't stop him from continuing his chosen path. Immersing himself
in Kurosawa's work during triple bills in Ginza, often with Koji in tow, his 1977 film
Jigokumachi Shoben Geshuku nite Tonda yo [tr: Flying in a helltown piss lodge] bore
the influence of the master even more overtly. It was Tsukamoto's most ambitious film at
that point: with a running time of two hours, it was his first feature-length film. This length
he has never equalled, as none of the films he has made since, Tetsuo and his subsequent
official features included, has been longer than 90 minutes. Tsukamoto reveals that originally
Jigokumachi ran for 150 minutes, but that he liked the two-hour version better.
The story of a myopic painter who lives a life of poverty and who tries to create his
masterpiece as death stares him in the face, Jigokumachi seems an atypical work when
compared to the films the director is known for today. "If all my films from Genshi-san
onward had been shown in the cinema to general audiences," Tsukamoto ponders, "perhaps
the impression people have of me as a filmmaker would be quite different. Tetsuo is such
a strange film to many people, but Jigokumachi and Tsubasa were more straightforward
dramatic types of films. Jigokumachi is about a painter who died young and it's based on
a true story. Before the war there were so many atypical Japanese artists whose lives were
CHAPTER 1 I Monster Boy 25
very interesting, such as Shoji Sekine, Ai Mitsu, Shunsuke Matsumoto and Shiko Munakata.
For the script of Jigokumachi I gathered several episodes from those artists' lives and
combined them into one story!'
Acknowledging his main influence, Tsukamoto says of the film: "It was quite moving,
clearly inspired by Kurosawa's Ikiru [1952] and The Lower Depths [ Donzoko, 1957] in terms
of story and by Dodeskaden [1970] in terms of production design. The main location in
Jigokumachi was a row of houses, which was directly influenced by the shantytown of
Dodeskaden, which had a very vibrant atmosphere. We shot the final scene of the film in
the Takadanobaba area. There was a small shop that collected scrap and I asked the owner
to bring his cart and pull the painter's dead body away in it. That scene was inspired by the
last Zatoichifilm.l'm a bit embarrassed by the obviousness of the influences and the straight­
forward approach, but I still feel it's quite a touching and emotional film."
As with his previous work, he projected the film to his classmates at school: ''The reaction
was very strong. Both my classmates and the teachers were literally red-faced with excitement.
It was the best reaction I've ever had to any of my films, including all the later ones." In fact,
the film directly contributed to his appearance on the popular daytime TV talkshow Ginza
Now. Through the recommendation of a friend, Tsukamoto was invited as a guest on the
program's weekly corner spotlighting promising young Tokyoites, where he talked about his films
and showed several clips. "It was quite a popular show among teenagers as well," he recalls,
"because they would regularly cover foreign pop bands like The Bay City Rollers. The day
after the broadcast kids at school kept pointing at me, saying 'I saw him on Ginza Nowl'"
Lef: K6ji Tsukamoto makes an appearance in Jigokumachi ShOben Geshuku nite Tonda yo.
Right: Jigokumachls ailing artist (Sadao Tamamushi).
He had already made some inroads into getting his films shown to audiences wider
than his circle of friends and classmates, renting small theatres for public screenings. "I
rented the screening room at city hall to show Tsubasa and Donten and sold my own tickets.
Much of the audience consisted of friends and relatives, though. In fact, the overriding
memory of my teenage years is that I tried very hard to make my films, but that the reaction
was always less strong than I had hoped. My school friends liked them, but beyond that I
received very few reactions."
26 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
Lef: Ready for take-off on Shin Tsubasa.
RighI: The influence of Jura Kara and Shuii Terayama clearly marks the make-up and costume design on Shin Tsubasa.
Tsukamoto doesn't hide his mixed feelings about his work of the '70s. His official
filmography starts at 1987's The Adventure of Denchu Kozo and he admits that he is very
hesitant to show his 8mm films to anyone. For years, he even kept them from his wife,
who wouldn't get to see them until 2002.
Despite its ambition, his mixed feelings also encompass Jigokumachi Sh6ben
Geshuku nite Tonda yo: "The film is too much of a collage of influences. Actually, I always
considered myself a collage director until Hiruko. Though I must admit that I am seriously
considering remaking Jigokumachi at some point, but I realise that I can only do it if and
when I am truly ready for it. The two films I made after it were an improvement in terms of
the visuals, but aside from that they lack character and I have no interest in revisiting
them. About Jigokumachi, though, I think that doing a remake would be wonderful as the
last film I ever do."
Graduating from high school the following year, he made his next film in university.
With Shin Tsubasa [tr: Wing 2] (1978) he revisited one of his high school movies and
again made a film whose title referred to flying, perhaps the one recurring motif of his
8mm work. "I see flying as something very wondrous and fantastical," he explains. "The
period when I made the sequel to Tsubasa I had many thoughts about flying. I imagined
little scenarios and situations, for instance what it would be like to fly and see a train pass
beneath you. I discovered that there are already quite a lot of films about flying, though,
so after I grew up I stopped being interested in the subject."
The experience of making Shin Tsubasa was poles apart from his memories of
doing the original, according to Tsukamoto: "The quality of the images improved on the films
I made in university, in large part because I was inspired by the use of light in ShOji
CHAPTER 1 I Monster Boy 27
Terayama's5 films. But even if the images were better, the films lack the emotional depth
of my last few films in high school. I asked my fellow students to help out, but they didn't
really care for it much, and this is apparent from the end result. Also, my interest was
gradually shifting toward theatre at the time. When I started doing plays, the atmosphere
was much more relaxed and good-natured than on my films, which were less fun to make
than they had been."
This sense of disillusionment with his filmmaking came to a head on 1979's Hasu
no Hana Tobe [tr: Lotus flower fly!]: "I knew when I made it that it would be my last film as
a teenager, since I was 19 at the time.6 For this reason I really concentrated on it and
gave it my all. I tried especially hard to get the emotions across. In the end though, it was
technically okay, but it still lacked emotion. The story was about a fight between a yakuza
and a theatre group. I asked some experienced actors to play the adult characters, so
technically it worked well, but aside from that I was very disappointed by the results. It
was quite disheartening because I realised I had made two failures in a row. I learned the
lesson that failure can happen at any moment. I tried so hard when making it and really
couldn't understand why the film came out as bad as it did."
28 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
The disappointing results of Hasu no Hana Tobe and Shin Tsubasa largely took
away the joy of making films. With his interests shifting toward the stage, Tsukamoto
stored his camera away and gave up filmmaking. The end of his teenage years also
marked the end of the hobby that had filled those years to the point of obsession. "I made
plans for one more film in university," he recounts, "but this time I really couldn't motivate
myself any more. Before, even when I realised the results would be bad, I would always
persist and finish the film. This time I simply couldn't, it didn't even go beyond the idea
stage. What made it worse was that I had done three stage plays the previous year, each
of which was a big improvement over the one that came before it. I was developing really
well with my plays, but not at all with my filmmaking. I'd spent, or wasted, almost an entire
year on Hasu no Hana Tobe and there was only one month to go before my twentieth
birthday." Tsukamoto ended his teenage years in "a really depressed mood."
Above: Kunimi Tsushima in Hasu no Hana Tobe.
Opposite: Hasu no Hana Tobe's motley theatre troupe.
CHAPTER 1 I Monster Boy 29
2. Savage Theatre
The late 1960s and early '70s was the heyday of experimental and underground theatre
in Japan. In Tokyo's hub of countercultural activity, the Shinjuku ward, impromptu perform­
ances took place on stages, in tents and out in the streets. Jura Kara with his Jakya
Gekija (,Circumstance Theatre') troupe - who performed their plays in red tents that
earned them the nickname Akatento - and Shuji Terayama, head of the Tenja Sajiki
('Balcony Seat') company, were two of the leading figures of the movement, whose
provocative, idiosyncratic productions regularly rubbed authorities the wrong way. Cultural
critic Inuhiko Yomota describes the atmosphere around Kara's plays as one of tension
and defiance: " I n the hitherto sacred precincts of a temple rises a scarlet tent where
grotesque Theatre of Cruelty is performed. Riot police are brought in to prevent these
scandalous performances. The sponsors of the theatre group act as if they fully intend
to hold the performance, engaging the riot police in extended and meaningless wrangling.
Meanwhile, another red tent is stealthily erected elsewhere. At last a signal is given and
the audience leaves the decoy tent as one body and rushes into the new tent. And so
the play starts without incident. The police are frustrated: once the audience is in the
new tent they can't interrupt the performance.''?
Shinya Tsukamoto's first experiences with theatre date from his elementary school days.
He made his first stage appearance at age 10 and immediately realised how much he
enjoyed acting. "At one point during the play I looked up at the sky and realised how beautiful
it was. That experience awoke something in me." It was the catalyst for his discovery of the
realms of the imagination and playacting. Tsukamoto's childhood love for adventure and
his fascination with flying have their roots in this one experience on stage.
It was in high school that he first wrote, staged and performed his own plays,
commencing a pastime that would continue for the better part of a decade and would form
the backdrop to a numberof fateful encounters. "My high school theatre club was quite famous,"
he remembers, "but they were very conventional. I preferred doing more experimental things."
"I was quite good at making use of school rules and exploiting them to suit my own
needs," he continues. "In junior high I was head of the library committee, so I organised a
screening of Genshi-san in the library for everyone in school. I had friends who were
CHAPTER 2 I Savage Theatre 31
Lef: Yumemaru's eponymous first play. The cardboard cutouts spell the group's name.
Right: Nobu Kanaoka (left) joins the troupe on Eota ShinjO.
responsible for the school paper and for public address broadcasting and they helped me
promote the screening, which drew about 300 people as a result. I did similar things for my
plays in high school and later in university as well, sneaking them into the official school events
even though they were very unconventional and underground. One high school play ended
with everyone on stage throwing flour at each other. The entire stage was covered in it, but
we went home without cleaning up."
JOra Kara was a major source of inspiration for Tsukamoto and his unruly approach
to theatre. A good illustration of how far out his preferences were in this regard is his comparison
of Kara's work with that of ShOji Terayama, who, counting incest and matricide among his
topics of choice, was not exactly a mainstream crowdpleaser either: "Compared to Kara,
Terayama seems clean and tidy. Terayama's work is like the smell of a fresh pyjama before
going to sleep, very clean and comforting. Kara smells like dirt, like soil."
Tsukamoto formed his own theatre group in 1978, his first year at university. Like his
film crews, his troupe Yumemaru ('Dream Circle') consisted of like-minded friends, quite a
few of them in fact following him from filmmaking to the stage. "My high school allowed for
direct access to university, so quite a few of the friends I worked with in high school went to
the same university and we continued doing theatre there with some new members!'
At Nihon University Tsukamoto had chosen to major in oil painting: "I had taken art
classes in high school and if you did well in those classes, you could enter the art department
at the university." The option to study film was present, but he felt "there wasn't much point
to it. Aside from a few technical things, like how to work a camera, there isn't much to study."
His disillusionment with filmmaking played a role in this decision as well. Getting up on stage
to perform in front of an audience gave him what his films never received but which he so craved:
feedback. "When you're a teenager you are more sensitive and you feel that theatre appeals
more directly to an audience than filmmaking does."
32 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
The enthusiastic responses to his plays had the additional benefit of attracting new
collaborators, many of whom started out as spectators. It was the start of what would become
a crucial and recurring pattern in his career: out of admiration for his talent, people began
to gravitate towards him and ask to work on his plays. Tothis day Tsukamoto's film crews largely
consist of volunteers who are essentially fans and their willingness to work for him with little
or no financial guarantee is what, to some extent, allows the director to make his films
entirely independently. By making his films with them instead of a crew of seasoned profes­
sionals Tsukamoto can not only control the budgets of his films, but also take the time he
needs to make them without having to consider each crew member's timetable. This way,
there is no need to deal with outside producers and their demands about schedules and
the shape of the final product.
One of those people drawn to Tsukamoto and Yumemaru was a fellow student named
Nobu Kanaoka. "It was in the autumn during my first year at university, at the school festival,"
she recalls of her first encounter with Tsukamoto. "I saw his stage play, which was performed
in one of the classrooms. I sensed that the style of it was strongly influenced by the work of
JOra Kara and ShOji Terayama, and I was so impressed by the fact that one person had
written and directed it. Also the name of his group, Yumemaru, really stuck in my mind. The
following year I saw an announcement on the university message board that his group was
recruiting new members for that autumn's new play. I went to see them and told them I would
like to join. Before I knew it and without any kind of test, I was a part of Yumemaru."
Kanaoka would become a close collaborator in the years that followed, not only on
stage but also in Tsukamoto's later films. As an actress she would have substantial roles in
The Phantom of Regular Size, The Adventure of Denchu Kozo, Tetsuo and Tetsuo II. Other
close partners he first met through his theatre work in those days included Kei Fujiwara and
Tomorowo Taguchi, the future star of the Tetsuo films.
Tsukamoto's leadership of Yumemaru was never contested, although he claims that
there was never a formal hierarchy in the group. "Normally I would write a play, which I would
bring to my friends with the idea of performing it," he clarifies. "It was natural that I would
direct it, since I took the initiative. That was usually the way it went. Nobody else directed,
because I was the one who came up with the stories and who asked others to join me. Also,
I don't think the others really had the ambition to be a director. All the people who were
serious about going into theatre were doing a theatre major or joined the theatre club. They
followed a different path to mine."
"Nearly all the members of Yumemaru were art majors," Kanaoka remembers, "and
they enjoyed working on every aspect of the play, like building the sets and designing the
costumes. The first rehearsal I took part in was very loose and playful." Tsukamoto's approach
as a director was in keeping with this creative approach: "My principle was to start with building
an ambiance. That's what interested me most. This would include the set, the stage, but also
the venue or the tent. We did very energetic, high-spirited performances, so the movements
and the delivery of the actors were very important as well and we rehearsed very thoroughly."
His brother Kaji remembers the results: "His plays were very dynamic. He would have
a truck suddenly driving onto the stage and all these guys wearing costumes made of American
football shoulder pads would jump down from it. I was always very excited when watching
his plays and I felt very proud that it was my brother who did these things. The style was
very experimental, certainly for the period."
CHAPTER 2 I Savage Theatre 33
Despite his theatre career lasting nearly a decade, Tsukamoto says that all the plays
they performed were variations on three stories he had come up with in university: "I only
ever wrote three plays. The first was about plastic surgery and the story ended with everyone
in the city having the same face. The second was set at the end of the twentieth century
and featured children who sold suicide plans to depressed adults. The third play was the original
version of The Adventure of Denchu Kozo. I would change the titles of the plays for almost
every performance. The story about the suicide pact was sometimes called Kyarameru
ShinjO Sens6[tr: Caramel double suicide war] and at other times Ekota ShinjO[tr: Double suicide
in Ekota] because we were performing it in the Ekota area at the time."
The Kara influence extended beyond what was happening on stage, as Yumemaru
performed many of its plays in a self-made tent. "I went to some of the students who majored
in architecture," Tsukamoto recalls, "and asked them if they could design a tent. I wanted
something that wouldn't require any columns or posts to support it, because those would
block the view of the audience. One of them came up with the idea of using triangles of
cardboard to create a kind of self-supporting structure." With the cardboard tent, Yumemaru
was no longer dependent on existing venues to perform its work and the group descended
on university campuses, parks and, like Tsukamoto's icon Kara, the grounds of a shrine.Though
the structure held up, Tsukamoto still vividly recalls the sound of cardboard panels falling
down during performances. "I was always afraid that it would start to rain, because the whole
thing would have collapsed. Luckily, that never happened."
Hiromi Aihara, who would later work with Tsukamoto on Tetsuo 1/ and Tokyo Fist, was
working for the cultural listings magazine PIA when she met Tsukamoto during this time: "He
came by to bring some information about a screening of his work and he told me he'd made
this small tent theatre. He explained this to me and I was so impressed by the fact that he
wanted to do everything by himself . His ideas were very interesting and very fresh to me."
Between 1978 and 1982, his years in university, Tsukamoto performed nine versions
of his three plays under a variety of titles. With graduation, however, Yumemaru came to its
end as Tsukamoto prepared to enter adult life and went looking for a job in advertising. Although
the move seemed like a radical about-face, particularly since his father was in the same line
of work, there was a shrewdness to his motives: "I always kept the thought of returning to
filmmaking in the back of my mind. Joining a commercial production company would give
me the opportunity to work with professional equipment and 35mm cameras."
Left: Setti ng up the cardboard tent on campus.
Centre: An exampl e of the Jura Kara i nfl uence on Tsukamoto's pl ays.
Right: The fi rst versi on of the kaiju tent.
34 I RON MAN - The Ci nema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
The Yumemaru troupe in ful l regal i a.
Still, his father seemed to approve and pulled a few strings to get him an interview. "I
went to the meeting and they said I was welcome to join the company. But at the same time
I found another position by myself, where I also went for an interview and passed. In the
end I chose the company I had found by myself, because I felt that if I ever wanted to quit
my job in the future, it would be very difficult to quit the company where my father had introduced
me." Here again, Tsukamoto senior showed remarkable leniency and accepted his son's
choice. Koji remembers his father's change of heart in this period: " He always spoke in a
very sarcastic tone when he talked to Shinya, except for the period when Shinya was working
for the production company."
"I wanted to quickly become a director," Tsukamoto says of his time working for Ide
Production, "so I worked very hard. Finally, they allowed me to direct commercials myself
about eighteen months after I joined the firm. In those eighteen months I was almost never
home, I was living a real salaryman life. That was an important experience for me in many
different ways. I learned a lot about how society worked, the pressure you have to live with if
you're a corporate employee working long hours. It was a major inspiration on Tetsuo."
Bearing no resembance to his later films, his TV commercials included spots for sweets,
ornamental lights, Casio keyboards, fur coats, amusement parks and a series for Nikon cameras
that featured LaToya Jackson, shot in Los Angeles in 1984. "At a certain point I wanted to
get back to doing theatre, " Tsukamoto recalls. "The head of the company was okay with it,
but it was right at the time that I directed the commercials for Nikon. It was impossible to do
both, so I decided to concentrate on my work for a while. I didn't get back to doing theatre
until 1985, when I did two plays in one year. That's the year I started the KaijO Shiata group:'
CHAPTER 2 I Savage Theatre 35
Tsukamoto picked up his theatre work where he had left off, with the same love of
experimentation and the same devotion to building the right ambiance with all means at his
disposal. He gathered a new troupe of friends and admirers that in addition to fresh members
includedYumemaru alumni, such as Nobu Kanaoka. An important newcomer was Kei Fujiwara,
a figure from the underground theatre scene who, along with her husband Kenji Nasa, had
been a member of Jura Kara's company. She too would become a close collaborator, going
so far as to let Tsukamoto shoot The Adventure of Denchu Kaza and Tetsua: The Irn Man
at her house. "I feel that we had a really good relationship," Fujiwara recalls. "We were almost
like twins. We spent a lot of time together and went to see many things, and we always
understood each other's thoughts without words."
The troupe also built itself a new tent to perform in. More spacious than before, the
new structure was built in the shape of a sea monster, a fanged, scaled head protruding
from the side of the stage. Tsukamoto evokes his feelings about the tent: "It's like when
you're a child and you make your own secret base in the park. That idea of making something
by hand from your own imagination was always inspirationaL" The troupe named itself Kaiju
Shiata ('Sea Monster Theatre'), after their handcrafted stage. The kaiju part, which as a
reference to Godzilla and kin normally means simply 'monster', became a play on kanji that
combined and evoked two of Tsukamoto's childhood passions.
Tsukamoto's l ater pl ays show an i ntenSity that woul d spi l l over i nto hi s fi l ms:
DenchU Koz6 no B6ken (left) and Hoshikuzudama no Monsuta Ekusupuresu (right. featuri ng Kei Fuj i wara).
Setting up in the parking lot next to the train station in the Takadanobaba area, they
performed their first play Hashikuzudama no Mansuta Ekusupuresu [tr: Stardust monster
express], a new version of his play about plastic surgery, every week for two months
during the spring of 1985. For their second work, a reworking of Kyarameru Shinju Sensa,
they played two dates at the Ashibe Hall theatre in Shinjuku in December of the same
year. Without their tent, they bil led the performances as "Kaiju Shiati presents", which woul d
later become the standard opening line of Tsukamoto's films. The following summer they
were back in their tent outside Takadanobaba station for the second version of The
Adventure of Denchu Kaza. "We rehearsed three times a week for six months," Nobu
Kanaoka remembers the preparation for Denchu Kaza, "and at the same time gathered
material for the set and tried to get people to help us. I remember it was during a very hot
summer and every day we had to build up our kaiju tent on the asphalt of a car park.
36 I RON MAN - The Cinema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
Shi nya Tsukamoto (centre) , Nobu Kanaoka (left) and a fri end pose under the gapi ng mouth of the kaiO tent' s elaborate
final versi on.
During the summer we played every weekend and holiday for three months. The play
continued to evolve during that time, becoming more and more raucous and underground."
In addition to the tent, the group made its own sets, props and costumes, and handled
lighting, sound and music, all of which were becoming increasingly elaborate and detailed
as time went on. Even the head of the sea monster underwent a transformation between
the first and third plays, going from a papier mache figure reminiscent of a Tsuburaya
creation from an early 1960s Godzilla film to something a lot more elaborate and detailed.
Having recommenced the activities he loved most, and with plans to get back into
filmmaking now very much on his mind, Tsukamoto decided to quit his job. Inevitably,
his father's wrath came down upon him with full force. Still living with his parents, he
had to endure the same unfiltered criticism and sarcasm as in the past. "The moment
that I quit my job at Ide Production was the same period that K6ji left home and started
working as a cook," Tsukamoto explains. "It was very difficult for my father to accept my
decision. At New Year's we would always have a family gathering and that year my father
started criticising my decision in his usual blunt manner. K6ji defended me and told him
that maybe he should give me some time to make a new start before criticising me. That
would become the usual pattern for New Year gatherings. It would start out very cheerful,
but as my father drank more, he became more critical of us. By the end of the party, the
atmosphere was completely ruined. It was always the same result and my mother was
always so disappointed."
Whether his father liked it or not, Shinya Tsukamoto dug up his Super 8 camera
and returned to filmmaking in the autumn of 1986.
CHAPTER 2 I Savage Theatre 37
3. The Phantom and the Brat
Tsukamoto's decision to return to filmmaking, seven years after abandoning it in disillusion,
was inspired by the increasingly elaborate sets, props and costumes his troupe had
constructed for their stage plays. When Kaij Q Shiata held its final performances of The
Adventure of Denchu Kozo in late October 1986, the prospect of simply throwing their
handiwork into the bin gave him the idea of mounting a film version of the story.
" My interest in filmmaking never disappeared," he says now. "When I started working
at the production company I wanted to achieve something, to get to a certain level . It
would have been a shame to quit before I'd reached it. So I worked there for four years
and in that time I managed to achieve what I wanted. I also continued doing my plays,
which were my focus at the time, but all along a move from theatre to film or vice versa
seemed a very natural one to me."
His 8mm camera unearthed and with the members of Kaij Q Shiata as his cast and
crew, he drew up plans for a film adaptation. As an exercise and a way to warm up the
filmmaking muscles left unused for seven years, Tsukamoto decided to first shoot a short
film with a small cast. The result was The Phantom of Regular Size (Futsu Saizu no
Kaiirl ), the story of a frustrated salaryman whose body gradually mutates into a hunk of
scrap metal, based on an idea he had been toying with for a while.
Shot in the astonishingly brief period of "four or five days, maybe less," in and around
the Ide Production offices, the film saw the first major collaboration between Tsukamoto
and actor Tomorowo Taguchi. "I was doing underground theatre at the time, " Taguchi
remembers, "and I had a friend who was also a friend of Tsukamoto's, an actress named
Etsuko Koshiishi. I did one play with her and Tsukamoto came to watch that play." After
meeting Tsukamoto, Taguchi, who was also the lead singer of the punk band 8achikaburi,
agreed to make a guest appearance in the stage version of The Adventure of Denchu
Kazo. "It was the part of Unkoman, the Shit Man, " Taguchi recalls with a smile. "I had to
do a rap while carrying a plate of fake shit. Tsukamoto created the character, but he left
me free to make up the lyrics for the rap by myself. Later he mentioned that he was working
on plans for a movie, which was The Phantom of Regular Size, and that he wanted me to
play a salaryman."
CHAPTER 3 I The Phantom and the Brat 39
There was a specific reason why Tsukamoto asked Taguchi for the role of the frustrated
office drone. He knew plenty of actors in his theatre troupe, yet Taguchi had something
special that Tsukamoto felt would fit the part: "The first time I met Taguchi was when he was
performing in a stage play. It was a very underground style piece and his part was very
impressive. That moment I already noticed his explosive side, his ability to suddenly burst.
When I met him in private later, he surprisingly turned out to be very calm. But if you think
about it, that duality is quite natural, the fact that someone who is very explosive on stage
would be rather calm in daily life. You can't be creative if you're always very extreme. Seeing
that aspect of Taguchi, I felt that we shared certain characteristics and that we could work
together very well."
Taguchi elaborates: 'There are two main roles, the salaryman and the character played
by Tsukamoto, and I think both those characters are really Tsukamoto himself. In a certain
sense he was probably searching for his other self. Usually he's a very polite and humble
person, but when he snaps ... I'm similar. Not in daily life, but when I'm performing I'm like
that too. At the time I wore similar clothes to my character in the film, the black-rimmed glasses
and the slicked-back hair. I didn't wear a tie, but I did always wear a suit with a white shirt.
The costume I wore in this film and later in Tetsuo was actually my own clothes;' he laughs.
The film's origins as a filmmaking exercise are abundantly clear from the style alone.
The predominant use of editing and camera speeds were entirely new ways of expression
for Tsukamoto as a filmmaker and would become trademark characteristics of the director's
visual style in the years that foliowed.The essential ingredient was the technique of stop-motion
animation. Although this method goes back to the earliest days of cinema, the originality of
Tsukamoto's idea lay in thefact that he did the animating with human beings ratherthan puppets
or objects and that the camera wasn't in a fixed position. In this way he created a hybrid of
live action and animation.
What inspired him to employ this particular style and technique remains unclear, with
even Tsukamoto himself unable to pinpoint direct influences. Within Japan, its most obvious
precursor was the work of filmmaker S6g6 Ishii, who had emerged with 8mm films while still
a student in the late 1970s. He and Tsukamoto went to the same university, where Ishii was
in his senior year when Tsukamoto was a freshman. By that time Ishii had already directed
a feature film and Tsukamoto remembers the fame and admiration he enjoyed among the
students. Ishii's creative roots lay with the Japanese punk movement and in his films he
attempted to find a visual equivalent to punk music, a way to express the same philosophy
and spirit with a camera instead of a guitar. In films like Crazy Thunder Road (Kuruizaki
Sanda R6do, 1980) and Burst Cit (Bakuretsu Toshi, 1982) he employed a style that combined
rapid editing, jump cuts, varying degrees of undercranking and the elimination of frames,
the exhilarating result of which resembled what Tsukamoto came up with later for The
Phantom of Regular Size. Today, Tsukamoto regards Ishii as a cinematic "older brother",
acknowledging not only a stylistic but also a thematic kinship.
At 18 minutes in length, The Phantom of Regular Size was noticeably underde­
veloped as a narrative, but its purpose lay elsewhere: "I wasn't really trying to clearly express
an idea or a viewpoint with Phantom;' Tsukamoto says, "because the exercise and the
experimentation aspect were more important to me when I made it. The main thing I wanted
to experiment with was the frame-by-frame style. Because of this you could say it didn't achieve
its full potential as a film." One example is the absence of a climactic finale. Instead of the
40 I RON MAN - The Ci nema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
Lef: Nobu Kanaoka and claw i n The Phantom of Regular Size.
Right: A si mpl e overl ap becomes a powerful l y symbol i c i mage in The Phantom of Regular Size.
logical clash between the characters of Taguchi and Tsukamoto, there is a scene of the
two sharing dinner, Tsukamoto's character lovingly feeding Taguchi his meal. "When we
were about to shoot the big battle scene for the finale, Taguchi didn't show up," Tsukamoto
remembers. "I decided to change the script and replaced it with the sequence of the two
of us having dinner."
Yet the film contained many ideas that would develop into dominant and recurring
themes in his later work. It would form the blueprint for Tetsuo: The Iron Man two years
later and reveals a good deal about the director's preoccupations, both in art and in life.
The central concept of the adverse effects of city life on a human being is clearly present,
even if not spelled out . In the opening scene the protagonist's frustration and mental stress
are represented in a montage of Taguchi clambering about on a subway platform: his body
convulses, he stands on a seat, hides behind it. The symbolic figure of a woman with a
mechanical claw (Nobu Kanaoka) attacks and pursues him through the station and into
the streets, where he manages to overcome her, only to discover that the skin of his arm
has mutated into metal. Back home, this transformation continues. He rapidly transforms
into a mechanical monster and kills his girlfriend (Kei Fujiwara) by raping her with the drill
that was once his dick. The mastermind behind the mutation (Tsukamoto) appears and
the two eventually fuse into a single being that goes out into the city to spread its mutation
among other urbanites.
Looking purely at the contents, perhaps the most striking characteristic of the film is
the concept of the regular size monster (the word kaiin in the original title is closer to 'monster',
or more precisely 'monstrous man', than to the word phantom), which reveals not simply
Tsukamoto's love for monster movies, but his identification with the monster. This identifi­
cation makes the monster regular sized, makes it human. When he sees himself as the monster,
he sees himself as spurned by society, misunderstood, a freak among men.
He elaborated on this concept in The Adventure of Oenchu Kozo (OenchD Koz6 no
B6ken), in which the feeling of being an outcast is the central theme. Its protagonist is
Hikaru ( Nariaki Senba), a high school boy who is bullied by his classmates for a rather unusual
physical deformity: he has an electricity pole growing out of his back (denchD koz61iterally
means 'electricity pole boy'). Due to an accident with a self-made time machine, he is
CHAPTER 3 I The Phantom and the Brat 41
transported 25 years into the future, to a society in which Japan is controlled by a trio of vampire
dictators who plan to expand their rule by developing a bomb that will cloak the world in
eternal darkness. After stumbling into their path, Hikaru accidentally knocks them out with
his pole. Witnessing this, freedom fighter Ms. Sariba (Nobu Kanaoka), actually the adult
version of his high school sweetheart Momoko, takes Hikaru under her wing and trains him
to realise his full potential. While the vampires prepare their superbomb, Hikaru gradually
learns to overcome his shyness. In a final confrontation he has to stand up to the tyrannical
threesome all by himself.
"Denchu Kozo is definitely a reflection of myself," Tsukamoto explains. "The character
of Hikaru is a freak and that's the way I thought of myself even when I was a child. I had
quite thick body hair from a very early age, especially on my forearms, which is very rare in
Japan even with adults.The story of Denchu Kozois a variation on the story of the ugly duckling,
with a freak who becomes a hero when his deformity saves the world. It's the expression of
my own hopes and wishes."
Tsukamoto professes to have also been inspired by the story of Helen Keller, the deaf,
blind and mute girl who learned to communicate with her surroundings thanks to the
persistence of her teacher Anne Sullivan.9 The character of Ms. Sariba (when transposed to
the Japanese kana alphabet, 'Sullivan' is pronounced 'Sariban') has the same inspirational
function to the timid Hikaru as Sullivan to Keller. Keller went on to being invited to the White
House, winning an Oscar and achieving national fame; Hikaru saves the world from tyranny.
The Sariba character is the first instance of what would become a recurring charac­
teristic of Tsukamoto's work: the woman whose strength and independence dwarfs the
men around her. She is the prototype for Tokyo Fisrs Hizuru, Bullet Bailers Chisato and
42 I RON MAN· The Ci nema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
Geminis Rin, a type that would find its
culmination in A Snake of June's female
centered narrative. "I wasn't conscious
of it at the time,"Tsukamoto reacts, "but
maybe it's the mother archetype, since
I am a boy with a kind of Oedipal
complex. The character of Ms. Sariba
was based on Anne Sullivan, who is
also an example of a mother's strength.
I believe every woman, even the ones
who don't have children, holds that
power inside herself." Nobu Kanaoka,
who played the part of Sariba, concurs:
"I think my character in Denchu Kozo
is a reflection of the admiration and
respect Tsukamoto felt at the time for
the mother figure and for the opposite
sex in general. She has lyricism,
generosity, humanity and patience, and
she's a sincere person, not calculating.
In today's society that kind of woman
doesn't exist, she's very much an ideal
prototype. In Tsukamoto's later films the female characters are portrayed in a much more
realistic manner. He shows them in a more human way, but at the same time they continue
to carry an aspect of Sariba inside them. He has a tendency to give his female characters
a kind of purity, they are like goddesses in a way. At least, that's my impression."
Denchu Kozo in fact contains four female characters, three of which, including Sariba,
are variations on one character, all three played by Kanaoka. The fourth is the girl whose
life force feeds the bomb created by the vampires, who await her maturity for the weapon
to reach its full potential. Played by Kei Fujiwara in the nude, hidden in a room whose walls
are lined with pages torn from porno magazines, she forms a distinct element of eroticism
in the film, something that would be repeated in Tetsuo.
Kanaoka also worked on the music for the film, having already served in that capacity
on the stage play, which employed numerous existing songs. Unable to afford the rights to
use this music in the film but wishing to somehow retain its flavour, Tsukamoto asked Kanaoka
to come up with something similar. "I essentially wrote songs that imitated those existing
pieces," Kanaoka explains, "but he used some of my original songs in the film as well. I
mainly used a synthesizer for the music, but got a lot of help from a musician friend named
Juke Hiroi, who really liked the stage version of Denchu Kozo. He let me use his instruments
and gave me a hand with the arrangements. My small room was full of musical instruments
and we worked day and night on the songs because we were so excited by it. His band Juke
Joint Junk also performed two songs." In addition, Tsukamoto asked Tomorowo Taguchi,
who played one of the vampires, for permission to use the music of his band Bachikaburi in
the film. "Tsukamoto asked me if we had any songs that would be suitable for use in the
film. So I selected a few songs and he chose from those," Taguchi explains. The band's best­
known song, entitled Only You, was used overthe end credits, which also included an animation
of DenchO Koz6 characters of various shapes and sizes, hand-drawn by Tsukamoto.
Denchu Kozo was filmed in and around the house of Kei Fujiwara and Kenji Nasa, the
interiors shot in an empty apartment next to hers. 'The film took almost six months to make,
including post-production. Today that kind of schedule is normal for me, but back then it was
the first time I had ever spent such a long time on one film," explains Tsukamoto.
Taguchi remembers the atmosphere of the shoot: "Because I had already seen their
plays and observed how they worked, I expected it would be really tough. But making a
movie with them was much tougher still. We made Phantom, Denchu Kozo and Tetsuo
successively and my impression of that period is that we were constantly making movies,
for a period of three or three and a half years. During that time most of the crew were staying
at Fujiwara's house. By coincidence, my parents' place, where I was living at the time, wasn't
very far and I went there by bicycle every day. But most of them just lived in that house,
which really made it seem like boot camp." Kei Fujiwara confirms this: "The crew lived in
our apartment. My husband must have had a very difficult time when we made those films
in our house. But he was incredibly kind and generous, even accepting the fact that the
entire crew stayed at our place and we had no space for ourselves to sleep." Adds Taguchi:
"The situation there was a bit complicated, as usual when a group of people come together
for an artistic endeavour. It was especially true between Tsukamoto, Fujiwara and Nasa.
Fujiwara admired Tsukamoto a lot and really devoted herself to the films. Her husband
wasn't always happy with that. He also played in Denchu Kozo and sometimes worked on
the crew, but he still kept his distance."
CHAPTER 3 I The Phantom and the Brat 43
Nasa's small role in the film was as DenchO Koza's predecessor Ryama Sakamoto,
the hero who passes on the task of protecting the earth to Hikaru. Tsukamoto named the
character afterthe nineteenth-century figure who played a large role in bringing about Japan's
emergence from the feudal system. Subsequently he gave the three villains the names of
members of the Shinsengumi, a group of samurai who remained loyal to the shogunate
and operated as a militia to prevent the toppling of their system by modernists like Sakamoto.
Tsukamoto explains his motivations for naming the characters: " DenchO Koza is a hero
who exists in every century. The previous one came from the end of the Tokugawa period,
the hero of which is Ryama Sakamoto. If you put something opposite Sakamoto, you
automatically end up with the Shinsengumi."
Upon completion of the film, Tsukamoto remembered the frustration he felt in his
teenage years over the limited recognition his films received. His work had barely been
seen beyond a circle of friends and family, and his attempts to submit films to festivals were
without much luck. He tried again with The Phantom of Regular Size and The Adventure of
Denchu Kozo, which he sent to Japan's foremost event for independent and amateur
filmmaking, the PIA Film Festival, where numerous filmmakers who made their debuts in
44 I RON MAN - The Ci nema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
Fuj i wara puts the fi ni shi ng touches to
the ful l y transformed Taguchi on the
set of The Phantom of Regular Size.
The trio of vampi re despots i n
The Adventure of Denchu Kozo.
From left to ri ght: Tomorowo Taguchi ,
Shi nya Tsukamoto, Mi tsuru Saga.
the 1980s had first been discovered.
o "I had great admiration for the PIA Film Festival
since its inception. When I sent in Denchu Kozo in early 1988 I was 28 years old and the
festival was already in its tenth edition. A lot of the filmmakers that submit their work to
them are younger than I was at the time, they're mostly students. I felt a bit out of place."
Though Phantom was turned down by the selection committee the year before, Denchu
Kozo made it into the competition in 1988, a year in which the festival jury consisted of an
impressive array of personalities: former 8mm experimentalist Kazuki Omori, filmmaker
Shusuke Kaneko, actor Hiroshi Mikami, producer Takashige Ichise, critic Ken Okubo and
one of Japan's most renowned filmmakers, Nagisa Oshima. Ken Okubo remembers watching
Denchu Kozo that year very well: "Both the jury and the festival staff enjoyed the film so
much. Tsukamoto was a totally different filmmaker from most of the high school and college­
age filmmakers. He had a very typical, unique style."
The difference in age and experience that made Tsukamoto feel out of place actually
worked to his advantage. At the awards ceremony in December of that year, he heard the
title of his own film called out when the jury announced the winner of the festival's top prize.
"The moment I received the prize," Tsukamoto recalls, "was not so long after I had quit my
CHAPTER 3 I The Phantom and the Brat 45
job at Ide Production. My parents had virtually disowned me, so I was really at my lowest
ebb at the time. Being awarded the Grand Prize was like a ray of light. I was lost for words
when I was up on that stage, it was a very emotional moment. I felt that my adolescence
and my life up until then had been a period of darkness, particularly in the way my work was
received. Getting that award was like suddenly emerging from darkness into a bright light."
The composition of the jury was hardly disadvantageous to Tsukamoto. Omori, a
contemporary of Sogo Ishii, came from a background of 8mm filmmaking and he and
Kaneko would later go on to breathe new life into the kaiufilms, directing the new and improved
versions of Godzilla and Gamera respectively. Mikami was known for his work with ShOji
Terayama. Tsukamoto credits in particular the influence of Ichise, the youngest member of
the jury (one year younger than Tsukamoto, in fact), who would later find fortune by producing
Hideo Nakata's hit horror film The Ring (Ringu, 1998) and selling the remake rights to
Hollywood. "I was happy to get the prize from a jury that contained people like Nagisa
Oshima and Kazuki Omori, but I have a feeling that the member of the jury who had the biggest
influence on the decision was Ichise, who likes entertainment films. Maybe the choice of
the winner had something to do with his presence. I think they felt that Denchu Kozo was
more entertaining than the other films in competition." At the same time Tsukamoto feels a
special connection with Oshima: "Some time after the PIA festival I heard Oshima had been
involved as a jury member with the Nihon 0 Kiroku Suru Eizo ('Images documenting Japan')
festival, where I had sent Tsubasa, Donten and Jigokumachi ShOben Geshuku nite Tonda
yo as a teenager. I'm not sure if he remembered seeing those, but I do feel a debt of gratitude
toward him."
After the festival PIA, as was its custom, organised a series of public screenings of
the Grand Prize winner. With Denchu Kozo being only 45 minutes in length, Tsukamoto
added The Phantom of Regular Size while PIA made a short film about him and his work
to bring the program closer to feature length. This short, entitled Tsukamoto Shinya 10000
Channel, was a showcase for Tsukamoto's work up to that point, combining clips from the
early 8mm films, his appearance on Ginza Now, photos and video footage of his theatre
plays, his TV commercials and his experiences at the PIA Film Festival, culminating in the
trailer for Tetsuo: The Iron Man, which he had at that moment just completed. Later released
on laser disc in Japan as part of a box set of Tsukamoto's films, Tsukamoto Shinya 10000
Channel was a rare glimpse into the director's early work.
Looking at The Phantom of Regular Size and The Adventure of Denchu Kozo in the
context of his later work, it is immediately clear that these two films are the birth of the filmmaker
Shinya Tsukamoto as we know him today. In cinematic terms, they are an exploration of
the possibilities of visual expression by necessity;Tsukamotofound his approach, his method,
his style and his voice as a result of not having a proper budget. The lack of funds meant a
very do-it-yourself approach in which creativity was the source of all ideas. He was forced
to find other ways to achieve what he wanted. In some ways, we can compare his work on
Phantom and Denchu Kozo with that of an early pioneer of cinema, Georges Melies. Both
men aimed at creating fictional worlds on film and explored the inherent possibilities of the
medium in order to bring that world and their imagination to life on the screen. As Ken
Okubo puts it: "I teach film at Tama Arts University and I always show Tsukamoto's early
films to my students. I tell them that they can achieve anything with their imaginations: explode,
break through and open up the possibilities of the world with their cameras."
46 I RON MAN - The Ci nema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
What is striking is that even though Tsukamoto's style came about due to a lack of
funds, when on later films he did have money, he still retained the same approach and the
same style. The situation helped rather than detracted from his search for a signature style.
He explored the possibilities of his medium and as a result came up with something that
was intrinsically cinematic. On The Phantom of Regular Size, the story is entirely conveyed
by the film's style. What little dialogue it contains is essentially redundant. The director
achieved a total symbiosis of form and content even at this very early stage. This is confirmed
by Tetsuo: The Iron Man, which is a film of great cinematic purity, a film that needs no
dialogue or text to get its message across.
Mi tsuru Saga sports a
severe case of sunburn
i n The Adventure of
Denchu Kozo.
CHAPTER 3 I The Phantom and the Brat 47
4. Metallic K.O.
Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)
''There are two types of human being," Kazuo Tsukamoto said as his son was about to
embark on making Tetsuo: The Iron Man, "those who are successful and those who fail.
You are a failure, so you shouldn't make this film."
Having already incurred his father's wrath by quitting his job the previous year,
Tsukamoto's decision to pursue his filmmaking and start work on a feature was the proverbial
last straw. With the PIA Film Festival award for Denchu Kozo still more than a year in the
future, his parents threw the failure out of their house. With the small income he made from
doing voice-over work on TV commercials, Tsukamoto rented a tiny room the size of four­
and-a-half tatami mats - approximately seven square metres. Despite the setback, he
continued his chosen path and went to work on Tetsuo: The Iron Man, the film that had
been on his mind for years.
Essentially shot back-to-back with Denchu Kozo, Tetsuowas made with the same group
of people and with Kei Fujiwara's apartment again serving as both the crew's base camp
and the film's main location. The big difference lay in Tsukamoto's choice of format, upgrading
from the Bmm with which he had been used to working to 16mm, a format suitable for
theatrical projection. "I had two contradictory feelings," Tsukamoto recalls, explaining his
decision to work with the new format. "One was that if I made a 16mm film, it would be fit
for theatrical screening. To all intents and purposes I could call it a real movie. It was a step
up from self-made independent films. I noticed that PIA Magazine treated independent films
very differently from proper theatrical releases. They weren't adopted into the regular cinema
schedules but all stuck together in an indies section in the back. On the other hand, my
original plan was to make Tetsuo a 30-minute film and that running time is too short for a
theatrical release. So there wasn't any actual need to do anything fancy in order to reach a
cinema-going audience. Just making it would be enough. That was a very different viewpoint
from my teenage years, when I was really striving to get my films out to as many people as
He had initially decided to stick with Bmm and to go for black and white, which he felt
would be very much suited to a film revolving around images of metal. However, he changed
his mind about the format after an encounter with the work of British independent artist
Derek Jarman. "I intended to shoot the film on Bmm and then blow it up to 16mm for theatrical
CHAPTER 4 I Metal l i c K. O. I Tetsuo: The I ron Man 49
Lef: The sal aryman (Tomorowo Taguchi ) i s attacked by the woman with the claw (Nobu Kanaoka) .
Right: A promo shot of a semi -transformed Taguchi , used as a poster i mage i n Japan.
showing," Tsukamoto remembers. "I had heard that Jarman had done the same thing, so I
went to see some of his films at a retrospective. There were films shot on 8mm that were
blown up to 16 and then up to 35. But he also shot films on 16mm in black and white, and
the images were really interesting, with lots of very rough grain."
Tsukamoto invested 200,000 yen (US$ 2000) in a Canon Scoopic 16mm camera and
ten reels of black-and-white film stock and began production in September of 1987. The film
was expanded from the basic narrative of The Phantom of Regular Size, with the four main
actors reprising their roles:Tomorowo Taguchi as the metamorphosing salaryman, Kei Fujiwara
as his girlfriend and victim, Nobu Kanaoka as the woman who attacks Taguchi at the train
station and Tsukamoto as Yatsu, the metal fetishist. In flashbacks that offer a glimpse of
Yatsu's background Tsukamoto added two additional characters, for which he managed to
cast a pair of actors of considerable renown: former Jura Kara disciple Naomasa Musaka
and Renji Ishibashi, an actor known for his work with the major film studios Toei and Nikkatsu
in the 1970s, who also had a background in independent theatre. "Musaka was still a relatively
unknown, independent actor at the time," recalls Tsukamoto, explaining his choice of the
two men, "so it wasn't very difficult to get him to do the film. Renji Ishibashi was very well
known thanks to his TV, film and theatre work. I was a fan of his and I sent him a fan letter,
after which it was actually quite easy to convince him."
Though shot under identical circumstances, Tetsuowas a step up from his two previous
films in every sense. One notable upgrade was the elaborate and detailed make-up design
50 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
for the Iron Man. The visual concept was inspired by Tsukamoto's beloved kaijO, H.R.
Giger's design for the creature in Ridley Scott's Alien ( 1979) and the final fusion of man,
fly and telepod in David Cronenberg's The Fly ( 1985). The contraption was constructed
of a combination of scrap metal and small parts from electronic appliances, a rudimentary
approach that created its own set of problems, as Tsukamoto remembers: "On Tetsuo we
built up the costume gradually, adding bits and pieces until we felt it looked right. It was
probably very tough for Taguchi, because he was just sitting there while we worked on
the make-up and the costume. Then at the end the whole thing was so heavy that he
couldn't get out of his chair." The victim now laughs when he remembers the inconven­
ience of having layers of scrap stuck to his body and face: "In those days there probably
already existed proper special effects methods to achieve that, but as far as Tsukamoto
and his team were concerned they didn't. Most of the material we used was real scrap
metal that we'd found outside electronics and hardware stores. We collected all of it, took
it apart, and from all the parts we composed the make-up, which was stuck directly to my
face with double-sided adhesive tape. Once the whole thing was finished I couldn't stand
up, because it was too heavy. To make it lighter we would remove some bits and in the
end all of this took so long that there was no time left to shoot any scenes that day. I asked
them to please take it all off so I could go home for the night. The tape was really difficult
and painful to take off, so the method they would use was to have one crew member divert
my attention so that another could rip off a piece of the make-up. When he did, I would
be crying out in pain. At the end
of the shoot, my skin was like
As production progressed
Tsukamoto and his crew gradually
managed to refine the process of
applying the effects. According to
Taguchi, the full-body make-up of
the completely transformed Iron
Man was attached to a jump suit
which he could simply put on and
take off like a costume. Tsukamoto
also found more cinematic ways to
deal with the problem: "I decided
to do one shot of a very elaborate
Iron Man, with all the make-up
applied, and use that as the
audience's reference. If the viewer
sees that first, then that's the
image he will keep in his mind for
the character. In all later shots I
could then use less make-up and
keep parts off screen, because
the viewer would fill in the blanks
for himself."
CHAPTER 4 I Metal l i c K. O. I Tetsuo: The I ron Man 51
A similar approach was taken to building the final fusion of the Iron Man and his
assailant, a tank-like structure that goes out into the world to spread its mutation among
the rest of humanity. "We sculpted the shape out of black rubber," explains Tsukamoto,
"then we rented a small truck for a day, placed the sculpture over it and covered up any
exposed parts with more rubber. The fact that we got hold of that rubber was very important
for the film. We found a large amount of rubber strips in the trash outside a factory. To get
the forms we needed, we bent them into shape and then stapled them down. One side of
the rubber was glossy and with just a bit of silver coloured spray paint it looked exactly
like metaL"
After four months of shooting and with no end in sight, Tsukamoto began assembling
his material into a first edit. Thanks to his former colleagues at Ide Production he had
been able to have his film processed for free. "I paid them back later," Tsukamoto says,
"but l owe them a big debt of gratitude for helping me after I left the company." During the
editing he noticed that he was missing material. Going back to capture these additional shots
only lengthened the production process even further and the filming would eventually
take a total of nearly 18 months, continuing until the end of 1988.
All this time the crew was living and working in Kei Fujiwara's apartment and
inevitably these Conditions began to take their toll. "It was very tough," remembers Taguchi,
"so I quickly sensed that if you would stay with them all the time, you would inevitably get
the urge to escape. So I figured that if I could keep some distance, I would be able to last
much longer and keep a good relationship with them. It's true that almost every day I went
there another crewmember would have left. One day I arrived at the house and the lighting
crew had gone, so I had to do the lighting for Tsukamoto's scenes myself. Toward the
end, only the actors were still around. Nearly the entire crew had given up and left by
then." Adds Tsukamoto: "People would just walk off and not return and eventually I was
the only one left. I did all the frame-by-frame animation by myself, because there was nobody
around to help me any more."
The tension that had begun to mount during the production of Denchu Kozo came
to a head on Tetsuo. In addition to several confrontations with the building's occupants
(Tsukamoto gives an example: "One of Fujiwara's neighbours was an amateur singer, who
was always singing horribly out of tune. We felt that gave us some license to be noisy as
welL"), frictions also arose among the crew, as the director remembers: "That group was more
like a theatre troupe than a film crew. Film crews come together for a short period and
leave again when the work is done, but we were always together in the same place. A lot
of the fights were like arguments between siblings and sometimes they would go over the
limit. In a way this means that everyone sacrificed themselves to making the film. There
was no money to be made, so we were all doing it because we really wanted to."
Such arguments were particularly rife between Tsukamoto and Fujiwara. "He and I
always had arguments, but once we started making films it became worse," Fujiwara
explains. "Tsukamoto has a very remarkable talent that makes him operate at a certain
level of energy, which means that he will only take notice of another person's idea if it's
expressed with similar energy. So that's what I tried to do. But as a result we had too
many arguments. I gave him my opinion many times, though, because I was serious when
working with him. I couldn't just sweet talk, because that wasn't my attitude. I didn't mind
that we got into arguments because I expressed my opinion."
52 I RON MAN - The Cinema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
Both being headstrong, creative minds with clear ideas on how to best go about
making the film, the collaboration between Tsukamoto and Fujiwara may have been one
of flaring tempers, but it also shaped Tetsuo to a large extent. In the final credits of the
film, Fujiwara is credited as assistant director, costume designer and second director of
photography: " He would trust me to work the camera from time to time, even though there
were other crew members that had more knowledge of the camera or that had studied
cinema. I wasn't sure why he chose me and as a result I felt a lot of pressure. When he
asked my opinion after a take, I couldn't say a word because I was so tense. At the same
time, I did what I thought was best when I worked the camera. Whenever I felt that
deviating from the storyboard would be better for the film and closer to his intentions, I would
do so. And he never complained about it. Later I understood that he entrusted me the camera
because I never do things irresponsibly."
Tsukamoto too is quick to credit the contributions of Fujiwara and her husband:
" For the scene of the dick drill we needed to make a hole in the door and that's actually
what we did: we made a hole in Fujiwara's door. Kenji Nasa was unbelievably kind and
Fujiwara was very passionate about the film as well, so when I asked them if I could
make an actual hole in their door they agreed."
But just as the various crew members abandoned their director, Fujiwara and
Nasa's tolerance for the daily inconveniences, frictions and shouting matches eventually
reached its limit. "When we were making Tetsuo, there was no acclaim from anyone and
making movies meant losing friends," remembers Tomorowo Taguchi, who would be the
CHAPTER 4 I Metal l i c K.O. I Tetsuo: The I ron Man 53
only one aside from Tsukamoto to make it all the way to the end, no doubt thanks to his
decision very early on to keep as much distance between himself and Tsukamoto as
possible. He was the only one not staying permanently at the Fujiwara residence and,
tellingly, he is the only one of Tsukamoto's collaborators from the period to still be working
on the director's films today. "I have always kept a certain distance from him, and that
hasn't changed," he explains. "I think that it's because of this distance that our relationship
continues. I've seen a number of people who were much closer to him leave after getting
into arguments with Tsukamoto. For him, work goes beyond personal feelings."
The rupture with Fujiwara was perhaps one of the most profound. "We used to be
very close," she says now, "but we both have very strong personalities, so once you' ve
clashed you can never go back to the way it was." She and Nasa returned to working with
Jura Kara after the experiences of Tetsuo and haven't spoken to Tsukamoto since. " He came
to see one of the plays I did with Kara and afterwards wrote me a letter with his impres­
sions of the play, which said that he really liked my performance. " Fujiwara founded her
own theatre company Organ Vital in 1991 and debuted as a director with the 1996 experi­
mental horror film Organ, based on one of her plays. The story of a group of gangsters
who kidnap people to remove and sell their internal organs, the film contained an impressive
array of bodily mutations and deformities. Acted and made by the members of her theatre
troupe (including Nasa) , self-financed and shot on 16mm, the parallels with Tetsuo and
the philosophies of its creators are eviden
Tsukamoto began assembling a rough cut of Tetsuo in December of 1988, coming
up with a version that was 77 minutes in length. "I was really emotionally and physically
committed to getting the film finished," he recalls, "especially during the editing because
you need to mind a lot of details at that stage. As a result it was quite nerve-wracking. I
became incredibly annoyed while dOing the loud sound effects. Hearing some of those
over and over drove me insane. When I finished the film I felt totally drained, I was almost
autistic. It was exactly at that moment that Denchu Kozo won the Grand Prize at the PIA
Film Festival , which pulled me back into the land of the living and motivated me again."
Several months prior, after r unning out of money and being unable to continue
shooting, he had attempted to raise money by showing a trailer reel to a number of distri­
bution companies. He was turned down numerous times, until he knocked on the door of
video distributor F2, who specialised in European and American independent films from
the likes of Jim Jarmusch and Lars von Trier. At F2 he ran into former PIA employee Hiromi
Aihara again. " My boss at F2, Fumio Kurokawa, was the former head of the PIA Corporation,
so he knew about Tsukamoto," says Aihara. "Tsukamoto came to see us because he had
used up all his money and lost half his crew shooting Tetsuo. At the time the video companies
were doing very well , so they had the money to do things like releasing cult movies." With
the help of F2, Tsukamoto came into contact with Japan Home Video, one of the numerous
companies that had sprung up in the late 1 980s in the wake of the boom in home video
ownership, willing to invest a modest sum in the completion of the film. Tsukamoto: "I had
no idea how to approach the sound design. I needed a professional , but I didn't have any
money to pay for one. Japan Home Video agreed to lend me the money in return for a
promise that they would get the domestic video rights. I thought it was a miracle that I got
their cooperation so easily, because I was expecting it to be nigh on impossible to find a
company interested in putting up money for this film."
54 I RON MAN· The Ci nema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
Tetsuo composer ChG I shi kawa.
With the editing also arose the question of music. In keeping with the film's main
theme, Tsukamoto's idea for the soundtrack was to use a recurring pattern of metallic
percussion sounds. "I already had the idea of using the sound of beating iron for Tetsuo's
soundtrack, sampling that noise and using it as music," he explains. "Since I didn't know
any musicians, an acquaintance introduced me to several people. The first guy's music
was too different from what I wanted, so I tried another tape and that one contained
exactly the kind of metallic sound I'd envisioned."
The tape in question was of an industrial noise outfit called Zeitlich Vergelter, led
by a young musician named ChO Ishikawa whose musical influences included German
noise bands EinstUrzende Neubauten and OAF, British punk, and new wave groups such
as Joy Division. A meeting between director and composer was quickly arranged. Ishikawa
remembers his first meeting with Tsukamoto: " He showed me some clips from the film
and asked if I would be interested in doing the music for it. I said yes immediately. I had
never made music for a film before and it was more Tsukamoto's character, his way of
speaking, his eyes and his whole personality that appealed to me than the film itself. He
seemed an interesting person to work with. I said yes without thinking about whether or
not I was able to make music for a film. After seeing part of the film, finding him such a
calm and humble person was quite a surprise. Working with him I noticed that he was
also a very intense person, kind of crazy in a way. A unique personality."
"In the beginning he had no idea how to approach making music for films," remembers
Tsukamoto of the man who would become the composer of all his subsequent films, with
the exception of Hiruko the Goblin. "He said he would just make the music and I could use
the parts of it I liked. He composed and recorded several long pieces in different styles
that I could choose from. " Tsukamoto's musical directions proved somewhat puzzling to
CHAPTER 4 I Metal l i c K. O. I Tetsuo: The I ron Man 55
Ishikawa at first: "Tsukamoto asked me to make the music only using the sound of metal.
That was his only direction for me and since it was the first time I worked with him I took
his words literally. Of course it's extremely difficult to make music with only the sound of
beating metal and I quickly realised it was almost impossible. I decided to just follow my
own instincts and gradually I figured that Tsukamoto's directions probably weren't meant
literally, but more that he wanted the music to sound like it was made with metal."
Tsukamoto finished the editing of Tetsuo in early January of 1989, almost a year
and a half after the first day of shooting. He cut the film down by another ten minutes,
settling on a 67-minute running time. He trimmed the love scene between Taguchi and
Fujiwara and the flashback to the character played by Musaka, removing the murder of
the doctor at the hands of Yatsu. He also deleted an interlude from the chase between
Taguchi and Kanaoka, in which the latter performed an elaborate tap dance. "The tap
dance scene was written in the screenplay," Tsukamoto explains, "so Kanaoka knew it
was coming and worked really hard to get the choreography right. In the end I decided
to cut the scene from the film because it stood out too much, it was too singular."
The film finally finished, Tsukamoto set about finding a place to screen it and settled
on the Nakano Musashino Hall, an 80-seat theatre that was known for its programming
of art films and was equipped with a 16mm projector. "It was right after emperor Hirohito
died. The day I had an appointment with the manager of the theatre was the day that all
businesses and public offices closed for one day in mourning. Thankfully he kept our
appointment. He liked the film and agreed to let me show it in a late night slot." The film
was scheduled to start its run in July of that year.
As much as this succession of favourable developments was a welcome change
from the hardships of making the film, the most fortuitous change was yet to come. While
working on the film's poster, Tsukamoto solicited film critic Y6ichi Komatsuzawa, known
for his knowledge of fantasy and horror films, for a promotional blurb. After seeing the
film Komatsuzawa obliged, but also made a proposal in return, asking Tsukamoto's
permission to submit the film to the selection committee of the FantaFestival in Rome,
Italy, for which Komatsuzawa was then working as Asian film correspondent.
Tsukamoto agreed and the film was accepted, but when the festival kicked off in June,
the young director was sitting at home in his tiny room in Tokyo. "I was watching this
'battle of the bands' -type TV show called Ikaten, 12 which was presented by a comedian
called YOji Miyake, who was also an actor. That night he wasn't on the show and his
replacement said he was at a festival in Rome to present his film Kiss to Moonlight
[Mangetsu no Kuchizuke] . I was dirt poor after spending all my money on Tetsuo and the
only place I could afford was this tiny apartment with paper-thin walls. If one of the
neighbours farted, I could hear it. In that situation, even though my film was playing at
the same festival at that moment, Rome seemed like a million miles away." Several days
later the festival jury, headed by Troma president Lloyd Kaufman, pronounced Tetsuo
the best film of the festival. The audience, which included filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky,
greeted the announcement with enthusiastic cheers, loudly chanting "Tetsuo! Tsukamoto! "
as the prize was handed out to a representative on stage.
The award would be a turning point not just for Shinya Tsukamoto, but for Japanese
cinema as a whole. To gauge some of the impact it had on the film community in Japan,
it is important to realise that at that moment in time the country's film industry was in perhaps
CHAPTER 4 I Metal l i c K. O. I Tetsuo: The I ron Man 57
The fi rst stage of the sal aryman' s metamophosi s.
its worst-ever state. Of the six major
studios that had dominated film
production during the heyday of the
1950s, when the industry reached its
peak production of over 500 films per
year, two had by the late '80s gone
bankrupt, one was on the verge of
doing so and the remaining three had
virtually suspended film production and
were concentrating almost exclusively
on distributing foreign films and films
made by independent production
companies. Audiences had abandoned
Japanese films in favou r of watching TV
dramas in the comfort of their own
homes and were only prepared to buy
an expensive ticket to watch a film in
a generally badly maintained cinema
if it followed the Hollywood blockbuster
model. Films continued to gain prizes
at foreign film festivals (the Palme d' Or
at the Cannes Film Festival went to
Akira Kurosawa for Kagemusha in 1980
and to Sh6hei Imamura's The Ballad of Narayama / Narayama Bushik6 in 1983), but these
plaudits did little or nothing to change the fortunes of the film industry back home.
Japanese film in the 1980s was essentially something of a wasteland. The studio
era was over and even the Japanese New Wave, the generation of filmmakers that came
to prominence in the early ' 60s as independents after breaking with the studio system -
which included Imamura, Nagisa Oshima, Yoshishige (later KijO) Yoshida and Masahiro
Shinoda - had mostly run out of creative steam when the '80s dawned. The odd wealthy,
enterprising producer, such as Haruki Kadokawa, heir to one of the country's biggest
publishing empires, tried to rival Hollywood with home-grown blockbusters, hiring former
studio A-list directors like Kinji Fukasaku and Kon Ichikawa to helm their annual mega­
production. However, their efforts, though on the whole commercially successful, hardly
added up to an industry. In short, the Japanese film business as i t had previously existed
had come to an end.
For an independent, low-budget Japanese film made by a young newcomer to win
an award at a foreign film festival in this situation was seen as a minor miracle. Film critic
Ken Okubo remembers the surprise he felt when he heard of Tetsuo winning the prize: "I
had seen the film, but I had no idea what was going to happen with it until suddenly the
information came that it had won the award. It was a great surprise, not just for me but
for everybody in Tokyo. Because we didn't believe Japanese films could win any awards
at international film festivals. Even before Tetsuo, older Japanese directors would send
their films to foreign festivals, but there was no real excitement from the audience for
those films."
58 I RON MAN - The Ci nema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
However, it wasn't simply the
fact of winning an award that made
Tetsuo stand out. That year in Rome,
director RyG Kaneda and actress Eri
Fukatsu also took home prizes for
their respective work on Kiss to
Moonlight, but the film and its two
laureates have since been forgotten.
What Tetsuo did was to create a
following, in particular overseas. With
his film, Tsukamoto found and
perhaps created an entirely new
audience for Japanese films. These
were not the cinephiles that had
grown up with Akira Kurosawa,
Yasujiro Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi and
who discussed the work of the New
Wave in the pages of Sight & Sound,
Film Comment or Cahiers du Cinema.
This was a new generation of fans,
who regarded Tetsuo: The Iron Man
not as a rupture with an established
image of Japanese cinema, but as a
Nobu Kanaoka in ful l costume.
film that fitted snugly into a pantheon of genre works that included Ridley Scott's Blade
Runner, James Cameron's The Terminator, David Lynch's Eraserhead and the work of
David Cronenberg, Sam Raimi and Clive Barker.
The pivotal element in the acceptance of Tetsuo abroad was cyberpunk, a word
derived from the title of a 1983 short story by American science-fiction writer Bruce
Bethke. Bethke's story revolves around a small band of computer hackers in a future city
who use what to all intents and purposes are laptop computers and the Internet to
manipulate official records, bank accounts and their own school grades. The term
cyberpunk eventually came to designate a subgenre of science fiction, both in literature
and cinema, that explored the role of the human body in a future urban world increas­
ingly dominated by technology. Its main exponents included the novelist William Gibson,
whose novel Neuromancer ( 1984) is generally seen as the genre's pivotal work, and
filmmakers Ridley Scott (Alien and Blade Runner), James Cameron (The Terminator and
Aliens) and David Cronen berg (Scanners, Videodrome and The Fly).
Tsukamoto professes to having been entirely unfamiliar with the term when he
made Tetsuo, although he counted some of the genre's main works among his influences:
"Making a cyberpunk film wasn't my original intention, but it's how others interpreted the
film. The combination of metal and flesh came in part from the wish to express eroticism.
I found it very difficult to do that in a direct way and I felt I needed a metaphor to express
that aspect, which became the invasion and erosion of the body by metal. I tried to make
an erotic film by way of science fiction, to express eroticism through iron. After I made Tetsuo
somebody told me it's really like cyberpunk, so that's when I became aware of the term.
CHAPTER 4 I Metal l i c K. O. I Tetsuo: The I ron Man 59
The concept of cyberpunk dates from the 1 980s, when I was in my twenties and I was
watching films like Blade Runner and Videodrome. I consider those two films the parents
of Tetsuo. I do believe my work is slightly different from cyberpunk, though. I talk about
the destruction of modern cities that are still in existence, but cyberpunk deals with the period
that comes after that destruction."
Tothe young foreign audiences reared on the American genre films and the cyberpunk
phenomenon, Japan quickly became the new promised land, in no small part also thanks
to another Japanese film that was made and started finding its audience abroad around
the same time: Katsuhiro Otomo's animated adaptation of his own manga Akira. Its post­
Metropolis and post- Blade Runner megalopolis Neo Tokyo was the quintessential
cyberpunk vision of a future city and society, and the story of government experiments
on human specimens that trigger superhuman powers and grotesque mutation was very
close to Tetsuo, though a lot more ambitious in scale. "It's an interesting coincidence that
Akira and Tetsuo were made around the same time," muses Tsukamoto. "The manga Akira
existed prior to that, of course. There is a character called Tetsuo in Akira, but in the
manga he didn't transform as much as in the film. I wasn't influenced by the manga when
I made Tetsuo, but it's really striking that two films that talk about such similar things were
made at the same time. Maybe it's because of the parents, whose existence influenced a
next generation." He is eager to acknowledge the kinship with Otomo's film, referring to it
as Tetsuo's sibling: "A slightly older brother who is smart and cool, while the younger
brother is ugly and stubborn."
The similar titles of the two films -one-word and exotic-sounding -also helped enforce
the impression among foreign audiences that Japanese cinema was the heir apparent to
the American genre cinema of the '80s. A new cult following for sci-fi animation was quickly
catered to by enterprising distributors, who released numerous titles in the wake of Tetsuo
and Akira, forming the start of a renewed long-term foreign interest in Japanese film.
Tetsuo meanwhile went on an uninterrupted run around international film festivals that would
continue for the next three years. It received a theatrical release in England in 1991,
followed by the U.S. in early 1992. The road was paved for Japanese cinema to regain its
permanent fixture on the international film circuit.
That fixture, however, could not be reclaimed without a solid output of good films.
The year 1 989 formed a watershed in this sense as well, with Tsukamoto and Tetsuo
again playing a major part. It was the year in which the first proponents of a new generation
of Japanese filmmakers emerged: in addition to Tsukamoto, Takeshi Kitano made his
directorial debut with Violent Cop (Sono Otoko, Ky6bo ni Tsukl) , Sogo lshii's former assistant
director Junji Sakamoto directed his first film Knock-Out (Dotsuitarunen), Go Rij Q debuted
with Zazie, Takahisa Zeze and Toshiki Sato took their first steps into the realm of the
erotic pinku eiga and Masayuki Suo surfaced with Fancy Dance, his first in a series of hit
comedies culminating in the international success of Shall We Dance? in 1 997.13 This
emergence of new filmmakers continued through the '90s, which saw the debuts of Rokuro
Mochizuki, Ryosuke Hashiguchi, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Takashi Miike, Makoto Shinozaki,
Shinji Aoyama, Naomi Kawase and numerous others.
Tetsuo opened at the Musashino Hall in July and continued to play there for three
months. "It was a record for a late show," says Tsukamoto. "The last originally scheduled
screening was sold out and i nstead of sendi ng people away we added an additional
60 I RON MAN - The Ci nema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
Lef: Shi nya Tsukamoto and Tomorowo Taguchi party down after the publ i c premi ere of Tetsuo.
RighI: The Tetsuo crew and assorted hangers-on outsi de the Musashi no Hal l theater. On the extreme left i s fi l m cri ti c
Tokitoshi Shi ota, who woul d l ater pop up i n Tetsuo II, Tokyo Fist and A Snake of June.
screening that same night. The film got quite a lot of good press, so that helped draw in
crowds." Tetsuo began opening in other cities during this time as well, embarking upon a
theatrical run that would last wel l into the second hal f of 1991. Tsukamoto had become
something of an overnight sensation. "The biggest change was in the attitudes of
producers," he remembers. " Many of the companies that I contacted when I was looking
for funding for Tetsuo turned me down or kept me at arm's length. But after the film won
the prize in Rome some of them told me things like, 'You know, we were very seriously
considering supporting your film'."
Tsukamoto wasn't the only one whose life changed as a result of Tetsuo. Tomorowo
Taguchi, today one of Japan's most in-demand actors, says: " Tetsuo was the first fi lm to
have a big impact on me. It's thanks to Tetsuo that I'm a professional actor today. Without
that film, I wouldn't have a career. Before that, cinema was something glamorous and far
removed from my own world. I never imagined that I would ever be part of it."
Though Tsukamoto had at one point seriously considered burning the negatives
due to all the troubles that plagued him and the film's production, today he feels that
whatever hardships he and his crew endured were worth it. Tetsuo meant a permanent
rupture with most of the friends and creative collaborators with whom he had spent the
better part of a decade making stage plays and fi lms, but Tsukamoto says he has no regrets.
"I had no other choice. This was the onl y way I could get the film made. There was no
money to make things easier for ourselves. I do realise that I did things that I shouldn't
have done or that I should have done differently, a lot of the arguments for example. I wouldn't
do it the same way again, but at the time I didn't have the choice to do it differently."
With Tetsuofinished, Tsukamoto was already moving forward toward his next project.
This time, though, he did have a choice; he had not just one project lined up, but three.
CHAPTER 4 I Metal l i c K. O. I Tetsuo: The I ron Man 61
Tetsuo: The Iron Man marks a point of maturity for Shinya Tsukamoto as a filmmaker. The
personal style that evolved from the do-it-yourself approach truly becomes a signature style,
a fusion of stop motion animation, varying film speeds, handheld camera movement, sound
effects, music and rhythm, all combined in the editing. This maturity is witnessed by the fact
that the film's style succeeds in telling the story almost entirely by itself; Tetsuo communi­
cates with the viewer through its style. Style has gained a narrative function, meaning that
form equals content.
The best proof for this can be found in the fact that Tetsuo is effectively a silent film.
This might sound like an odd way to describe a film as noisy as this one, but Tetsuo contains
very little dialogue and what dialogue there is adds nothing to what is already conveyed through
the form. When the film won the Grand Prize in Rome, it played there without subtitles.
There are indications to be found in the film itself that suggest that the similarity to
silent film wasn't entirely coincidental. Firstly there is the use of black and white film, a choice
initially based on the film's theme of fusion with metal (the colour of the film mirroring the
colour of metal), but a suitable one for a contemporary silent film. Additionally, image composi­
tions, lighting patterns, performances and make-up are all strongly expressionistic in nature:
high contrast light, over-accentuating face paint, exaggerated body movements. Particularly
noticeable in this context is the figure of Kei Fujiwara, who often looks uncannily like a silent
film actress. The central part of the film, which takes place in the salaryman's house and in
which Fujiwara features heavily, is full of such expressionist imagery. The sodomy dream
sequence is a strong example of this, as is Fujiwara's death scene in which she is lit from
below, framed against a white curtain that quickly turns black as her blood washes over it.
If Tetsuo shows a stylistic and formal maturity, thematically Tsukamoto would still need
several more films before arriving at a pure expression of his central motif, a moment that
would come in 1995 with Tokyo Fist. Viewed in the context of his entire body of work, Tetsuo
is, on a thematic level, still largely a film made instinctively rather than intellectually or rationally.
In this sense it belongs firmly in the camp of The Phantom of Regular Size and The Adventure
of Oenchu Kozo, something indicated at the very start of the film, where the text "Futsu saizu
no kaiin series' (' Normal-sized monster series') appears before the opening credits, exactly
like in his two previous films. It also again ends with the same message: "Game Ove!". These
captions, neither of which would return in any of his later films, express a rather playful approach,
not a mature thematic one. Tsukamoto was, in making Tetsuo, still feeling a strong affinity
with his early influences, the monster movies and science fiction of his youth, plus the
American cyberpunk movement. Tetsuo is steeped in pop culture and it's for this reason that
we can argue that it is closer in spirit to his short films and theatre work than to his later films.
The most obvious evidence of the film's pop cultural roots is of course the central
figure of the Iron Man, the human being who transforms into a living heap of scrap metal
and subsequently into a weapon. The influence of David Cronenberg's work in this context
has often been noted and also acknowledged by Tsukamoto himself. Primary sources are
Cronenberg's Videodrome ( 1983), whose protagonist sees his hand merge with a gun and
transformed into a part organic, part mechanical extension of his body (resonating very
overtly in Nobu Kanaoka's metallic claw in Tetsuo), and The Fly ( 1985), with its fusion of
man and insect and later an additional fusion of this creature with a mechanical device.
CHAPTER 4 I Metal l i c K.O. I Tetsuo: The I ron Man 63
Lef: Yatsu the metal feti shi st (Tsukamoto) i n a contemplative pose.
Right: The sal aryman degenerates, i n a very Cronen berg i an moment.
Then there is the Iron Man's shape, a burly frame with lumbering movements that are very
much reminiscent of the monsters that populate the kaijO films and the young Tsukamoto's
favourite TV series Ultra Q. Like the men i nside the giant lizards, Tomorowo Taguchi wore
his costume for the fully mutated Iron Man as a full-body suit.
The figure of the Iron Man's adversary (credited as Yatsu, which means simply 'guy',
although some translations refer to him as The Fetishist) is also a major i ndicator of the pop
cultural filter that shaped Tetsuo. He is a fantasy figure, a character with supernatural abilities
that include telepathy, telekinesis, transformation at will and possession of other bodies, human
and otherwise. Components of an origin story are presented for him. There are flashbacks
to a vagrant ( Renji Ishibashi) who may or may not have been his father and who beat him
with a metal pipe when he was a boy, and to a doctor (Naomasa Musaka) who found a piece
of metal lodged in the young man's head. These are experiences that shaped the character's
personality, but they have nothing to do with what would become the main motif in Tsukamoto's
work: the contemporary urban experience. His peculiarities notwithstanding, Yatsu is a
prototypical villain and the plot hinges on a very standard revenge trope: he was hit by the
salaryman's car and left to die, therefore he wants revenge on the salaryman. That the film
culminates in a one-on-one showdown between protagonist and antagonist is i ndicative of
the relatively modest ambitions of the storyline.
The Yatsu character does have a connection with the director's later work in that he is
the catalyst to the lead character's transformation, a characteristic that would remain present
throughout Tsukamoto's work. He interacts with the protagonist in the same way as later catalyst
figures like boxer Kojima in Tokyo Fist, lost twin Sutekichi in Gemini, or stalker Iguchi in A
Snake of June; they are all interlopers who drive a couple apart and cause the protagonist's
slumbering sensations to surface. After Tetsuo II, however, this catalyst would never again be
a s�perhuman fantasy figure, but always a fellow human being, while the transformations come
from inside the character, caused by the character's interaction with his everyday environment.
The third i ndication of Tsukamoto's i nstinctive approach lies in the film's locations.
The central element of his main motif would come to be the city and its dehumanised sterility
that numbs the senses of its inhabitants. However, Tetsuo is shot entirely in suburban settings,
with only brief moments that hint at the impact of the daily grind on the protagonist's well-
64 I RON MAN - The Ci nema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
bei ng. Most notably there is the moment of him getti ng off a crowded commuter t rai n,
sweati ng and dizzy. This sequence i s the lead-in to the chase t hrough the trai n station with
t he woman who i s possessed by Yatsu, in which the director promi nently focuses on t he
environment of concrete and metal as a complement to the salaryman's fear and confusion.
It is in t his lengthy scene that the impact and i nfluence of the urban envi ronment plays a
role, though only a ci rcumstantial one.
This is the concl usion we arrive at when looki ng at Tetsuain t he context of Tsukamoto's
later films: the elements t hat would form the core of his work are present , but t hey are
detached from each other and there is no intellectual attempt at unit i ng them. Tetsua revolves
around the f usion of man and metal, which the f ilm refers to with t he very Cronenbergian
term " New Worl d", and this idea completely infuses the style of the film, from the black and
white images to the metal percussion soundt rack, but the relevance of t hi s concept with
regards to everyday life i n contemporary Tokyo is something Tsukamoto had not yet grasped
or was, for t he moment , unable to express succinctly.
Seen in the light of Tetsuo's i nsti nctive nat ure, the presence of another component of
the film becomes very i nteresti ng, particularly for its predominance. The element of eroticism
al ready signalled in The Phantom of Regular Size and The Adventure of Denchu Kaza is
greatly expanded here, playi ng a major role in the proceedi ngs and the relationships between
the characters. The plot is set in motion when a young couple hit a man with their car. Then
after dumpi ng t he victim i n the forest and notici ng he is still alive, t he young woman is so
aroused by the i ncident that t he couple have sex in f ront of t he wounded man. Later, t he
salaryman' s transformation is preceded by a dream in which his girlfriend sodomises him
with a metal tentacle. After waki ng up, the two have sex agai n, duri ng whi ch the act ual
metamorphosis happens, begi nni ng with the transformation of the man's dick i nto a metal
drill. It's by penetrati ng his girlfriend with the drill that he ends up killi ng her.
Like in Denchu Kaza it is actress Kei Fujiwara whose presence is very much eroticised.
Her character's behaviour is st rongly fetishistic, not only in the car acci dent that t ur ns her
on, but also i n her reactions to her boyfriend's t ransformation, which are a mixture of fear,
curiosity and sexual arousal. There is an element of sadism to her behaviour as well and a
complementary element of masochism in Taguchi's character. The scene of erotic food play,
in which she licks a sausage and then bites it in two, sums up the relationship between
them quite succinctly. She has fewer qualms about hurti ng him than vice versa, as shown
i n the sequences i n which she stabs her boyfriend with a knife while he is undergoi ng his
physical changes. The two actors perform the scene i n which Fujiwara stabs Taguchi i n the
neck as a sex scene, one that climaxes i n Fujiwara impali ng herself on the whirri ng drill
and her black blood spurti ng up agai nst the white curtain behind her.
The Yatsu character has sexual connotations as well. The fact that he is often referred
to as The Fetishist is very applicable, as he has a fetish for sticki ng metal objects i nto his
body and, with the salaryman's transformation and the death of the girlf riend, sticki ng them
i nto other people's bodies as well. In his revenge on the couple, sex, metal and death are
inextricably linked. The source of his wrath is the hit-and-r un incident, but it's the fact that
the couple had sex in f ront of him that prompts him to choose a perversion of t he sexual
act as his tool of revenge, by way of the dick drill that makes sex let hal. Additionally, t he
ori gi nal longer version of Tetsua i ncluded a sequence of Yatsu embraci ng the I ron Man j ust
before t hey engage in thei r fi nal battle, whisperi ng what to all i ntents and purposes are
CHAPTER 4 I Metal l i c K. O. I Tetsuo: The I ron Man 65
sweet nothings in his ear. This sequence reveals Yatsu's attraction to the Iron Man, whereas
in the fi nal version of the film he has only hate for his victim. With this knowledge it also
becomes much easier to interpret the final battle as being sexual in nature, since it features
not destruction, but a fusion of the two characters into a single new being. (I n keeping with
the observation that Tetsuo contains the various elements of the director's later work i n
rough, detached form, this idea of destruction making way for creation would become an aspect
of major importance in his subsequent films.)
Interesti ngly, this element of eroticism, so overt in Tetsuo, would be almost entirely
absent from his later work until again taking centre stage fourteen years late i n A Snake of
June (a film whose source idea dates back to the period i n which Tsukamoto made Tetsuo).
Tetsuo " still contai ns a sequence of fetishistic sex, but in Tokyo Fist sex is regarded as
being almost pathetic. The proceedings in Bulet Balet are very physical but entirely platonic,
while in Gemini sex is present briefly in a highly stylised, choreographed, de-eroticised form.
The maturation of Tsukamoto's themes would go hand-in-hand with the disappearance of
eroticism from his work.
This is yet another indication of the insti nctive character of Tetsuo in comparison with
his later films. But then, its instinctive nature might well be the very reason why Tetsuo, with
all its raw intensity, made such an impact on audiences worldwide, kickstarting Tsukamoto's
filmmaking career and rekindling foreign interest in Japanese cinema in the process.
66 I RON MAN - The Ci nema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
Tetsuo i s l i ke a very preci ous, lovel y fi rst chi ld. Someti mes a di rector's f i rst f i l m becomes a
cul t movi e, l i ke Eraserhead, Evil Oead or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and t hi s is a rare,
speci al t hi ng. When I made the f i l m I real l y fel t l i ke experi ment i ng, I had a crazed ki nd of
enthusi asm and was reall y deeply i nto i t. Looki ng back now, the f i l m has become somet hi ng
ver y l ovel y and preci ous. I guess only you r fi rst f i l m can have t hat speci al val ue, because
you were so i nvested i n i t.
- Shinya Tsukamoto
Above: Tomorowo Taguchi and Shi nya Tsukamoto at the re-release of Tetsuo in 1992.
Opposite: Vatsu in his natural habitat.
CHAPTER 4 I Metal l ic K. O. I Tetsuo: The Iron Man 67
5. Hunting Demons
Hiruko the Goblin (1991)
As Tetsuo set out on its trek across the globe, it l ooked very l i kel y that Tsukamoto's next
project woul d be produced i n conjuncti on wi th the PIA Fi l m Festi val . Through i ts system of
f i l mmaki ng schol arshi ps for Grand Pri ze wi nners, PI A would hel p finance and produce the
fol low-up to Tetsuo.
The project the director was hopi ng to tackl e was an adaptat i on of ShOhei Hasegawa's
i l l ust rated chi l dren's book Torigorasu. The story of a young boy who i magi nes t hat the wi nd
howl i ng out si de hi s wi ndow i s the sound of a gi ant , monstrous bird comi ng to destroy t he
ci ty hel d obvi ous appeal to Tsukamoto. However, the process of acqui ri ng t he ri ghts and
mount i ng the producti on proved an arduous one. Four peopl e wit hi n t he PI A organi sati on
were attached to the venture as producers and the t i me i t took for t hem to reach an agreement
before any decision could be made consi derably sl owed down t he process. Hasegawa
had been informed of Tsukamoto's wi sh to adapt hi s work, but as a soli d offer for the ri ghts
was not forthcomi ng due to the sl ow decisi on maki ng at PI A, the aut hor wi t hdrew from the
project , taki ng the rights with hi m.
However, some time before Hasegawa's deci sion, Tsukamoto recei ved a phone cal l
from Toshi aki Nakazawa, a producer with the company Sedi c I nt er nat i onal , who offered
hi m the chance to direct a manga adaptati on. "I felt a l oyal ty to PI A at that poi nt," Tsukamoto
says, "and the i dea of just doi ng a manga adaptati on didn't reall y appeal to me, so I was a
bi t scepti cal at first . But as soon as Mr. Nakazawa tol d me that it woul d be an adaptation of
a story by Dai ji ro Moroboshi , whose work I really li ke, my feel i ng changed and I i mmedi­
ately became excited by the i dea. Here I was, down on my luck in my tiny room and suddenl y
I had the prospect of two movi e projects."
When Torigorasu fel l apart, Tsukamoto suggested the i dea of doi ng Tetsuo /I to PI A,
but saw i t turned down by the quartet of producers. "Nothi ng else appeared to be happening
wi th t hem, so I decided to abandon the col l aborati on wi th PI A, devel op Tetsuo /I as an
i ndependent project and accept Sedi c's offer t o make Hiruko the Goblin."
Sedic had acqui red the ri ghts to two short stori es from Daiji ro Moroboshi' s Y6kai
Hanta [tr: Demon hunter] manga series: Kuroi TankyOsha [tr: Black searcher] and Akai
Kuchibiru [tr: Red li ps]. They wanted Tsukamoto, as wri ter/director, to combi ne them i nto a
si ngl e fi lm. Though i t formed qui te a depart ure from Tetsuo, Tsukamoto found a good deal
CHAPTER 5 I Hunl i ng Demons I Hi ruko Ihe Gobl i n 69
Above: Caretaker Watanabe (Hideo Murata) goes wild.
Opposite: Masao (Masaki Kudo) recites the spel l that will save the world from Hiruko's wrath.
of i nterest in the materi al : "My natural choi ce of subject i s l i fe in the ci ty. Al l my own f i l ms
have had t hi s as t hei r central theme. But I have other i nterests and other themes that fasci nate
me, l i ke adventure and chi l dhood. Whenever I accept an offer to make a f i l m for another
producer, it's these other i nterests that I tend t o focus on."
Wi th its summerti me, countrysi de setti ng and teenage protagoni st, the scri pt for Hiruko
the Goblin harked back to el ements that pervaded hi s Bmm work. "I t's true that Hiruko has a
si mi l ar atmosphere to my earl y Bmm fi l ms," Tsukamoto admi ts, "and that the pl ot is somewhat
si mi l ar too. At the same ti me, though, the producer asked me to adapt two manga stori es
and I di d that qui te fai thf ul l y. I tri ed to ful fi l hi s request as much as possi bl e, the way any
di rector woul d, but somehow i t came out quite si mi l ar to my own work."
Earl y on in the wri ti ng process, the ori gi nator of the project (what is referred to as a
kikakusha or 'pl anner' in the Japanese f i l m i ndustry) , Koji Tsutsumi , brought in di rector and
screenwri ter Kai zo Hayashi , wi th whom he had made the mythi cal adventure fi l m Zipang
(Jipangu) the year before. Hayashi and Tsukamoto met up to di scuss i deas for the f i l m, of
whi ch Tsukamoto kept two that he l i ked: "At one poi nt Hayashi said: 'How about havi ng Hi ruko
si ng?' And then a whi l e l ater: 'How about havi ng Hi ruko fl y?' That's al l he sai d, but hi s i deas
were real l y cooL I coul d i magi ne Hi ruko fl yi ng l i ke a cockroach and I l i ked i t a lot:' Hayashi received
the credit of 'pl anni ng advi sor' for hi s contri buti ons, but his entry i nto the project showed that
Sedi c was consci ous of Tsukamoto's i nexperi ence as a feature fil m-maker. On Hiruko he
wrote the screenpl ay and di rected, but ci nematography and edi ti ng were handl ed by others.
70 I RON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
Made in the summer of 1990,
t he f i l m was part i al l y shot on
l ocati on i n t he countrysi de town of
Asahi in Toyama Prefecture, north of
Osaka, and parti al l y at t he st udi o
faci l i ti es of Toho, from where t wo of
Tsukamoto's bi ggest ci nemati c
i nf l uences, Aki ra Ku rosawa and
Godzi l la, or i gi nated. Tsu kamoto
professes to feel i ng exci ted about
the proj ect j ust at t he prospect of
shooti ng at t he st udi os, whi ch he
regarded as "a ki nd of myt hi c pl ace."
Most of t he crew of t he f i l m
also came from Toho, i ncl udi ng a
few veterans of the Godzil a seri es
such as speci al effects supervi sor
Ei i chi Asada. Thei r exper i ence i n
professi onal f i l mmaki ng made t he
director very consci ous of hi s own
l ack of i t. "Before I started f i l mi ng I
had heard a l ot of r umours t hat
studi o crews were very di ffi cult to
deal wi th," Tsukamoto recal l s, "so I fel t pressure when I went i nto i t. I tri ed to be as humble
as I could duri ng the shooti ng, aski ng thi ngs of the crew i nstead of commandi ng them. My
overri di ng memory of maki ng the fi l m is that I was constantl y maki ng poli te requests to
everyone. I have no memori es of havi ng negati ve senti ments toward the crew, so I can onl y
assume they di dn't have them toward me ei ther. Maybe I was too naIve to not i ce. I ' m sure
t hey felt t hat I was i mmat ure and that I di dn't have an answer to al l t hei r quest i ons, so I
guess they just deal t wi th it by ki nd of overlooki ng me and not aski ng much."
I n addi t i on to the studi o staff, Tsukamoto brought in around ten peopl e who he had
gathered t hr ough a cal l for crew members and techni ci ans t he previ ous year. One of these
was Shi ni chi Kawahara, who l i ke Tsukamoto had done amateu r t heatre i n hi s st udent
days: " I went to t he screeni ng of Denchu Kozo t hat PI A had or gani sed and I remember
t hi nki ng that the f i l m had a very pecul i ar styl e t hat i ncl uded many theatri cal el ements. Maybe
somet hi ng cl i cked, t here was a connecti on t her e. Aft er the screeni ng I found a pi l e of
questi onnai res i n the ci nema that t urned out to be from Shi nya Tsukamoto. He was looki ng
for peopl e to work as cast and crew on hi s next fi l m. I had t he feel i ng that i f I di dn't f i l l out
t hat form I woul d mi ss an opportuni ty that I mi ght regret i n t he f ut ure. There was a questi on
on i t that asked whether you wanted to be cast or crew. I had done some act i ng i n uni versi ty
so I wrote down 'Cast', but then I thought that wi th an i ndependent f i l m i t would probably
be possi bl e to do both, so i nstead of just 'Cast' I wrote down ' Both' and handed the form
to Tsukamoto, who was present at the screeni ng." It is in t hi s manner t hat Tsu kamoto
gat hered much of the crew t hat he was hopi ng to use on Torigorasu and t hat woul d go
on to work on Tetsuo II.
CHAPTER 5 I Hunting Demons I Hi ruko the Gobl i n 71
Kawahara was one of the ten members of thi s group that al so worked on Hiruko. " The
ten of us worked on the f i l m i n very mi nor posi ti ons. We were al l assi stants of assi stants of
assi stants," he remembers. " I worked as the l owest assi stant di rector and for me i t was the
fi rst ti me I 'd ever worked on a fi l m. The fi rst assi stant di rector tol d me 'Your posi ti on i s l ower
than that of a dog' and actual l y that's how they treated me too. The hi erarchy was very
obvi ous on set and Tsukamoto observed this, tryi ng to learn what aspects of i t were useful
and whi ch were poi ntl ess. When we l ater made Tetsuo /I he appl i ed what he had learned i n
the way he deal t wi th hi s own crew."
As a member of the f i l m crew, Kawahara was much more in tune wi th the studi o staff's
feel i ngs about worki ng under a young di rector than Tsukamoto hi msel f was. " I overheard
some of them compl ai n aboutTsukamoto's age," he confi rms. " I t was the general feeli ng among
the crew that he was too young. We, Tsukamoto's own crew, met up wi th hi m at ni ght i n the
garden of the hotel to talk. Of course, on set i t never happens that such l ow l evel assi stants
get to speak to the di rector. Maybe because the professi onal crew stayed at the same hotel
and saw thi s, they fel t more frustrated by the fact that Tsukamoto was so young. But I have
the i mpressi on that Tsukamoto was qui te sati sfi ed with the way thi ngs went."
Tsukamoto credi ts hi s experi ence di recti ng TV commerci al s as a confi dence booster
duri ng the maki ng of Hiruko. He was al ready fami l i ar wi th worki ng under si mi l ar condi ti ons,
deal i ng wi th a professi onal crew, wi th establ i shed stars and wi th shooti ng on 3Smm. He
remembers havi ng had nei ther di ffi cul ti es nor anxi eti es when worki ng wi th Hiruko's star actors
Kenj i Sawada, the former l ead si nger of the beat band The Ti gers and in some ways
comparable to a Japanese Paul McCartney, and popul ar comedi an Naoto Takenaka.
Support i ng actor Hi deo Murota, on the other hand, who pl ayed the school caretaker
Watanabe, was the source of some frustrati on. Murota, a former contract actor wi th the
Toei studi o who had been very prol i fi c i n cri me and gangster f i l ms i n the 1960s and ' 70s,
had an al cohol probl em and regul arl y arrived on set wi th bottl e in hand. Kawahara remembers
thatTsukamoto tol erated i t for a whi l e, unti l Murota started refusi ng hi s di recti ons: "Tsukamoto
yel l ed ' I can' t conti nue l i ke thi s!' and both he and Murota became so angry that they al most
attacked each other. I stopped Tsukamoto and the ci nematographer hel d back Murota,
otherwi se they really woul d have started hi tti ng each other." Tsukamoto l ooks back on the
i nci dent wi th a fai r amount of l evel -headedness: " Murota was actual l y qui te seri ous about
hi s work on the fi lm, but I thi nk he drank to overcome hi s i nsecuri ti es. The reason we cl ashed
had more to do wi th the fact that he di sagreed wi th me about hi s part than wi th hi m bei ng
sloppy. On the whol e, I fi gured that I coul dn't change the fact that everyone regarded me
as i mmature, so I deci ded to be humbl e t o at l east be abl e to get what I wanted i n t hat
si tuati on. If you're not getti ng what you want, however, you need to change. I blew a fuse
from t i me to t i me to l et them see a di fferent si de of me. That way they knew I wasn' t just
humbl e and compl acent. Then agai n, maybe they j ust thought that I was behavi ng l i ke a
chil d who cries when he doesn' t get what he wants. But I bel i eve that sometimes it's necessary
to become angry i n order to resol ve probl ems."
Tsukamoto i mposed hi s personal ity on the producti on in other ways as wel l , i ncl udi ng
hi s habi t of worki ng seven-day weeks, t o whi ch none of the studi o staff were accustomed.
The resul ti ng f i l m became very much Tsukamoto's, i t s more sedate styl e i n compari son t o
Tetsuo a consci ous choi ce rather t han a compromi se t o outsi de forces. " I was asked to make
the f i l m based on Tetsuo, so at fi rst I thought i t woul d be better to use a si mi lar styl e on
72 I RON MAN - The Cinema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
The spirit of Reiko fi nds release.
Hiruko. However, I fi gured that thi s was an opportunity to try somethi ng enti rel y di fferent. If
i t was my own money I would never have shot i t the way I di d, but now I had the opport unity
to try somethi ng else. I managed to achi eve nearly everyt hi ng I wanted, except for one
scene, whi ch i s the fi nal scene of the smi l i ng faces flyi ng up to the sky. That scene came
out very di fferent from what I had i magi ned. Peopl e someti mes ask me i f I ever make compro­
mi ses and I al ways say no. But i f I'm honest, then that fi nal scene of Hiruko is the onl y ti me
I made a compromi se i n my work." The compromi se, however, was born of necessi ty. Due
to a mi scal cul ati on, the producti on exhausted i ts all otted budget of US$ 2 mi l l i on (to thi s
day the hi ghest the di rector has ever worked wi th) shortl y before the fi l m was compl eted,
resul ti ng i n the crew havi ng to work the remai nder of the ti me for free.
After i ts completi on, major studi o Shochi ku took care of the f i l m's theatri cal di stri ­
buti on, openi ng i t nati onwi de i n the spri ng of 1991. I t fl opped merci l essl y. "The ci nema where
i t pl ayed in Tokyo had a huge bi l l board outsi de, but i t di dn't hel p," Tsukamoto remembers.
"The theatre was almost empty. I hope i t doesn't sound l i ke an excuse, but I wasn't i nvol ved
i n any of the promoti on and marketi ng of the fi lm. I went to a promoti on meeti ng once, but it
di dn't seem l i ke they wanted me to i nterfere. They spent so much money on it, ai ri ng TV
spots and everyt hi ng, but those ads and the fi l m's poster were reall y worthless. I t was a
waste of money." The experi ence onl y soli di fi ed hi s opi ni on that he should remai n i nvol ved
wi th hi s f i l ms from the begi nni ng to the very end, i ncl udi ng promoti on and rel ease, whi ch
he would do on every subsequent f i l m.
CHAPTER 5 I Hunting Demons I Hi ruko the Gobl in 73
Hiruko was poorly recei ved cri ti cal ly as well and conti nues to be the l east-l oved of
hi s f i l ms by hi s fans. " I di d get a l ot of good react i ons from people who are i nvol ved i n
f i l mmaki ng themsel ves, though," t he di rector hastens t o add. " Kazuki Ômori and Takashi ge
I chi se both l i ked i t a l ot . Someone even told me I shoul d make mor e f i l ms l i ke Hiruko
i nstead of l i ke Tetsuo." Even though the f i l m i s often consi dered a dark horse in hi s oeuvre,
Tsukamoto hi msel f strongl y di sagrees: "I fi nd i t f unny to hear that peopl e say Hiruko i s
not a typi cal Tsukamoto f i l m, because the plot and the atmosphere are so close to my
Bmm work. I f you l ook at everythi ng I made up to and i ncl udi ng Hiruko, then Tetsuo i s the
excepti on, not Hiruko."
Above: Testi ng a spider demon puppet on set.
Opposite top: Masao fi nds out exactly what happened to his friend's head.
Opposite boHom: Hieda (Kenji Sawada) and Masao under aUack from the demoni c Reiko.
74 I RON MAN· The Cinema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
The fi rst t hi ng that stri kes the vi ewer when watchi ng Hiruko the Goblin is how di fferent it
is from the rest of Shi nya Tsukamoto' s feature f i l ms, both themati call y and styl i sti call y. It
is t hi s di fference, parti cul arl y the styli sti c one, that has made Hiruko the di rector's most
mal i gned and overl ooked fi lm. A closer l ook, however, reveal s that thi s has been a hasty
and rather unj ust concl usi on.
Set mostly i n and around a high school building at the beginning of the summer holiday
Hi ruko the Gobl i n opens with the disappearance of teacher Mr Yabe and his female
student Reiko, who fall victim to an unseen supernatural assailant in a caverous tunnel.
The teacher's son Masao goes to investigate and finds the girl, who he is secretly in love
with, kissing one of his classmates. He slinks of in disappointment and thus misses the
classmate's gruesome death only seconds later. Exactly at the moment of the boy's death,
a black boil appears on Masao's back, in the shape of the victim's face. A little later Masao
too is attacked by the unseen force, but he is saved just in time by his uncle Hieda, an archae­
ologist drawn to the school after receiving a letter from Yabe about the discovery of a demonic
presence named Hiruko. Hieda, spurned by his colleagues for his insistent belief in the
existence of monsters, hopes to find the proof of his theories in Yabe's discoveries and
has come to the school armed with an arsenal of self-made gadgets to help him detect
the demons. When the pair start encountering decapitated corpses, whose heads return
as spider-legged demons, and Masao is haunted by the ethereal presence of Reiko's
face, they decide to search for the missing pieces in Yabe's puzzle and find Hiruko's tomb
in order to seal the demon inside for eterity
CHAPTER 5 I Hunting Demons I Hiruko the Goblin 75
Hiruko the Goblin is the vi sual anti thesi s of Tetsuo. The f i l m is shot i n colour, on 35mm
and i n wi descreen, whi l e the story is set in a countrysi de town duri ng a langui d summer.
Its i mages are f i l l ed wi th verdant greens and mul ti -col oured f l owers, a l ush palette that
turns gari sh i n the horror sequences. Here the bl ood i s very red i ndeed and i t sprays i n
si gni fi cantl y larger quanti ti es than i n Tetsuo. Camerawork and edi ti ng are al so markedl y
di ssi mi l ar t o the previ ous f i l m and, save f or a few bri ef sequences, t hey are restrai ned t o
the poi nt of bei ng conventi onal .
However, the superfi ci al di fferences between thi s fi l m and the rest of Tsukamoto's
work by no means i ndi cate an i neffectual approach. On the contrary, Hiruko contai ns and
expl ores themes and el ements that are very close to Tsukamoto. I f i t seems to be at odds
wi th the di rector's other f i l ms, thi s i s only because Hiruko or i gi nates from a di fferent, but
no less i mportant, set of i nf l uences than Tetsuo.
Tsukamoto's love of monsters i s somethi ng both fi lms share. Here, i nstead of spri ngi ng
f r om pop cul tural i nfl uences, they ori gi nate from Japanese mythol ogy. Hi ruko i s the name of
the mi sshapen first-born of I zanagi and I zanami , the brother and si ster dei ti es who l ater gave
birth to the i sl ands that make up Japan. Thi s story appears in the openi ng chapters of the
Kojiki, the ol dest book of i ndi genous mythology, compi led i n 712 A. D. , whi ch Japanese chi l dren
l earn about i n j uni or hi gh school. Hi r uko, whose name translates as 'leech chi l d' , was born
wi thout bones and for thi s deformity he was di sowned by hi s parents who put hi m on a raft
and set hi m down a stream.14 The Kojiki and the story of Hi ruko are literally referred to in the
fi l m, wi th the passage from the book servi ng as the i ncantati on that opens and cl oses Hi ruko's
tomb. The Kojiki does not tell what became of Hi ruk015 and thi s i s where Tsukamoto's scri pt
comes i n, gi vi ng us a modern-day conti nuati on in whi ch Hi ruko's monstrous offspri ng are
out to wreak havoc on manki nd - the later, proper chi l dren of I zanagi and I zanami .
Whi l e his other f i l ms show an infl uence from monster movies, Hiruko is Tsukamoto's
onl y t rue monster movie. In the light of the f i l m's very Japanese origins i t is i nt ri gui ng that
Hirukocontains numerous references to Ameri can horror and monster fil ms. These i ncl ude
John Car pent er's The Thing ( t he heads wit h spi der legs) , Tobe Hooper's The Texas
Chainsaw Massacre ( Masao at one point uses a chai nsaw for sel f-defence and al most
ends up cutting off hi s own head) and Poltergeist (inanimate obj ects movi ng seemi ngly
by t hemsel ves across a kitchen fl oor) , Sam Rai mi's Evil Dead ( shots from the demons'
pOint of view) , Ri dley Scott's Alien (the design of t he Hi r ukos) , pl us, in its archaeol ogi st
character l ooki ng for a mythical si te, to the Indiana Jones series.
Two other maj or i nf l uences on Hiruko, neit her of t hem present i n Tsukamoto's other
works, are Edogawa Ranpo chi l dren' s novel s and sh6nen dorama, TV series ai med at
boys and young adol escents. Both of these revol ve around brave boys invol ved i n advent ure
pl ots. Agai n, these are i nfl uences that stem from chi l dhood and t hi s resonates in t he fact
that Hiruko is one of only two of the director's fil ms to featu re an adol escent protagonist.
The other is of course The Adventure of Denchu Kozo, whi ch Hiruko resembl es in more
ways t han one.16 Both fil ms feature a wide-eyed adol escent boy with a physical deformity,
thrown against hi s will i nto an adventu re that is potential l y life-t hreateni ng. Both boys are
ai ded by an adul t ment or whose i nabil ity to sol ve the crisis prompts the young man to
overcome his t i mi di ty and show courage i n the face of seemi ngl y i nsur mountable odds.
Addi tional l y, for both boys their unrequited affecti on for a girl i s a maj or motivati ng factor.
Just as the bul l i ed boy wi th the el ect rici ty pol e was a Tsukamoto su rrogate, so too
is Masao Yabe a reflecti on of hi s creator. However, the director is not onl y present i n the
charact er of t he boy, but al so in Hi eda, much in the way t he characters of Yatsu and the
sal aryman in Tetsuo were manifestations of di fferent aspects of Tsukamoto's personal ity.
In Hiruko, Masao and Hi eda represent two different sides of t he di rector, t he chi l d and
the adul t . Masao, like Denchu Kozo, carries deformi ties on hi s back and sees hi s cl assmates
get the bett er of him. I t's a repl i cation of the director's image of himself as a timi d, ost racised
chil d (in t his context it is worth noting agai n that Hi ruko was al so described in the Kojiki
as a defor med chi ld, which suggests an i dentificat i on with t he monster on Tsukamoto's
part as well ) . Hieda represents a grown-up Tsukamoto, who may sti l l be i nsecure but who
has found a pur pose and a path i n life, even if it's a path t hat is mi sunderstood by hi s
peers, who let hi m go about his business but i nsult hi m behi nd hi s back. The first scene
of t he fil m i s of Hi eda utterl y absorbed i n hi s work, using a variety of self-made gadgets
constructed of househol d items. I t i s an image that br i ngs to mind Tsukamoto at work on
Tetsuo, cobbl i ng together his special effects from scrap and shooti ng his fil m with total
devotion and concentration.
Wi th thi s knowledge it i s cl ear that Hiruko i s anyt hi ng but an anonymous work for
hire. It can even be said to be a very personal f i l m. Thematicall y it deviates strongl y from
his other fil ms, however. There is a simil arity i n the presence of a transformation motif,
but t here is a notabl e di fference in the way this motif is handl ed i n t er ms of its i mpl ica­
t i ons on the characters and t hei r envi ronment . I n Tsu kamoto's work t ransfor mation
represents rebirth and dest ruction bri ngs a new and bett er life. I n Hiruko i t carries t he
opposite and more conventional connotation: transformati on and destructi on l ead to death
and damnation. They are something to avoid, forces of evi l even, and combati ng transfor­
mati on is what the whol e story revolves around.
CHAPTER 5 I Hunti ng Demons I Hiruko the Goblin 77
Fritz Lang's Metrpolis (lef) and a moment from the finale of Hirko the Goblin (right).
There are some hi nts at humanity and personal i ty remai ni ng aft er t he transfor­
mat i on, part i cul arl y in t he reappearance of Masao's father and the hel p Masao and Hieda
receive from the demonic versions of Masao's classmates, but they remain hints and are
not expl ored any further. The cl earest indication of the themati c difference is t he fil m's ending,
duri ng which t he worl d i s restored t o a state of normality. Hieda even decides t o gi ve up
his life's goal of provi ng t he existence of monsters and pl ans t o remarry and settle down.
The final shot i n the film is of Masao l ooking up contentedl y at the sky, whi ch, aft er a night
of darkness and horror, l ooks reassuri ngl y blue.
This f undamental difference again has l ittle to do wi th the f i l m's stat us as a commis­
sioned work - his one other feat ure-l ength assignment , Gemini, is t hematical l y very much
i n l i ne with hi s i ndependent films - but flows from the sou rces of inspi ration at the root of
the fil m. Tsukamoto's mot i f of rebirth t hrough transformation as used in hi s ot her fil ms is
appl icabl e only to adul t characters: it is them who are subservi ent to the dail y gri nd and
whose senses have been numbed as a result. By maki ng a fi l m about - and from t he
perspective of -chi l dren, he was consciousl y moving in a different direction, resul ti ng al most
naturall y in a different t hematic and styl istic approach.
Some of these differences may al so be attributable to hi s worki ng with a ful l crew of
professional s for the first t i me, i ncl udi ng hired hands on hi s usual posts of ci nematog­
rapher, cameraman and editor. I t's undeni able that Hiruko occasional l y lacks dynamics or
uses i neffective framing, but at the same time i t al so boasts some t ruly striki ng i mages,
l i ke t he moon shimmeri ng t hrough the pond above Hi ruko's tomb, Rei ko's spider-legged
face emergi ng from t he water and especiall y the shot of the hundreds of screami ng heads
writ hi ng i n t he f i re, a gorgeousl y otherwor l dl y composition remini scent of t he su rreal ist
coll age shots that represent the unhinged mind of the robot Mari a in Fri tz Lang's Metropolis.
Hiruko the Goblin may be t he odd one out in Shi nya Tsukamoto's fil mography, but thi s
certainly doesn' t make it any l ess deservi ng of attention.
78 I RON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
Hirukochan is my cute first daughter. It's also a very precious film for me for that reason. I f
Tetsuo is my first-born son, t hen Hiruko is my first daught er. She i s more pol ite and was
born with the wish to be loved by others. Actually she isn't l oved that much by other peopl e,
but I l ove her a l ot. The fil m i s al so a cherished memory of one summer. The feel ings I had
whil e li ving that summer are entwi ned with it, they are part of the fil m. Hiruko al so contains
the spi ri t of boys' adventure stori es and for all of these reasons it's a precious fil m for me. I t
was the first time I shot a fil m for a big company and every day I fel t excited and ent husi ­
astic about al most anyt hi ng that happened.
- Shinya Tsukamoto
Above: Shi nya Tsukamoto (ri ght) directing Hiruko the Gobln.
CHAPTER 5 I Hunting Demons I Hi ruko the Gobl in 79
6. Retu rn to Metal
Tetsuo !!. The Body Hammer (1992)
Even before accepti ng Sedic's offer to di rect Hiruko, Tsukamoto had begun preparati ons
for a sequel to Tetsuo. Wi th the 20-odd people he had recrui ted as crew members at the
screeni ngs of Denchu Kozo he started scouti ng l ocati ons i n l ate 1989. At t hat poi nt , wi th a
col l aborat i on wi th PI A l ooki ng l i kel y, Tsukamoto and hi s crew set up a t emporary base at
an offi ce in the PI A bui ldi ng.
"We found some ni ce l ocati ons i n Tokyo," remembers Shi ni chi Kawahara, " i ncl udi ng
t he empty Sapporo Beer factory i n the Ebi su ar ea, but i t t ook t i me to get per mi ssi on t o
shoot there. I n the meanti me Tsukamoto recei ved the offer to di rect Hiruko the Goblin, so
he f i gured t hat i f we need to wai t before we can start Tetsuo II, we mi ght as wel l do a
di fferent proj ect fi rst." The permi ssi on to shoot at the beer factory never came and by the
t i me Tsukamoto had f i ni shed Hirukoand returned to Tetsuo II, the factory bui ldi ng had al ready
been l evel l ed and the l and redeveloped.
Wi th part of hi s crew j oi ni ng hi m on Hiruko, a handful remai ned to conti nue prepara­
t i ons for Tetsuo II, whi ch t he di rector had now deci ded to shoot as an i ndependent f i l m.
"He t urned down t he PI A scholarshi p, but I t hi nk Tsukamoto fi gu red t hat he woul d use the
money he got for Hiruko to f i nance Tetsuo II," says Kawahara. No l onger under t he aegi s
of PI A, Tsukamoto founded hi s own producti on company and named i t Kai j yu Theat er,
i ndi cat i ng t hat he i ntended to make hi s fi lms wi th the same i ndependent, i di osyncrati c atti tude
that i nfused hi s experi mental theatre work.
Asked about hi s moti vati on for want i ng to do a sequel i n t he f i rst pl ace, Tsukamoto
stat es, si mpl y: " I cont i nued to have an i nt erest i n combi ni ng metal and f l esh and had
more i deas about it t hat I wanted to use i n a fi l m. Al so, for a bi g Hol l ywood movi e i t's
nor mal to do a sequel , but i t doesn' t happen very often wi th i ndependent f i l ms. I t was
qui te a f unny i dea."
The resul t i ng f i l m, however, underwent several notabl e changes from t he or i gi nal ,
i ts use of colour bei ng t he most readi l y apparent . " I wanted to use t he col our blue t o
express t he cli ni cal atmosphere of Tokyo," the di rector expl ai ns. " I t's t he colour refl ected
by al l the wi ndows i n t he offi ce bui l di ngs around town." Nearl y al l the modi f i cat i ons he
made i n compari son to the fi rst fi l m resul ted i n a much clearer expressi on of what was to
become t he mai n t heme of hi s work: modern man's rel at i on to hi s l i fel ess and numbi ng
CHAPTER 6 I Return to Metal I Tetsuo I I : The Body Hammer 81
urban envi ronment. Fi tti ngly, the protagonist t hi s t i me di dn't live in a r undown littl e house,
but i n a spaci ous yet ster i l e concrete apartment.
According to Kei Fujiwara, Tsukamoto was already toyi ng with the ideas for the sett i ng
when t hey were wor ki ng on the first film. "We were stayi ng at a smal l house instead of a
marble-wal led apartment," she explains, "but at least we coul d shoot t here. Why not make
the fil m about a protagonist who lives in a pl ace l i ke thi s? I felt that that ki nd of restriction woul dn' t
get in the way of what we wanted to express, that it would make the fi l m more interest i ng, i n
fact." Tsukamoto, on the other hand, remembers the i dea as being onl y a vague one at the
ti me and that it was certainl y never meant as a contrast between ri ch and poor. Shoot i ng a
film like Tetsuo in Fujiwara's apartment reminded hi m of Utra as surrealisti c juxtaposition
of the fantastical monster and the ordinary, everyday domestic envi ronment: " I dropped the
idea of usi ng a spacious apartment sett i ng qui te qui ckly. I t had nothing to do wi th not having
the means, I simpl y l iked using that surrealist i nfluence i n Tetsuo."
Pre-production on Tetsuo /I began in earnest less t han a month aft er Tsukamoto
fini shed work on Hiruko in l ate 1990, with shooting starting on Christ mas Day that same
year. I n additi on to hi mself, Tomorowo Taguchi, Nobu Kanaoka and assistant director Hi royuki
Koj ima were the onl y members of the origi nal group that had made Tetsuo who were back
for the sequel . Despite the hardshi ps he suffered on the first f i l m, Taguchi di dn' t hesitate
when Tsukamoto asked him to repri se his rol e as the sal aryman: "Because it was a few
years later, the si tuati on had changed. Denchu Kozo had won the PFF Award and Tetsuo
had gained a good reputati on abroad and had al ready been rel eased in Japan. For Tetsuo
/I they had recruited a vol unteer crew and peopl e were asking to j oi n Tsukamoto's films of
their own volition. Personal l y, I was very conscious of the fact that I was virtuall y the onl y
one to have survi ved those t ough circumstances, so I felt that I was kind of obl iged to do it."
, . .
. . . .,
, .
• • • , • [he numbing
• • metropolis
Thi s t i me, the sal aryman was to have a wi fe, pl ayed by Kanaoka, and an i nfant son. Tsukamoto
returned to hi s role as Yatsu, now the leader of a cult of ski nhead bodybui l ders.
The new faces i n the cast i ncl uded Shi ni chi Kawahara, who pl ayed Tsukamoto's si deki ck
on screen as well behi nd the camera, t hereby fulfi l l i ng the ambi t i on he had once wri tten
down on Tsukamoto's recrui t ment for m. "The rol e I was supposed to play was or i gi nal l y
qui te smal l," Kawahara remembers, "but in the course of wri ti ng it was expanded. Tsukamoto
told me: ' Si nce your character i s qui te i mportant in the scri pt, you have to do an audi t i on.' I
wasn't the onl y candi date, but I real l y wanted to get the part so I di d my best and I got i t."
For the fl ashback to the salaryman's chi l dhood, Tsukamoto cast theatre actor and di rector
Su-Ji n Ki m, anot her of Jura Kara's former di sci pl es, as the fat her. Ki m would become a
regul ar col l aborator of Tsukamoto's, appeari ng in a number of hi s subsequent f i l ms. I n a
bri ef cameo, the di rector cast Toki toshi Shi ota, a fi lm cri ti c who was among t he audi ence
when Tetsuo won i ts award i n Rome and who had been very vocal i n hi s support for
Tsukamoto's work. Hi s di mi nuti ve but di sti ncti ve frame woul d l ater al so pop up i n Tokyo Fist
and A Snake of June. Tsukamoto expl ai ns hi s moti vati on for cast i ng the wri ter: "I real l y l i ke
hi s face. I di dn' t cast hi m as a joke or as a favour, I just l i ke the way he l ooks. Al so he's not
a bad actor and he's qui te dedi cated to hi s performance."
Despi te bei ng a sequel , Tetsuo /I fel t to Tsukamoto l i ke "a fresh start." The f i l m was
made wi th a crew numberi ng si xty people, mostly consi sti ng of volunteers. The ten that had
worked on Hiruko were assi gned key posi ti ons and acted as i nstructors to the newcomers.
Takashi Oda, the speci al effects techni ci an who had built and operated the spi der-legged
creatures on Hiruko, was the onl y alumnus from Tsukamoto's second fi l m who di dn't or i gi nally
belong to Tsukamoto's own ten-man crew. He took care of Tetsuo Ifs make-up effects work,
br i ngi ng a professi onali sm that made Taguchi's li fe a lot easi er than on the fi rst fi lm. He too
woul d become a regul ar col l aborator, supplyi ng speci al make-up effects on all Tsukamoto's
subsequent f i l ms, with the excepti on of Tokyo Fist.
One of t he peopl e who newl y joi ned the Tsukamoto staff was for mer PI A and F2
empl oyee Hi romi Ai hara. Al though credi ted as one of the producers of the f i l m, she humbl y
says that her acti vi ti es were l i mi ted to "l i ttl e thi ngs l i ke taki ng care of the cateri ng and taki ng
pi ctures." She remembers that alt hough he had si xty peopl e at hi s di sposal, Tsukamoto
kept t i ght control over all that went on: "He was doi ng everyt hi ng hi msel f, so the set was
very qui et and all these young staff were just standi ng around wai ti ng," she l aughs.
"Tetsuo / I was probably the most probl em-fraught of my f i l ms, i n part as a result of
t he i nexper i enced crew," Tsukamoto hi msel f recalls. "One of t he most di ffi cul t scenes t o
shoot was the ki dnappi ng of the boy i n the mall. We'd rehearsed the scene wi th the actors
and then went i nto an actual record store in a mall to shoot it. But we hadn't told anyone at
the store that we were goi ng to film there, so when we shot the scene a lot of t hei r cl i ents
t hought t hey were wi tnessi ng a real ki dnap. Act ual l y, we di d ask t he management for
permi ssi on, but when they turned us down I deci ded to shoot t here anyway. There are so
many anecdotes l i ke thi s about the shoot i ng of Tetsuo /I. There's a scene in whi ch Taguchi
get s shot, for whi ch he wor e a vest r i gged wi t h squi bs. The pl ace where we f i l med i t was
ri ght next to a pol i ce dormi tory and we were all arrested ri ght after doi ng the scene. I thought
about hi ri ng professi onal s to ri g Taguchi's vest, because I real i sed i t coul d be qui te dangerous.
But we di dn't have any money and I wanted qui te a lot of squi bs, so we deci ded to bui ld it
oursel ves. It was a dangerous t hi ng for us to do, but thankful l y nobody was hurt."
CHAPTER 6 I Return to Metal I Tetsuo I I : The Body Hammer 83
The l ocation t hey had found as a replacement for the beer factory was an ol d iron
foundry that had l ong since been abandoned, but which posed its own probl ems: "We were
shooting in a disused factory, which was completel y covered in dust. But it wasn' t normal
dust, it was some kind of residue that looked like bl ack powder. We fil med an explosion at
one point, and with the shock this created, a lot of this dust started coming down. I t looked
l ike a black curtai n. Then within seconds the air inside the pl ace was fil l ed with dust ."
Far from an entirel y different experience, Tetsuo /I took one year to make and saw
two thirds of its crew fl eeing the set over the course of its production period. "At the start we
had a crew of about sixty peopl e," recal l s Kawahara, "but by the end of the shoot onl y twenty
of them were l eft." To make the experience seem even more like a repetition of Tetsuo, the
production ran out of money hal fway through the shoot. With the hel p of Fumio Kurokawa,
t he head of F2 who had come to his aid on the first Tetsuo, Tsukamoto found t he record
company Toshiba EMI wil l i ng to invest in Tetsuo /I on the basis of Tsukamoto's previ ous
work. Aihara, who became the intermediary between director and investor, remembers: "I t
was the first time they had put money i nto filmmaking, but they really supported the fil m and
al so provided the budget for promotion. The production budget was original l y around $300,000,
but the fil m ended up costi ng wel l over 1 mil l ion, because Tsukamoto didn' t cal cul ate his
expenses. Toshiba EMI asked for some rights in return for their money. Normal l y in Japan if
a company invests in a fil m, they take all the rights, but we negotiated with the investors to
keep the theat rical and international rights."
Above: A shaven-headed Tsukamoto at work on the set of Tetsuo II.
Opposite: Tomorowo Taguchi returns as the hapless salaryman.
Adds Tsukamoto: "This was the height of the bubbl e economy, so t hey had a lot of
money to throw around and they gave us 70 million yen [about US$ 700,000]. I nitially they
wanted to sign me to a kind of lifetime contract by which they would produce al l my fut ure
proj ects, but I decl ined. A while l ater the economic bubble burst and the situation changed
drastical l y. They're not as rich as they used to be any more, so not signing that contract was
a good decision."
84 IRON MAN - The Ci nema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
In addition to the company's fi nanci al contri bution, Toshiba EMI 's involvement proved
to be very convenient when Tsukamoto, wi shi ng to use a song by rock guitarist Tomoyasu
Hotei over the end credits, real ised that the musician was part of the company's stabl e of
recording artists. For the music in the rest of the fil m the director t urned to Tetsuo composer
ChO I shikawa. The fil m heral ded a change i n their working rel ationshi p, as I shikawa remembers:
"On a techni cal l evel, the step from Tetsuo to Tetsuo /I i s l ike goi ng from 1 to 10. More
i mportantl y, I had the impressi on that Tsukamoto put more emphasis on expressing the theme.
For exampl e, wi th Tetsuo I j ust made many pi eces of music and Tsukamoto selected what he
l iked. That worked fine on Tetsuo, but on Tetsuo /I he gave me directions about the kind of
music he wanted for various parts of the fi lm: ' I n thi s scene the character does this, so I want
the music to have this kind of feeling' . Our collaborati on added a certain l ife to the fil m. Working
on Tetsuo was fun too, but we made Tetsuo /I very consciousl y, it was a step-by-step process.
He wanted to express the central theme of the f i l m, to really get i t across to the audience."
I shi kawa's inspirati on for the musi c came from an unlikely source: "I l i ke frogs. I used to
have a poster on my studi o wall of all the species of frog in Japan. While I was worki ng on the
music for Tetsuo /I I would sometimes stare at that poster and be inspired by i t for the music. I
tried to imitate the sound of a frog j umping toward the water. I pl ayed it for Tsukamoto and he
really li ked i t." I shikawa named the pi ece Rana Porsa Porsa, after the scienti fic name for
one of Japan's i ndigenous speci es. 'To me the frog is asymbol for cal mness. On Tetsuo // I became
consci ous of the fact that l oud music does not automatically express strength and violence.
You can al so express such things with cal mer music. The j uxtaposition of l oud and calm became
one of my premi ses for the soundtrack and as a whol e I took more care of the detai l s:'
CHAPTER 6 I Return to Metal I Tetsuo I I : The Body Hammer 85
If t he production period was al ready pl agued, Tsukamoto admits to agonizi ng over
t he editi ng of t he fil m as wel l: "Tetsuo 1/ was a very difficul t fil m for me to edit. I re-did it
several times, trying out various possibilities. Maybe deep inside I 've never been trul y happy
with it. In fact, to this day whenever I watch it, I get the urge to re-edit it." His dissatisfaction
was fed by the experiences of the film's first foreign screenings in earl y 1992.
Tetsuo 1/ received its premiere at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival in France, as part
of a t ribute to Tsukamoto that al so comprised Tetsuo and Hiruko. Toshiba EMI put up the
money for Tsukamoto, Taguchi, Kanaoka and a handful of others to fly to France. Not having
travel l ed abroad to any of the festival s that had shown Tetsuo, this was the director's first
exposure to foreign audiences and he remembers their reaction as being a negative one: " Tetsuo
1/ was the opposite sit uation of Tetsuo: it was made with more money, a real upgrade from
the first fil m, and I 'd won awards for Denchu Kozo and Tetsuo. But when Tetsuo 1/ went to the
Avoriaz festival it didn't win anything and was in fact quite poorl y received."
Hiromi Aihara, who accompanied Tsukamoto to Avoriaz, has a slightly different
recollection of the experience: "The first screening of Tetsuo 1/ was around midnight. On the
whole the audience l iked the fil m a lot, but during the screening some peopl e l eft. At a fil m
festival that's normal , of course, i t always happens. But for us i t was the first time t o experience
that. I t never happens in Japan that people leave during a screening, so we were very nervous.
Most of the peopl e stayed until the end, but they didn't stay to see the cl osing titl es. So for us,
to see peopl e l eave during the screening and before the end credits was shocking. Shinya
was very shocked. The next day we met Gaspar Noe, who real l y loved the film and asked
Tsukamoto many questions, and he explained that it's normal that some peopl e l eave during
screenings. He taught us a l ot about foreign audiences."
As with Tetsuo, Tsukamoto made changes to the film after screening it to audiences
several times. The resul t was the ' Super Remix Version' of Tetsuo 1/, but the modifications
were entirel y in the realm of the film's sound. "We showed the film at the YObari Fantastic Film
Festival in February and Tsukamoto was very frustrated with the sound," remembers Aihara,
"because the sound mixer at the post-production studio had insisted on making the actors'voices
l ouder. After the screening at YObari he decided to change the sound mix. We went to a different
sound studio and made a new version. We got a discount, but it stil l cost us a l ot of money. I t's
a remixed version, so we onl y changed the sound, not the images." The Super Remix Version
received its premiere at the Brussel s Fantastic Fil m Festival in Bel gium in March and became
the version of the fil m that was subsequentl y shown and rel eased around the worl d.
Despite his initial frustration wi th the reactions of t he audience, Tsukamoto l ooks
back on 1992 as "a dreaml ike year". Tetsuo 1/ won prizes at festival s in YObari, Br ussels,
Hong Kong, Sitges and Mont real, and Tsukamoto discovered some of the i mpact t hat
Tetsuohad made abroad, i ncl udi ng how i t had i mpressed a great number of fel l owfil mmakers
l ike Tsui Har k, Al ej andro Jodorowsky, Ll oyd Kaufman, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro.
" I went to visit Jodorowsky's house in Paris with Gaspar Noe and Marc Caro," the director
remembers. "He showed me a smal l dark room under his stairwel l and tol d me t hat it was
his meditation room. The onl y thing inside it was a book about dissection . He l et me have
a look at the book and it was f ul l of pictures of corpses of peopl e who had died i n various
ways. I put i t back very quickl y, i t was t oo strong for me." He had more f un ogl i ng Jodorowsky's
storyboards for his aborted adaptation of Dune: "Noe, Caro and I were like kids huddl ed
over a treasure. We were fascinated."
86 I RON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
Yatsu's henchmen kidnap Taniguchi's son.
Lef: Tsukamoto in Yatsu's new incarnati on.
RighI: Tsukamoto directs Taguchi for the f i l m's fi nal shot.
Tsukamoto's infl uence had by this time also stretched beyond the realms of cinema.
That same year he recei ved a f an letter f r om Trent Reznor, frontman of the American rock
band Ni ne I nch Nail s. "I got a very kind, very polite l etter that went something li ke: 'My name
is Trent Reznor of the band Nine I nch Nails. I ' m a bi g fan of you and your fil m Tetsuo.' He
had i ncluded one of the band' s vi deos, whi ch was done in a ki nd of Tetsuo styl e, except
much si mpl er in executi on." I n his l etter the singer asked Tsukamoto to direct a vi deo for a
song from thei r new album Brken. "I 'd had a few requests to di rect music vi deos before
and I'd t urned them all down," Tsukamoto continues, "but Reznor was very ent husiastic, so
I agreed. A long discussion foll owed about budgets and scheduling, unt i l he said t hat he
woul d give me complete freedom to make what I wanted. He said ' I don' t have to be in i t,
j ust pl ease make a video for us' ." Tsukamoto came up wi th a concept t hat concerned a
person with a mal e and a female si de, both of which are masturbati ng at the same time. Despite
fearing that i t woul d be too strong to show on TV, Reznor wanted Tsukamoto to real ise it
regardless of airpl ay potential . After that, things went quie!. "I sent him a fax at the producti on
company that he wanted to make the video with," recall s Tsukamoto, "but after that I di dn't
hear from him for a l ong t i me. We later contacted the company and they told us that my fax
had fal l en to the floor and gotten los!." The vi deos for al l the singl es off t he Brken al bum
woul d event ual l y be made by music vi deo director and i ndust rial music pioneer Peter
Christopherson. Tsukamoto: "I l ater went to the United States and saw a Ni ne I nch Nai l s
vi deo on TV. I real i sed that i t was the song they origi nally wanted me to do the video for."
Tsukamoto and Reznor would have another chance to coll aborate the foll owi ng year,
when MTV Japan commissi oned Tsukamoto to direct one of thei r short station I Ds. The
musi cian caught wind of t he project and contacted MTV wi t h t he offer to donate a Ni ne
I nch Nails t rack to i t." Shot in black and white, the 50-second piece is t rademar k Tsukamoto,
Tetsuo done al l over agai n as a muscular guitari st revs up hi s engi ne-dri ven i nst r ument
and gets possessed by its metal l ic outgrowths before chargi ng out into t he streets as a
biomechanical heap. All seemed to go well for di rector and musician this t i me, but
disappoi ntment was lu rking j ust around the corner. Tsukamoto: "Aft er I handed it over to
CHAPTER 6 I Return t o Metal I Tetsuo I I : The Body Hammer 89
One of the ski nheads holds what i s le« of the salaryman's liUle son.
MTV, they si mpl y overl ai d t hei r normal j i ngle on top of the musi c wi thout aski ng ei t her me
or Trent Reznor.1 sti l l feel very sorry for Trent, I ' m sure he must have been very angry about
i t. For mysel f, i t made me real i se the ri sks of worki ng wi th an outsi de producer and t hat I shoul d
keep control over my own work." Neverthel ess, MTV Japan TOH#1 ( shor t for Top of the
Hour), as it was off i ci ally ti tl ed, won t he award for Best Network / Stat i on 10 at t he New
York Festi val i n 1994.
Meanwhi l e, t he forei gn contacts and tri ps abroad wi th Tetsuo /I were resul t i ng in a
good amount of busi ness bei ng done for hi s f i l ms. Most of t hi s was handl ed by anot her
former PI A empl oyee, Ki yo Joo, who had al ready been t aki ng care of forei gn rel at i ons for
Tetsuo. Joo remembers the begi nni ng of her worki ng rel at i onshi p wi th Tsukamoto: "Aft er
Tetsuo won the pri ze i n Rome, other festi val s were start i ng to show an i nterest i n the f i l m.
Tsukamoto was getti ng al l these festi val requests and he di dn't know what to do. He needed
someone to take care of t hi s and I offered to hel p hi m wi th the overseas market." Today a
professi onal sal es agent, and conti nui ng to represent Tsukamoto, Joo admi ts that she was
sti l l i nexperi enced in t hi s fi el d at the t i me of Tetsuo /I. When sal es company Forti ssi mo Fi l m
Sal es showed an i nterest i n handl i ng busi ness for t he f i l m, she accepted: " I was handl i ng
Tetsuo but I di dn't have any experi ence or know-how. So we deci ded t o l et Forti ssi mo handle
the film for Europe."
"For al l of us Avori az was our fi rst vi si t to a forei gn f i l m festi val ," recal ls Hi romi Ai hara.
"We had a French-subti tl ed versi on of Tetsuo / I made at the request of the festi val . I t cost a
90 I RON MAN - The Ci nema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
Tsukamoto's l ong-ti me assistant di rector Shini chi Kawahara (left) plays Yatsu's ri ght-hand man.
l ot, but we were so proud to be i nvited to Avoriaz that we had a print specially made for i t.
Thankful l y Kiyo coul d sell that print to a French company after the festival. Goi ng to Europe
cost us a l ot of money, but we l earned a l ot about how to sell ri ghts to foreign countries and
how to recoup cost." As Tsukamoto's career went on, foreign sal es of his fil ms woul d become
more and more crucial . " I n the begi nning," Tsukamoto expl ai ns, "sel l i ng the foreign rights
was l ike an unexpected gi ft and I felt very lucky. Today I calculate the budget based on the
expectancy of maki ng foreign sal es. So my budgets today are higher t han i n t he past,
meaning that I wi l l have a probl em i f I don' t make enough from foreign sal es."
The success of Ki yo Joo's acti vities can be measu red from t he endur i ng popul arity
of the Tetsuo fil ms, which cont i nue to be seen as Tsukamoto's representative fil ms by many,
despite the fact that si nce Tetsuo II his work has moved into very di fferent terri tory. "I t's been
more than ten years si nce that fil m, but peopl e sti ll refer to me as The director of Tetsud;'
he professes. "Some peopl e even expected that I was finished after Tetsuo II, because they
thought I had done my t hi ng and had nothing else to say. But I fel t that t here were a lot more
thi ngs t hat I wanted to do and t al k about. The t hemes of my fil ms are connected, even
between the Tetsuo fi lms and my other work. I don' t see my career as being di vided into a
Tetsuo period and a post- Tetsuo period. There is no watershed after Tetsuo II."
As for a Tetsuo III, Tsukamoto says he t u rned down several offers from American
producers to make a t hi rd fil m. "To me, the Tetsuo fil ms are l ike maki ng puppet animation,
it's ver y meticul ous wor k. I t's better to take a l ot of t i me i f you want i t to come out good.
CHAPTER 6 I Return t o Metal I Tetsuo I I : The Body Hammer 91
Lef: Daddy (Su-Jin Kim) is about to meet his fate.
Right: Tetsuo emerges once more.
Even if I were to do a Tetsuo III we would defi nitel y need to take our t i me. I ' ve had offers
from Ameri can companies to make a Tetsuo 11/ in the U. S. , but all those compani es wanted
to use some famous star in the l ead rol e and impose a tight deadl ine. I 'd prefer to use even
a non- professional actor in t he role if that means I have the freedom to take as l ong as I
want. A Tetsuo f i l m shoul d show the spirit of an extremely experimental movi e."
For a whil e though, a second sequel seemed a genui ne possibil i ty, after Quentin Tarantino,
then fresh from his Pulp Fictiont riumph, offered to produce the fil m. UnderstandingTsukamoto's
wi sh to have his hands free on the fil m, Tarantino suggested keeping the proj ect a low-budget
venture to avoid corporate interference. An ini tial figure of US$ 3 mil l i on was set, Roger Avary
was tapped to write the scri pt and Tim Roth was mentioned as a candi date for the lead rol e.
Yet, despite the more than appeal ing package, the project never got off the ground,
somethi ng Tsukamoto att r i butes to several factors. Firstl y, Tsukamoto was toyi ng around
with an idea he refers to as Flying Tetsuo, but, afraid that i ncorporating fl ying scenes woul d
drive up the budget and compromise t he fil m as an independent proj ect, he kept this idea t o
hi msel f. Secondly, there was t he language barri er that caused confusion. "We didn' t have a
screenpl ay yet, so not hi ng was put down on paper. Tarantino said that he woul d protect me
and protect the project, but things remai ned rather uncl ear for me and I began to worry i f it
was al l goi ng to work out as he promised." Thi rdly, as time passed and Tsukamoto's doubts
grew, he found his enthusiasm for the Tetsuoconcept wani ng. Other ideas, l i ke those that woul d
become Tokyo Fistand Bulet Balet, began to excite hi m more. Time passed, Tsukamoto moved
on to other projects and Flying Tetsuo simpl y faded, without either Tsukamoto or Tarantino
ever official l y havi ng pull ed the plug. "I still feel thankful that Tarantino t ried to real ise t he
proj ect, though," the director says, l ooking back on the experience. "He t ried to l et me do it
my way and I appreciate that a l ot."
92 I RON MAN - The Ci nema of Shinya Tsukamoto
After t he si destep of Hiruko, Tsukamoto's ret ur n to the worl d of Tetsuo for ms a step i n a
forward di rect i on. Tetsuo II: The Body Hammer shows a f i l mmaker in the process of change,
somethi ng that can be gl eaned not j ust from Tetsuo Ifs posi t i on i n Tsukamoto's body of
work, but wi thi n the f i l m i tsel f: i n i ts story, i ts characters and i ts styl e. Tetsuo II i s not a sequel
or a remake, but an evol uti onary next step.
The change seems obvi ous enough j ust from the use of colour and the hi gher budget,
but i t runs much deeper t han those surface di fferences. Whi le Tetsuo II i s a ret ur n to the
theme of meldi ng flesh and metal , the fi l m actuall y shows us Tsukamoto movi ng away from
thi s very same trope. I t's as i f, i n the course of maki ng i t, the di rector reali sed that what he
real l y wants to express goes f urther and i s more fundamental l y human than what hi s chosen
fi l ter of cyber punk sci ence fi cti on al lows hi m to say.
For t hi s reason Tetsuo II can be consi dered a t ransi ti onal work and fi tt i ngl y t he fi lm
i s, i n a certai n sense, unsure of i tsel f, a f i l mi c paradox: a f i l m that shows both conf usi on
and great cl ari ty. I t s uncertai nty, however, i s a whol ly posi tive t hi ng, because it's an i ndi cati on
of devel opment, of a f i l mmaker movi ng forward.
Tetsuo I I tells the story of salaryman Tomoo Taniguchi, happily married to Kana, whose life
is thrown into total disarray when a pair of thugs kidnap his young son from under his nose
and fire a metal rivet into his chest. In the chase that ensues, a metal cannon emerges from
Taniguchi's torso, but instead of killing the culprits he accidentally blows up his own son.
The evil genius behind the plot is Yatsu, the leader of a cult of bodybuilding skinheads who
experiments with fusing the human body with metal. He kidnaps Taniguchi and tries to
prvoke further transformation in him, by using him as a guinea pig for a treatment he hopes
to utilise on his skinhead minions. The experiment goes haywire and Taniguchi escapes.
His mutation, however, is still far frm complete.
The general opi ni on of t he f i l m, that it is Tetsuo redone wi t h a bi gger budget and more
expl anat i on is patently wrong. Fi rstl y, Tetsuo II succeeds i n more cl early expressi ng t he
t heme t hat woul d come to domi nate Tsukamoto's work: t hat of man's r el at i on to hi s
desensi t i si ng u rban envi ronment. The f i l m offers su r pr i si ngl y l i t t l e i n t er ms of bui l d- up
and exposi t i on, but nevert hel ess i t s i ntenti ons ar e clear. Thi s i s largel y t hanks to i t s styl e:
i ts use of col our, the omni presence of the ster i l e ci tyscape, t he desi gn of t he protagoni st's
t i dy concrete apar t ment . As in t he di rector's previ ous f i l ms, for m and cont ent are very
much entwi ned.
Secondly, Tetsuo lI i nt roduces physi cal i ty as an al ternati ve to desensi ti sati on. Present
i n Tetsuo i n a very mi nor, al most subl i mi nal way - support i ng t he readi ng of Tetsuo as an
i nsti ncti ve fi l m - by way of the pi ctures of athletes that adorn Yatsu's scrap metal hi deout,
i n the fol l ow-up t hi s aspect i s brought very much to the foreground i n the shape of the ski nhead
cul t , whi ch consi sts of athl etes, bodybui l ders and boxers who push t hei r trai ni ng regi men
to extremes. Thei r muscul ar physi ques and shaved skul ls already emphasi si ng t hei r corpore­
al i ty, Tsukamoto f urt her under l i nes t hei r contrast wi th the l i fe of protagoni st Tani guchi by
styl i sti c means, l i ght i ng t hem in tones of blazi ng red versus t he spotl ess bl ue of day-to­
day urbani ty and opposi ng f i re wi th concrete and l i qui d wi th sol i d.
CHAPTER 6 I Return t o Metal I Tetsuo I I : The Body Hammer 93
However, the presence and i mportance of physi cal i ty is rather at odds wi th the theme
of fusi ng flesh and metal . Both aspects offer a possi bi l i ty of t ransfor mi ng t he weak and
desensi ti sed. Tsukamoto resolves t hi s confli ct to some extent by present i ng the f usi on of
f l esh and metal as supersedi ng physi cal l i mi ts. When the body has nowhere l eft to go by i ts
own natural means, bl endi ng i t wi th metal takes i t to an otherwi se unattai nabl e next l evel.
This i s what Yatsu ai ms to achi eve as the l eader of the cul t, by br i ngi ng i n a sci enti st and
experi ment i ng on the body of hi s gui nea pi g Tani guchi .
Thi s parti al l y effective sol uti on notwi thstandi ng, Tsukamoto appears to have recogni sed
that the two el ements are at odds wi th each other. He shows us that Yatsu's experi ments fai l :
t he del i berate i ntroducti on of metal i nto t he body backfi res and hi s subordi nates l i teral l y start
to rust. The mi x of metal and flesh does not work. Thi s conclusi on i s also reached i n Tani guchi's
own transformati on. Whi l e he does i ndeed turn i nto an amal gam of the mechani cal and the
organi c, i nto a l i vi ng weapon, thi s change i s not caused by the metal ri vet f i red i nto hi s chest
by the ski nheads that ki dnap hi s son, but i t i s the ki dnappi ng itself, and the anger, stress and
frustrati on that resul t from i t, that are the catal yst. The transformati on comes from i nsi de
hi mself, f r om hi s own body, mi nd and above al l emoti ons, somethi ng Yatsu fai l s to real i se as
he rejoi ces over hi s l ab rat's metamorphosi s. Unl i ke i n Tetsuo, the transformati on cannot be
provoked purel y f r om outsi de. Yatsu's revenge i n t he fi rst f i l m, a curse that t ur ned the protag­
oni st into a metal l i c monster, no l onger works here. The concl usi on Tsukamoto comes to i n
Tetsuo / I i s that t he i ndi vi dual needs t o fi nd t he abi l ity t o transform i nsi de hi msel f and that the
source of thi s t ransformati on l i es i n the desensi ti sed l i ves of contemporary ci ty fol k.
Above: Tani guchi ' s wife (Nobu Kanaoka) trapped in the l i on's den.
Opposite: The sal aryman's hi dden persona reveals itself.
94 I RON MAN - The Cinema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
However, wi thi n thi s themati c framework Tetsuo /I contai ns a di ssonant factor as wel l ,
anot her exampl e of confusi on. I n t he fi nal moments of t he f i l m, we see a l ong fl ashback to
the chi l dhood of both protagoni st and antagoni st, who are reveal ed to be l ong l ost brothers
separated after Tani guchi murdered t hei r father in a fit of rage that provoked the same, very
Cronenbergi an, transformati on i nto a human weapon i n hi m. Thi s gi ves us another source
for t he metamorphosi s and i s therefore at odds wi th t he factor of u rban desensi t i sat i on.
(The fl ashback scene i s open t o other i nterpretati ons, though, i ncl udi ng t hat i t under l i nes
Tetsuo's suggesti on that protagoni st and antagoni st are two si des of the same coi n. I t coul d
al so be read as Tsukamoto' s acknowl edgement of the conti nued presence i n hi s work of
hi s chi l dhood i nfl uences. )
These confusi ons i n i ts themati c content poi nt to Tetsuo Ifs status as a transi ti onal
work. The concl usi on for the character of Tani guchi i s that "he found beauty i n destruct i on,"
as hi s brot her puts i t. Whi l e the f i l m's evol uti on is a neat one, parti cul arl y when seen in the
context of Tsukamoto' s enti re oeuvre - i t departs from the ground rul es l ai d down by Tetsuo
and arri ves at a poi nt that provi des the basi s for hi s l ater work - t hi s concl usi on is where
the fi l m ends: in the beauty of destructi on, f ul l stop. I n a dreaml i ke epi l ogue we see the Tani guchi
fami l y reuni ted i n the warm gl ow of a summer sun, standi ng at the centre of a r ui ned ci ty.
Wi th hi s next f i l m Tokyo Fist, however, Tsukamoto woul d take yet another step further and
di scover beauty not i n destructi on, but after i t. Not coi nci dental ly, t hi s meant steppi ng out of
the confi nes of cyberpunk.
CHAPTER 6 1 Return to Metal I Tetsuo I I : The Body Hammer 95
If I compare hi m to Tetsuo and Hiruko, thi s l i ttl e brother i s more l i ke a cyni cal second son.
As a parent I gave hi m a l ot of l ove, j ust l i ke my ot her chi l dren, but he sti l l turned out somewhat
cyni cal . Whether other peopl e l ove hi m i s a bi t uncl ear. He recei ved a Jury Speci al Menti on
at a festi val and peopl e tol d me that i t' s a good pri ze, but I al ways fi nd i t an odd reward. I t's
f unny that such a pecul i ar fi l m shoul d get such a pecul i ar pri ze. Tetsuo /l i s nei ther an abandoned
chi l d nor a chi l d smothered i n l ove. He's ki nd of cyni cal , a chi l d wi th mi xed feel i ngs. But
Tetsuo /I al l owed me to t ravel abroad and meet a l ot of peopl e. I real i sed that even i n forei gn
count r i es t here are many peopl e who l i ke my f i l ms, so i n a certai n sense i t was a t ur ni ng
poi nt for me as wel l . Al so, i t's t he fi rst of my f i l ms that cl earl y shows t he t heme of man i n hi s
modern urban envi ronment and that too makes i t a speci al f i l m.
- Shinya Tsukamoto
96 I RON MAN - The Ci nema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
Above: Yatsu's experiments go badty awry.
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7. Fists, Fury and Feminism
Tokyo Fist (1995)
Two men, close childhood friends who went their separate ways as adults, are reunited
through circumstance, their meeting setting in motion a chain of life-altering events that
continue where they left off as kids.
The basic plot of Tokyo Fist is almost identical to the story of the making of the film,
which brought back together Shinya and Koji Tsukamoto, brothers who had led separate lives
since the joint filmmaking ventures of their early teens. Ever since Koji left the family home to
begin working as a cook, the brothers rarely saw each other. New Year's parties served as
virtually the only occasions for them to talk. "At those family gatherings I would usually talk
about boxing and my training in the gym," remembers Koji, who had taken up boxing in his
late teens and was still training regularly, "about the fighters who weren't that good and who
took a lot of punishment because they lacked talent. From time to time a journalist would
come to the gym and one of them told me once that I should write a book about my experi­
ences in the gym, because he felt they were very interesting stories. When I told Shinya about
this, he said: ' Don't sell those stories off, we could use them for a film in the future.' We both
felt it would be a good idea for a film and that we should try to make it some day."
More than a few New Years passed before Shinya decided to act on this mutual intent.
"I started boxing in high school, third grade," says Koji, "and basically haven't stopped since.
Even when I was studying to be a cook, I was trying to become a boxer at the same time. My
first match was at 23, when I was already working in a hotel. After that, someone at a different
gym asked me to work for him as a trainer and I did that for about five years. Then at 28 I got
the desire to get back into the ring myself. Myfamily became very worried, especially my mother."
Shinya concurs: "Koji fought only that one fight and got damaged pretty badly. When
he got the idea into his head that he wanted to get up into the ring again, my mother was
very worried about him. That's when I figured that instead of getting into the ring for real, Koji
could get into the ring in my film. That way everybody was happy: I had a new story to tell, he
could be in the ring and my mother could be at ease." Adds Koji: "I think Shinya also made
Tokyo Fist for the family, in that sense."
Remembering his excitement over his brother's acting prowess in his 8mm films, Shinya
set about convincing Koji to take part in the film. "I didn't really know what it meant to be an
actor, so when Shinya asked me to play one of the leads I just said, ' Yeah:okay'," Koji laughs.
CHAPTER 7 I Fists, Fury and Femi ni sm I Tokyo Fist 113
' ' The one thing that made me hesitate was my job. I knew that Shinya usually takes a long time
to shoot his films and since I hardly had any holidays at work, I realised that committing myself
to the film meant that I had to quit my job. For this reason I hesitated for quite a while and
during that time Shinya tried to convince me to say yes, but in very subtle ways. He didn't hold
any long monologues, he would just say things like ' Filmmaking is really fun' from time to time."
Although Shinya, knowing how his parents reacted when he himself quit his job,
didn' t want his brother to give up work just for the film, to Koji it felt like an inevitability. At
the time, he was working as the head chef at Hirai, a restaurant in Tokyo's classy Ginza
district that specialised in traditional Japanese cuisine and that enjoyed a fair amount of
renown. "Shinya started visiting my gym with his assistant director and began working out
there himself. Every time he was there he would keep telling me: ' Koji, let's make a movie
together: in the hope of convincing me to do the film. The owner of Hirai didn't want me to
quit my job, since I was the head cook." Feeling caught in a battle of wills between the
restaurant owner and the film director, Koji eventually chose Shinya's side. "When the owner
realised I had made up my mind, he didn't speak to me for the entire three months until my
actual departure."
Koji left his place of work at the end of 1993, with cameras expected to roll two
months later, in February. There was no screenplay in existence at this point, only the director's
treatment, entitled Gozen no Bokusa [tr: Morning boxer]. Based on Koji's stories, it dealt
with an unmotivated boxer who only trains in the mornings before going to his daytime job
as an office worker. In January, Hiromi Aihara and Kiyo Joo took the project to the Rotterdam
Film Festival in The Netherlands, hoping to secure additional financing for the film through
114 I RON MAN - The Ci nema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
a foreign investor. The project participated in the festival's Cine mart co-production program
under the code-like working title B.P, short for Boxer Project. "It was our first experience
of that kind," remembers Joo. "There was some interest, but still, Tsukamoto's style is very
cult and many distributors had doubts about whether the film could make money, so we
couldn't get any attractive deals. Today I can understand, but at the time Tsukamoto's name
was becoming better known and we were very enthusiastic. We hoped that we would definitely
be able to get some money from outside Japan, but the result wasn't what we expected.
At least we did some promotion for Tokyo Fist and get the buzz going that Tsukamoto was
making this film."
Above: Tsukamoto directs Tokyo Fist, i n and out of make-up.
Opposite: Tsuda ( Shi nya Tsukamoto) smi l es through the brui ses.
Tsukamoto later turned down an offer from Japanese production company Asmik
Ace, whose home video arm had released the domestic laserdisc editions of Tetsuo: The
Iron Man and Hiruko the Goblin. Valuing his independence above al l else, he instead
invested his own money, borrowed modest sums from friends and made various sponsorship
agreements with small businesses that supplied props and materials. This would become
his customary method of raising funds for the independent films that were to follow.
Paradoxically, at the same time Tsukamoto was considering the possibility of hiring
an outside writer and cinematographer to work on the project with him. "I wanted to ask
someone to write the script because my original plan was to make a documentary-style
film. I thought someone else might be better at that than I was. Also, I wanted to act in the
film myself and try to shoot the film as quickly as possible. For these reasons I thought
about working with a screenwriter and a cinematographer."
The writer Tsukamoto selected was Hisashi Saito, a screenwriter and director who
had participated in the PIA Film Festival in 1985 with his 8mm film Ushiro Atama [tr: Back
head] and made his feature debut the following year with Haikaburi Hime Monogatari [tr:
Cinderella story], financed with a PIA scholarship. Tsukamoto says he chose him on the
strength of Shunichi Nagasaki's made-for-TV film Last Drive (Saigo no Doraibu, 1992), which
CHAPTER 7 I Fists, Fury and Femi ni sm I Tokyo Fist 115
Saito had scripted. The screenwriter went to work after reading Tsukamoto's Gozen no
Bokusa treatment, but his finished script hardly resembled the director's outline, revolving
around a businessman who kills his girlfriend after she has an affair with a boxer. Tsukamoto:
"I didn't like this idea much. I discussed my thoughts with Saito, who answered that it was
either this screenplay or nothing. He didn't want to change it. So I decided not to use his
script, but I found the idea of the love triangle quite interesting and used it for my own
screenplay." For his troubles, Saito ended up with a shared "Original story by" credit on
the finished film.
The problems with financing and the screenplay had set the production back by
several months. Koji, who had quit his job in December, was filling his time in the gym.
Without a finished screenplay he was unable to do much else in terms of preparation for
his character. Another factor in the delay was the casting. With the brothers taking up the
parts of the two male protagonists, an actress still had to be found for the pivotal female
lead. Tsukamoto was looking for someone with the right "face and aura" to portray the self­
confident Hizuru, but wasn't having much luck: "It took me a lot of time to find the right
actress for the part and I didn't figure out until very late that there are guides with listings
of actors." Leafing through them, his eyes fell on Kaori Fujii, an actress with only a few
supporting roles to her name, none of which were anything like the part Tsukamoto wanted
to offer her. "Normally she tends to play more demure women's roles," he says, "but her
agent really liked the screenplay of Tokyo Fist and urged her to do it." A glance at her earlier
work confirmed Tsukamoto's impression of Fujii: "There's a very typical style of acting
among Japanese actors, a very drama school type performance that you tend to see in TV
series a lot. It's the kind of actor I avoid. I saw one of Fujii's earlier films and noticed that
her style is of a very different type."
In the supporting roles the director cast two of his earlier collaborators, Naomasa
Musaka, who since appearing in Tetsuo had gone on to quite a prolific screen career, and
Hiruko's Naoto Takenaka, who the previous year had reversed the roles by casting
Tsukamoto as an actor in Quiet Days of Firemen (119, 1994), which Takenaka directed.
The two men were cast as the boxing coaches of the character Kojima, who was to be
played by Koji. With a cast decided and the screenplay finished, the cameras finally rolled
in June 1994, four months later than intended. Koji found himself with a lead part that was
greatly expanded from Saito's original script, which caused no end of nerves for the novice
actor: "Three days before the first day of shooting I did a dialogue rehearsal with Kaori
Fujii, which Shinya filmed with a video camera. When we watched that footage at home, I
understood that I really had to try harder. It was a bit shocking to see myself in a movie
again for the first time since my childhood. I'm sure Shinya must have been even more
shocked, even though he didn't tell me. I really noticed my weak points, like how often I blinked
while I was talking. I pointed those out to Shinya, but he just went 'Uh-huh'. I think that's
what he was after; he wanted me to notice my own mistakes. He never rubbed my nose in
it, but I could certainly sense a kind of silent pressure from him to improve my performance.
I tried to work hard and do my best. Even on set while he was taking care of the lighting,
I was still going through my lines in the screenplay, even though I already knew them by
heart at that point. It happened only once that I forgot my dialogue, during a long take
with Kaori Fujii, and Shinya immediately got very angry. He didn't really say anything, but
the tension rose very suddenly. It was quite scary."
116 I RON MAN - The Ci nema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
Having renounced the idea of bringing in a scriptwriter and a director of photog­
raphy, Tsukamoto was back to doing everything by himself on set, in addition to playing
the film's lead character. Originally intended as a one-month shoot, production again
continued for longer than envisioned and it took four and a half months to complete the
film's principal photography. "The first two months of shooting were the hardest," says K6ji,
"since many of the dialogue scenes were shot first. Also, we shot seven days a week, with
no days off. It was quite tough, but at the same time the atmosphere was very joyful and I
really had the sense that we were achieving something special. Before that, when I was
still working as a cook, I would work out in the gym in the mornings, then go to my job
and work until night. That was a tough schedule too and repetitive as well. Making the film
wasn't that much tougher and every day was different, so it was a very enjoyable and
exciting experience for me."
Tsukamoto left the choreography of the film's numerous fight scenes, in and out of
the ring, to his brother. "Shinya didn't interfere with the choreography that much. He would
usually go along with my suggestions. We took two or three days to decide the choreog­
raphy of the fights. I gathered the boxers who would act in the film and used each fighter's
individual skill as the basis for the movements. We essentially just practised inside the ring
and came up with good results very quickly. It was fairly easy. For Shinya's character I
based the movements on former world champion K6ichi Wajima, who plays the gym owner
in the film." Adds the director: "I told K6ji what was supposed to happen in a scene and left
it up to him to design the choreography. I then decided the staging, the editing and the
camera positions and in most cases the end result was almost seamless."
CHAPTER 7 I Fists, Fury and Femi ni sm I Tokyo Fist 117
Lef: Tsuda cowers before his wife Hi zuru (Kaori Fuj i i ) .
Right: Hi zuru achi eves her own l i beration through pai n.
The climax of Tokyo Fisfs fight scenes was Kojima's battle with the daunting Kumagaki,
for which Tsukamoto used a large number of extras as ringside spectators to the match. 1 7
"I t looks like there i s a really big crowd around that fight, but i t was always the same group
of people. I filled the background of every shot, but that was it. Outside the frame the stands
were empty." The enthusiastic performances of the extras, who relish every moment of the
bloody battle between the ropes, contributed greatly to the impact of the scene. "I always
explain to my extras that they are just as much actors as the film's leads, because I want
them to take their work seriously. Usually extras have the urge to not act, because they
figure they're just background." Although Tsukamoto feels he overdid the make-up effects
on Koji's face, the scene made an impression even on seasoned professional boxers,
including the owner of Koji's gym: "He saw the film and told me, ' Well, you finally boxed a
great match'," Koji laughs.
Visually the film followed on from Tetsuo II, with its use of red and orange as dominant
colours. Tsukamoto had briefly considered shooting the film in black and white: "I made a
scrapbook with pictures and ideas for the film and it included a lot of black and white
photographs. Black and white is very suited to a boxing movie, with all its sweat and steam,
but there is already Raging Bul, so I decided against it."
An additional visual continuation can be found in the symbolic use of locations and
sets, in particular the contrast between the apartments of salary man Tsuda, all chrome
and concrete like that of his colleague Taniguchi in Tetsuo II, and that of Kojima, a room in
a dilapidated two-storey wooden house dwarfed by giant tower blocks. A rare find in a city
where the past is often hastily covered in concrete, the old house was an actual, if abandoned,
structure in Shinjuku. Although its interiors were shot in a different building in the city's
118 I RON MAN - The Ci nema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
Ebisu area, the contrast between the place and its surroundings perfectly symbolised
Tsukamoto's main theme of urban sterility versus physicality, which in Tokyo Fist would be
expressed more clearly than in any of his previous films. Fittingly, the wooden house in
Shinjuku would be demolished not long after the film was completed.
Musically, however, the film went in a different direction than its predecessor, to
reflect the move away from cyberpunk and science fiction. Though still heavily percussion­
based, ChO Ishikawa's score left the metal for what it was and replaced it with music based
on the rhythmic thumps of a boxer hitting a punching ball. "That was Tsukamoto's idea,"
Ishikawa's admits. "He lived near a boxing gym and he said that when a really good boxer
is at the punching ball, the sound is very rhythmic, almost like music. When I started
working with the idea I realised that the sound of the actual punching ball itself is too flat
to use as music. I needed it to be strong, so I replicated it electronically by doubling the
sound of a bass drum and adding a few metal noises to it as well. It needed to express a
feeling of solidity."
Tsukamoto's clarity of vision regarding the film not only had an effect on its making
- he says it was the easiest of his films to edit - but also on the response the film received
after completion. "I always had the impression that my films were more appreciated abroad;'
he says, "but with Tokyo Fist the
reactions in Japan were all very
positive. It was much more
accepted by the film community
at large than my previous work."
The film premiered in November
1995, simultaneously at the Turin
Film Festival in Italy and in
competition at the Tokyo offshoot
of Robert Redford's Sundance
Film Festival, where it snapped
up the Grand Prize. Tsukamoto
used the accompanying financial
reward to blow the film up from
its original 16mm to 35 and "with
what I had left I paid my crew."
At the end of the year
Tokyo Fist ended up on many
critics' ten-best lists, including
that of Japan's oldest and most
respected film magazine Kinema
Junp6, whose end-of-year lists
generally tend toward the
conservative. The publication
also awarded K6ji its prize for the
year's best new actor, prompting
his decision to continue his
career in cinema: "After we made
CHAPTER 7 I Fists. Fury and Femi ni sm I Tokyo Fist 119
the film I felt that I would like to continue acting, but it was little more than a feeling. What
actually sparked it was winning the award from Kinema Junpo. That same day I received a
message on my phone from Shinya, saying: ' Congratulations, you should really think about
joining a talent agency. I don't know any, though.' In other words: you have to do it yourself,"
he laughs. Shinya: "I still felt he should keep his day job as a cook."
However, Tsukamoto's decision to keep all aspects of production in his own hands meant
a split with Hiromi Aihara, albeit an amicable one. Aihara explains the motivation behind her
decision at the time: "Since he likes to do everything himself it was up to me to take care of
the distribution and the promotion. I just needed a break. We never had a problem with each
other and I still love him and his films. The beginning of my career was with Tsukamoto-san,
so I really appreciate him. Still today if I have a chance I try to support him."
The most fundamental change, however, was in the relationship between brothers
Shinya and Koji. "Shinya and I were working together every day," Koji says, "whereas we hardly
ever saw each other in the ten years before that. Our relationship changed, but what was
interesting is that it initially became more like a relationship between director and actor. I
tried hard to become a real actor and I probably unconsciously tried to create that kind of
professional relationship with him. That actually continued for quite a while, even after the
film was finished." Adds Shinya: "We definitely became closer than we had been for a long
time, we worked together to achieve the same goal. In Japan kids are so busy going to
school and studying, that they only meet their brothers and sisters at night when they go to
sleep. Through filmmaking I got to work with him and as a result we became a lot closer
than we ever were as children."
There are more than a few similarities between Tokyo Fist and Tetsuo II: its salaryman
protagonist, its love triangle structure, its opening montage of men engaging in feverish physical
exercise, its use of sports as a symbol of physicality and of course the theme of breaking
out of desensitised city life. Such similarities indicate that Tokyo Fist is a continuation of its
predecessor's thematic concerns. Above all, though, it is an expansion.
Tokyo Fist steps out of cyberpunk confines and into the real world, a move that is
much to its benefit. It becomes a film about life, about contemporary society. These are of course
the things Tsukamoto's work had been concerned with all along, they were just somewhat
distorted by the sci-fi filter. Stripped of such excess baggage, Tokyo Fist is lean, clear and
completely focused, the film by which the director achieves maturity as an artist.
The move away from cyberpunk goes hand in hand with a thematic leap. Rather than
finding beauty in destruction (something that serves no higher purpose), the characters of
Tokyo Fist find liberation through the rediscovery of their own bodies and senses. Destruction
becomes an intermediary step on the way to a new phase in life. Destruction is not a rebirth,
as in Tetsuo II, but a cocoon stage; the rebirth comes afterward.
Insurance salesman Tsuda sufers frm chrnic fatigue. Attempting to sell policies door-to­
door to invariably disinterested clients, he slogs his way thrugh the summer heat in his suit
and tie, wiping the sweat of his brw. When a colleague asks him to make a delivery Tsuda
deviates frm his normal rute and finds himself in a boxing gym. There he meets Kojma, a
former classmate from his high school days. When in the following days Kojima starts turing
up on his doorstep uninvited, even when Tsuda is of to work during the day the salaryman
suspects his wife Hizuru of having an afair with the boxer Afer his suspicions seem to be
confirmed by a crank call, Tsuda goes to Kojima' rickety house in a jealous rage, only to
find that the boxer has been waiting for him. He ends up punched thrugh a wall and bleeding,
while Hizuru, who followed in his wake, ends up fascinated with Kojima' strength. Tsuda
apologises to Hizuru during her birthday dinner but he fies of on another tangent the same
evening. That night, Hizuru packs her bags and moves in with Kojima. Filled with feelings of
jealousy humiliation and rage, Tsuda joins Kojima's boxing gym to train his own body for
imminent revenge and to win back his wife.
The opening scenes of Tokyo Fist make the film's central point immediately clear, juxtaposing
a frantic montage of shadowboxing and bursting flesh with scenes from Tsuda's daily grind.
The explosive energy of the montage finds its polar opposite in the protagonist's drudgery,
which is entirely devoid of bodily sensations. The only manifestation of physicality apparent
in Tsuda is his profuse sweating, something that to him is only a nuisance. This desensi­
tised state is communicated visually by the cityscape, which is all concrete, steel and glass.
The closest thing to a sign of life in this city is the traffic.
While on his way to hospital to visit his ailing father, Tsuda passes an alleyway that is
as impeccably clean as the rest of the town, save forthe decomposing, maggot-infested corpse
of a cat. Fascinated and repulsed at the same time, he takes a closer look, but ends up
running away from his own gag reflex. It's a tiny crack in the sterile surface, but the effect on
Tsuda is immediate. Compared to this scene of unveiled decay, the hospital comes across
CHAPTER 7 I Fists, Fury and Femi ni sm I Tokyo Fist 121
Husband and wife go thei r separate ways.
as a relief: Tsuda's father looks almost angelic as he lies asleep in his white room, his white
hairs carefully draped across his white pillow as white-clad nurses tidy up around him. This
society's urge to remove all signs of decay becomes apparent when upon his return Tsuda
finds that the dead cat has already been removed from the alley. This is echoed later on in
the film, when Tsuda arrives at the hospital to find his father's room restored to its original
impeccable state, clean sheets and all, mere moments after the old man's death.
The implication of this way of life is what lies at the heart of the film and of Tsukamoto's
work: no confrontation with decay, pain or death means no confrontation with life. The positive
cannot be valued or even sensed without exposure to the negative. In Tsukamoto's work, experi­
encing and enduring pain is a method to rediscover your senses and to be reminded of the
fact that you are alive. This is not as fantastical or odd as it may sound. None of us may
intentionally wish to experience pain, but the director's message is essentially nothing more
than pinching yourself to realise that you're not dreaming: pain is the ultimate form of awareness
of one's body and environment.
Tsuda's removal from the physical is shown numerous times in the early section of
the film: his gagging at the sight of the dead cat, his chronic fatigue, the fact that neither he
nor Hizuru can remember the last time they had sex. The confrontation with Kojima's world
only emphasises this, which Tsukamoto expresses through the film's style: Tsuda's first visit
to the boxing gym on behalf of his colleague is filled with point-of-view shots in which injured,
bleeding, half-naked men walk into the camera wherever it goes. When he faces Kojima in
his house, the physical differences between the two men are shown by having Tsuda stand
still as Kojima rains his punches down on him. And when he takes up boxing himself, Tsuda
becomes a twitching, nervous wreck as he prepares to hit a punch bag for the first time.
Throughout the film, Tsukamoto intentionally exaggerates pain, injury and violence -with blood
spurting in copious quantities and facial bruises the size of hamburger buns - expressing
how alien and threatening they seem to Tsuda and all those who are removed from the
physical world. I n the director's opinion this also includes the viewer, judging from the many
first-person shots of fists pounding into the camera and therefore into the audience.
CHAPTER 7 I Fists, Fury and Femi ni sm I Tokyo Fist 123
The key to the change in Tsuda lies in his capacity for jealousy. Awakened by catalyst
Kojima, it is an emotion that creates a rage inside him, a sensation in other words, which
translates itself into a desire for physical action. The emotion reawakens his awareness of
his body and its functions and abilities, which he decides to act on by joining Kojima's gym
(which also allows him direct access to Kojima in order to feed his jealous anger and thereby
have a constant motivation).
The last time Tsuda felt such sensations was in high school, as is revealed in a flashback
in which he and Kojima, then classmates, vow to take revenge on a group of rapists (the leader
of whom is played by ChQ Ishikawa). Their plan fails when the culprits are arrested before the
boys can get their hands on them, leaving Tsuda and Kojima to release their bundled-up energy
and rage by running wild, vandalising and guzzling beer. In recounting the memory to Hizuru,
Kojima tells her that the rage on her husband's face now is the same as back then.
This flashback sequence is different from the one at the end of Tetsua II. It no longer
has a purely narrative, expositional function, but it also puts youth into thematic context. Within
the motif of corporeality versus desensitisation, youth and particularly adolescence is a period
of pure vitality, of freedom of body and mind, not yet reined in by society. Kojima tells Hizuru
that they vowed to learn how to box so they could get their revenge once the rapists were
released, but thatTsuda gave up on his vow upon graduation and became a regular office worker.
In other words, becoming a part of adult society means giving up on physical and emotional
drives. Through this the sequence also announces the subject matter of Tsukamoto's next
film Bulet Balet, which makes youths who run wild just before joining the adult world one of
its main concerns.
Where Tsuda once gave up his urges and conformed, he now does the opposite and
breaks with social codes. He stays absent from his job, doesn't pay his rent and above all he
directly expresses his emotions. He ruptures with the principle of hanne and tatemae, a
fundamental notion of Japanese social behaviour that indicates the two, often contrasting,
faces people wear: that of hanne, or private feelings and motivations, and tatemae, that of the
surface appearance or facade of socially acceptable behaviour. With the dominance of tatemae
over hanne in all social interaction, it could be said that Tsukamoto's thematic contrast of
Lef: Tsuda i n the steri l e envi ronment of the hospi tal .
Right: Former real -li fe boxi ng champ K6i chi Waji ma.
124 I RON MAN - The Ci nema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
corporeality and desensitisation mirrors this very concept, and that desensitisation, or the
repression of one's true feelings, is at the heart of Japan's social mores.
This break with social codes is true for the two other lead characters as well. The film's
quality (and again its improvement over earlier works) lies for a good part in the definition of
its characters. Kojima is not just a villain whose only role is to provide a catalyst for the protag­
onist's transformation. Initially he is defined through the contrast he forms with Tsuda. To
achieve this, Tsukamoto employs an inversion of the environmental contrast of Akira Kurosawa's
High and Low (Tengoku to Jigoku, 1963), which showed Toshir6 Mifune's isolated villa looking
down upon a vast shanty town.18In Tokyo Fist it is Kojima's decrepit wooden house that stands
isolated amid gleaming tower blocks, a tiny pocket of physicality in a sterile concrete wasteland.19
As the film progresses, however, Kojima's own psychology is revealed and he becomes
a character in his own right, beyond his function as a contrast to Tsuda. He is defined by his
fear of stepping into the ring, a fear that is symbolised, in a similar way to the exaggeration of
pain and violence, by his next opponent, the ruthless boxer Kumagaki. This almost inhuman
fighting machine keeps score of his victims with tattoos on his upper arm, his opponents, including
Kojima's friend Aoki, usually ending their bouts in the morgue. Kojima's reluctance to admit his
fears motivates his behaviour toward both Tsuda and Hizuru: he attempts to sublimate his
insecurities with domineering behaviour.
Hizuru too is a remarkably well-defined character. In fact it's her character that consti­
tutes a great part of the leap Tsukamoto makes from Tetsuo /I to Tokyo Fist. It picks up a
126 I RON MAN - The Ci nema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
Koji ma' s si ni ster coach ( Naoto Takenaka).
Hi zuru i s all woman.
thread left hanging since The Adventure of Denchu Kozo, that of the woman's dominance
over the man. Where Denchu Kozo's Ms. Sariba was essentially an archetypal mentor
character, Tokyo Fist shows its female protagonist undertaking a path to - and achieving -
empowerment, liberation and enlightenment. Quite a contrast with the passive, and essentially
redundant, character of Kana in Tetsuo II.
Throughout the film it is not so much Hizuru who is defined by her relationship to the
male characters, as it is the men who define themselves through their relationship with her,
without realising it. For Hizuru, the oppressions to overcome are two-fold: in addition to being
victim to the same desensitisation as all of Tsukamoto's characters, she also has to wrest
loose from her husband's oppression, the petty jealousies that hide a fundamental fear of
being surpassed by his wife, or rather the denial of having already been surpassed. From the
first scene in which we see them together, Hizuru comes off as the stronger and more self­
assured of the couple. When she suggests becoming the breadwinner after Tsuda's fatigues
get him down, her husband's reaction is to dismiss the notion offhand. He would rather fool
himself into believing he is boss than accept her help. The dress she wears and that he bought
her as a present is symbolic in this respect, both of their relationship and of Tsuda's person­
ality: a shapeless, unflattering white get-up that hides her body much in the way their daily routine
and his chronic fatigue cover up their intimacy.
The visual signs of Hizuru's awakening always come in the shape of different clothing.
First in the photograph of her in a swimsuit that sends Tsuda into a rage and later in the tight
CHAPTER 7 I Fists, Fury and Femi ni sm I Tokyo Fist 127
black t-shirt and hot pants she wears after she has left her husband. For her too, Kojima is a
catalyst, his muscular figure representing something that is missing in her life with Tsuda: the
sensation of the physical. Her fascination for the interloper is not of the kind Kojima hopes,
however. It is not about cheating on her husband, but about achieving her personal liberation.
When Kojima tries to kiss her, she coolly stops him and even after she moves in with him she
sleeps not just with her back to him but actually with her body in the opposite direction, her
head toward the foot of the bed.
This pattern of the men misunderstanding her repeats itself throughout the film. Her
husband keeps thinking that she is cheating on him and that the physical transformation she
goes through is the result of Kojima's influence over her, when in fact Hizuru's experimenta­
tions with self-inflicted pain through piercing and tattoos is entirely of her own free will and
choice. Kojima in fact doesn't want her to hurt herself, as it damages the image he has of
her as tender and frail. When she asks him to hit her he refuses, saying that boxing is not for
her. He too wants to keep her down by isolating her from the boys' games, but what Kojima
and Tsuda don't realise - and herein lies the feminist core of the film - is that by trying to
keep her down, they are actually keeping themselves down, losing themselves in displays of
macho rivalry. Whenever Tsuda isn't involved in this rivalry he is completely lost, wandering
the town as a lonely soul. Without Hizuru he becomes just a guy with no wife and no job,
pathetic and dishevelled.
Hizuru achieves her liberation much earlier than the two men. While they are still
pounding each other in the gym she removes her piercings (by way of which both she and
the director move beyond the fusion of flesh and metal) and empties a cup of water over her
head to signal the end of her experimentations. After this liberation it is she who inspires the
two men: Tsuda realises he no longer feels tired after she has beaten his face to a hideous
pulp and reduced him to a slobbering wreck by her mere gaze; Kojima finds the key to
conquering his fears of stepping into the ring after he too accepts his inferior position in her
sight. Once she has had him on his knees, crying and confessing his insecurities, she rebuilds
his strength and his belief in his own physical prowess by having sex with him. Her power
over the two men thus becomes absolute, but they can only face up to this fact once they've
discarded their self-deluding notions of their own virility. This is symbolised in a very Freudian
way through the horseradish she buys, which breaks in two during the tussle with her husband.
The manner in which the fates of these three characters are entwined in the narrative
and how their development represents the film's thematic substance shows the degree of
focus and clarity of Tokyo Fist. After Hizuru puts them both in their place, Tsuda and Kojima
engage each other in their long-awaited sparring match, pummelling one another with relish
and thereby at last finding their own liberation. When Tsuda consequently winds up in hospital
on account of the face wound that, very significantly, won't stop bleeding, he has created the
opposite to his father's sanitised hospital situation and broken through society's urge to
eradicate decay. His blood stains not only his bandages, but also his clothes, his bed and
even the nurses tending to him. It's at this point that he finally understands that his wife
achieved her own liberation, expressed in a hallucination in which he sees her ripping the
piercings out of her body and literally achieving enlightenment. At the same moment Kojima
steps into the ring, overcoming his fear of death and defeat to vanquish the dreaded Kumagaki.
He emerges victorious with a mutilated face as a testament to his newfound willingness to
embrace pain, injury and death.
128 I RON MAN - The Ci nema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
From Tokyo Fist onward I can't really compare my films to children any more. The name
'Tokyo Fist' just doesn't work for a child. The experiences of travelling abroad that I had after
Tetsuo /I made me contemplate my surroundings and my subjects much more seriously. I
thought more intensively about ways to express the subject. Koji was a boxer, which inspired
me to use boxing as subject for a film. When I went to see a professional match it really
seemed like two killers were out to get each other. There was something very wild and instinctive
to it that I wanted to try to get across in the film.
- Shinya Tsukamoto
Above: Tsuda prepares for the confrontati on with Koj i ma.
CHAPTER 7 I Fi sts, Fury and Femi ni sm I Tokyo Fist 129
8. The Black Hole
Bullet Ballet (1998)
Juvenile delinquency was one of the most common and recurring subjects in Japanese
cinema in the late 1990s. That decade, the country saw a wave of crimes committed by
underage offenders, some of them seemingly without motive or reason. Society was at a
loss to get to grips with the phenomenon, and its filmmakers, particularly those who were
still young enough to be able to sympathise with the plight of teenagers, explored various
possible explanations for it in their work. Not rarely they saw the burst of Japan's bubble
economy in the early '90s as a major contributing factor. Bringing an end to decades of
prosperity, the economic recession showed that the dream the Japanese had collectively
been chasing since the post-war reconstruction had been an illusion and that all the sacrifices
that had been made by slaving salarymen and their abandoned families had been pointless.
In that climate, was it really so surprising that the young rebelled against a system they
knew to be bankrupt?
Shinya Tsukamoto, whose own work shows such sensitivity to the problems in contem­
porary society, was one of the filmmakers who took an interest in the subject: "Around the
time that I was making Hiruko I heard that in Shibuya there were kids who were very polite
and docile at home, but once outside they would form delinquent gangs and systemati­
cally beat up salarymen. I realised that this was the generation after me, that I was older
than them, and that's when I had the idea for a story about a person of my generation
observing these kids."
As with Tokyo Fist, the trigger to start developing the idea into an actual film project
came several years later, with Tsukamoto realising that he was living a similar life to the
characters in his films: "Ever since I was a teenager I've been very aware of the fact that
we will all die one day. Whenever I thought about that fact, I would be very motivated to
achieve things, because life is limited. But in my late thirties I began to feel a kind of solitude.
I would work long hours at my office and sometimes I'd fall asleep there. When I woke up I
would look around and I would find myself all alone in that office with the TV still on. At such
moments I would have a really unpleasant feeling of loneliness. Also, I realised I had always
lived in an imaginary world, making movies. I felt I needed to get more in touch with reality.
I got the urge to go on a bicycle trip in Africa or something, anything that would put me
more in touch with the real world." The real world in fact came knocking in a place much
CHAPTER 8 I The Bl ack Hole I Bul l et Bal let 131
closer to home. One night while parking his bicycle outside the train station near his office,
the director was mugged by a group of teenage delinquents. "I felt scared," he admits, "but
at the same time I observed them as well."
Thus the plot for Bulet Balet was born, much like its predecessor a very direct reflection
of events in Tsukamoto's own life; "The mentality of the protagonist in each of my films is very
similar to my own feelings at that time," he says. Tellingly, he made the main character of Bulet
Balet an executive at a production company for television commercials: "I wanted the film to
be as realistic as possible. And since the only thing I know about normal life is my job in
advertising, I decided to give the character the same profession. Also, there used to be a very
famous ad director called Toshi Sugiyama. He made a lot of commercials in the '70s. All of his
work was very cheerful and happy, but he committed suicide at the age of 37. When I made
Bulet Balet I was 37 years old, so the protagonist also became a kind of homage to Sugiyama."
The Sugiyama influence is apparent in the story in the suicide of protagonist Goda's
longtime girlfriend, which kicks off the proceedings and forms the driving force behind Goda's
actions. The gun she used to take her own life, a .38 Special, becomes the symbolic means
by which the protagonist attempts to negate his numbness and subsequently to comprehend
his girlfriend's motivations. It is also one of the reasons behind Tsukamoto's choice to shoot
in black and white for the first time since Tetsuo. In common with his breakthrough film, the
lack of colour reflects the metallic sheen of the weapon and its ammunition.
However, in addition to these two sources lifted from his own experiences, Tsukamoto
introduced a third ingredient into the drama: the presence of a female character, Chisato.
Very much a continuation of the role Hizuru played in Tokyo Fist, the character of Chisato
follows her own path, employing the presence of the men around her to her own needs
and revealing herself to be mentally stronger than any of them. For the part Tsukamoto
cast the inexperienced Kirina Mano, a 19-year-old, tomboyish model with only a smattering
of acting experience. "The first thing that struck me about her was her face;' the director recalls.
"Then we met and I found out that she didn't have much acting experience and had no
knowledge of acting. But I'd worked with non-actors before in my films, so I didn't mind.
The look in her eyes was very strong and she had an aura of coolness. Also, she didn't
mind cutting her hair short for the role."
Mano was not the only novice in the cast. After the positive results he achieved with
his brother on Tokyo Fist, the director was clearly confident about working with non-actors.
In the part of club owner Idei, the older leader and manipulator of the gang of young delinquents,
Tsukamoto selected musician Tatsuya Nakamura, drummer with the rock band Blankey Jet
City. "Whenever I have an idea for a film, I make a kind of scrapbook in which I collect pictures
that have some connection with the mood and the theme I am after. For Bulet Balet I found
a picture of Nakamura and I felt that his style was very much suited to what I was looking
for." As the pimp and would-be gun dealer who cons Goda out of a large sum of money, the
director selected filmmaker Kazuyuki Izutsu. "I knew Izutsu was a good actor. He played a
small role in Y6ichi Sai's film MARKS [Makusu no Yama, 1997]. He only had two short scenes
in it, one of which was as a dead body. But from the other scene, a brief moment in which
you see him running through a train station, I could tell that he was a good actor. He brought
a lot of extra things to his part in Bulet Balet, little gestures and such. I thought at first that
he improvised them, but he would do the same gestures on several takes, which means
that he really thought carefully about his acting."
132 I RON MAN - The Ci nema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
Lef: Youth run wi l d i n the streets of Tokyo.
Right: Chi sato (Ki ri na Mana) beneath Gada's sheets.
The four actors that made up the group of punks were also newcomers, while Koji
Tsukamoto returned in a small role as a hoodlum. On the opposite end of the spectrum there
was Kyoka Suzuki, a prolific and well-known actress with whom Tsukamoto had co-starred in
Naoto Takenaka's Quiet Days of Firemen. Tsukamoto clarifies his approach to working with
his cast: "Whether the actor is a professional or not, at the start I give no direction at all. I
leave them to interpret the part freely. That way they bring their own personality to the role.
It's only after that that I give some indications and start to modify their basic interpretation."
Bullet Ballet was once again financed as an entirely independent production. By now,
however, Tsukamoto had built a core of regular crew members, some of who were still with
him from the time he made Hiruko the Goblin, such as assistant director Shinichi Kawahara.
"On Tetsuo II all the crew members were roughly the same age. By the time we did Bullet
Ballet, there was a clear distinction in age between the newcomers and those who had
worked with Tsukamoto in the past."
Kawahara had taken a leave of absence during the making of Tokyo Fist, when he
was busy mounting his own stage production. "After we finished Tetsuo IIthere was no certainty
that I would work with Tsukamoto again in the future. I worked on Tetsuo II from the beginning
to the very end, I was even involved in the distribution. Tsukamoto told me once that he
considers every film he makes as his own child, which is why he takes care of it from the
first idea until the very end. That really stuck with me and I felt that perhaps I too should
make and raise my own child. I should take care to do the things I want to do." Audience
interest in the play he and a number of his old university friends mounted was disappointing,
however, and Kawahara next took a job at record label and video distributor Culture Publishers,
which brought him little satisfaction: "I worked there for about eighteen months. Before that
my only work experience had been with Tsukamoto. People assessed my abilities based on
that experience, which made me realise how important that period had been for me. Also, I
didn't really care for working in an office. The last few months I was there those thoughts
kept running through my mind and the urge to go back to working with Tsukamoto gradually
CHAPTER 8 I The Bl ack Hol e I Bul l et Bal l et 133
became stronger." Kawahara says his past experiences both with Tsukamoto and in his job
at Culture Publishers made him grow almost naturally into the role of a crew supervisor on
Bulet Balet. Since then, he has developed into the director's right hand man, his importance
signalled by the fact that he is Kaijyu Theater's only full-time salaried employee.
With the film made by similar methods to Tokyo Fist, Tsukamoto again filling all the
key technical positions himself, inevitably similar problems began to arise and what was
meant to be "a small production" eventually stretched out to five months of shooting. For the
style of the film, the director chose a documentary-like look, making abundant use of handheld
camera and location shooting. For the first time, realism was the premise for the style and
with this choice he moved even further away from the Tetsuo films, this time also casting
aside the stop motion techniques he had still employed on Tokyo Fist.
Gota (Takahi ro Murase, centre) tri es to outrun the cop (Tomorowo Taguchi , left) and Goda (Shi nya Tsukamoto).
With its many candid street scenes, the result looks as if it was largely improvised and
shot wild, but with some exceptions all location shooting was done with official permission.
"For the scenes we shot on the sly we found very practical solutions to film them," Kawahara
explains, "for example by placing the camera at quite a large distance on full zoom. We shot
the scene with Kazuyuki Izutsu at Gotanda train station. We placed the camera on a bridge
that runs right next to it and which is the same height as the station platform. The scene of
Kirina Mano leaning against the passing train was shot at an underground station that has a
lot of columns and niches where you can hide. We put the camera in one of those places and
filmed her on zoom again:' For the latter scene the use of a telephoto lens, which flattens the
image and removes the perception of distance, helped create the illusion that she was actually
leaning against a train roaring by, when in actual fact she was standing several feet away
134 IRON MAN - The Ci nema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
from it. A close-up insert of her boots scraping against the train was done by mounting the
boots on sticks and holding them at the edge of the platform the moment a train passed.
The scene of the big battle between two rival groups of street punks was shot over several
days, mostly in and around the area of Ikebukuro, one ofTokyo's centres of youth culture. "Again,
I asked permission for ali locations,''Tsukamoto remembers. "Of course from time to time people
would pass by who had no idea that we were making a film and I ' m sure they were a bit
shocked to see what was going on."
The image the film paints of Tokyo is one of a labyrinth of alleyways and side streets,
the flipside of the sterile broadways that represented the city in Tsukamoto's previous films.
"The locations are a mixture of various parts of Tokyo, including Ginza, Ikebukuro and
Shibuya. There are so many small anonymous streets in Ginza that are very different from
the glamorous, upscale image of that area." The scenes involving his brother Koji and
Kazuyuki Izutsu were shot at a construction site in central Shibuya, one of the busiest parts
of an already bustling city. Less than a year later the Mark City commercial complex, today
a Shibuya landmark, would arise at the very same site.
Bulet Baiers labyrinthine geography underlined the protagonist's descent into unknown
territory, the dark underbelly of the city he never knew existed. This also contributed to
Tsukamoto's decision to film in black and white, the high contrast images emphasising the
difference between light and darkness. The portrayal of this shadowy side of Tokyo is all the
more remarkable for including foreigners, whose presence and plight in major cities formed
another recurring motif in many Japanese films of the 1990s, reflecting real-life tendencies. I n
Bulet Balet, it's the foreigners that Goda turns to, albeit fruitlessly, in his attempts to get hold
of the elusive .38 Special. "While doing research I found a book that dealt with street delinquency
and gun dealing in Tokyo, written by a man called Tetsuya Tsuda," Tsukamoto explains. "I
asked him to be an advisor on the film. He gave me a lot of hints on how to approach the
scenes of my character trying to find a gun, which was a very difficult thing to do at the time
for a normal civilian. He also explained the process and difficulties of building your own gun.
Normally if you'd do that, the gun would be a very simple looking thing, not the kind of decorated
one that we used in the film. But on the whole I tried to follow his advice as much as possible
to add a layer of realism to the story. The idea of asking foreigners also came from him. I
guess if an average Japanese person would think about how to get a gun, the first option he
would consider would be to ask one of those dangerous looking foreigners in the streets."
One of the foreign characters in the film is a Filippino prostitute, played by Katijah
Badami, with whom Goda engages in a paper marriage in return for the delivery of the
gun. With the inclusion of the character, the film briefly touches upon the phenomenon of
the japayuki, 20 women from South East Asia who come to Japan lured by the promise of a
job, but who more often than not end up in the sex industry. With a lot of these women
entering the country on tourist visas, marrying a Japanese man is their only way to continue
living in Japan legally.
Tsukamoto came up with a first cut of Bulet Balet that ran 93 minutes, on the basis
of which ChO Ishikawa began working on the soundtrack. Ishikawa explains the approach
that developed since their first collaboration on Tetsuo: "I always see the first rough cut
before I start on the music. While I'm busy with that, Tsukamoto continues working on the editing
and we work simultaneously, though we keep in contact all the time. Then we combine our
work and after that he decides on the final cut of the film."
CHAPTER 8 I The Bl ack Hol e I Bul l et Bal l et 135
Shinichi Kawahara also began to play a role in the communication between director
and composer. "On Tetsuo II I wasn't involved in the music and I didn't work on Tokyo Fist
because I was busy with my own theatre play," he explains. "I heard things about the making
of the film of course, and I had the impression that there were quite a few communication
problems between Tsukamoto and Ishikawa. I thought it would be a good idea to try and
help out in the future, so I ' ve been acting as a kind of interpreter ever since Bulet Balet."
"The point is how my music suits the images, how it suits Tsukamoto's imagination,"
Ishikawa continues. "Explaining music is very difficult, but I try, because I want to make sure
that it fits his images. Sometimes it's difficult to understand each other, because I try to
explain the music with words my way and he explains his wishes for the music his way.
Words can mean different things to different people, even if they speak the same language.
So to avoid misunderstandings, Kawahara often acts as a go-between, a kind of interpreter.
He knows both of us well, so he can understand my words and translate them for Tsukamoto
and vice versa." Kawahara admits that he doesn't always succeed at his given task, though.
"On every film it happens once or twice that I convey to Ishikawa what I think Tsukamoto is
looking for, but then when Tsukamoto hears the music he says that it's not what he was
looking for at all. I have to imagine what Tsukamoto is thinking. He will tell me that he needs
something emotional or that he wants an atmosphere like opera, or something. That's the
way he explains it to me, but maybe his basic thought about music is that he wants it to not
really be appropriate to the images, he wants it to be something unexpected because the
combination of two disparate elements creates something entirely new. The delicate thing is
of course to find something that is both unexpected and suitable."
Left: Chisato (Ki ri na Mana) lost in thought.
Right: Cl ub owner I dei (Tatsuya Nakamura) bel i eves he has Chi sato all to hi msel f.
Opposite: I dei 's Benz gets a makeover duri ng the battle scene.
CHAPTER 8 I The Bl ack Hol e I Bul let Bal l et 137
An obsessed Goda attempts to bui l d his own Chi ef Special . . .
The ties between Kawahara and Ishikawa had become close ever since the two men
started a band called Der Eisenrost (a German word that can be translated as either ' iron
grid' or ' rusting iron') in the wake of Tetsuo II. "Kawahara and I first started working together
when I compiled the soundtrack CD for the Tetsuo films," Ishikawa recalls. "He brought in a
lot of ideas and I realised that we had a good connection, so I thought we could work well
together in a band. Our musical preferences are quite different, though, but I think that's a
good thing. He approaches the music differently, so his suggestions can often push me in a
direction I hadn't thought of. Sometimes when we try to combine our ideas we come up with
something that is better than each of our ideas individually."
Ishikawa says that his decision to form Der Eisenrost was inspired by his work on the
Tetsuofilms, as an attempt to further explore the musical capacities of metal. "I thinkTsukamoto
and I have something in common, but it's difficult to explain in words what that is exactly.
The things he wants to express in film and the things I want to express in music are probably
very similar. Our relationship is purely that of a film director and his composer. I don't have a
lifetime contract with him, so there is always the possibility that he might work with a different
composer in the future. However, that still hasn't happened and I think that's because the
things we are looking for are very close. My music somehow helps him to explain his preoccu­
pations and I likewise came closer to the things I search for by working with him."
138 I RON MAN - The Ci nema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
. . . and fi nal l y gets hol d of the real deal .
For Bulet Balet Ishikawa says his approach was very instinctive, the style of the film
giving him numerous leads to follow. "For the final scene, of the two characters running away
in opposite directions, I had already agreed with Tsukamoto on the type of music to use. I
was in the studio with Kawahara when I finished it and we both felt that it was exactly right.
We knew that even before we presented it to Tsukamoto. And I achieved it without difficulty
or sacrifice. That was a very different situation from all the other films."
Tsukamoto, for his part, had a much more difficult time getting to grips with his own
film, something that dated back to the very start of the project: he had spent almost an entire
year writing the script. After the film had been completed and even screened several times,
he cut ten minutes from it, most of the deletions involving scenes that featured his brother,
a peripheral character that had little impact on the main plot. "You could say that editing is
about creating continuity between individual shots, but sometimes when you focus on continuity
too much, you will lose the rhythm of a scene. With Bulet Balet that was the case. It's always
important to take some distance from a film after you've assembled the first cut. I watched
the film with audiences a few times and that's when I realised it was too long and I re-cut it.
The regular theatrical release was the short version."
The director professes that he still feels dissatisfied with the film even today. "The contrast
between two generations was the premise of the film, but in the end they turned out to be
CHAPTER 8 I The Bl ack Hol e I Bul l et Bal l et 139
Lef: Goda's downward spi ral mi rrors the fate of Travis Bi ckl e in Scorsese's Taxi Driver.
RighI: Gol6's sel f-l oathi ng grows.
not so different after all: young and old both have a capacity for cold-blooded, violent acts.
Maybe that made the film a difficult one for the audience, because there is nobody to feel
sympathy for. That knowledge still haunts me to this day. I've always had the feeling that
maybe I should re-edit it again some time." A similar tendency characterised the critical
reactions to Bulet Balet. Tsukamoto: ''The very personal nature of the film was appreciated
by many critics, but also disliked by others. One of the most interesting interpretations I
heard was that it described recognising your own limits very well. Others said it was too personal
and therefore difficult to relate to."
Bulet Balet premiered at the Venice Film Festival in Italy in September 1998, the first
time one of the director's films managed to penetrate the triumvirate of top film festivals
formed by Cannes, Venice and Berlin. The selection followed on the invitation to the Mostra
as a member of the jury the previous year, when Tsukamoto and his fellow constituents awarded
the festival's top prize, the Golden Lion for best film, to Takeshi Kitano for Fireworks (Hana­
bf) . Never having had a film selected at any of the major festival at that point, the invitation
came as a big surprise to Tsukamoto and his entourage. Kiyo Joo recalls: "1 was taking part
in the film market in Cannes and a member of the Venice selection committee, Roberto Silvestri,
came to my booth. He was in charge of one of the sections and he was really fond of
Tsukamoto's work. He had seen Tetsuo /I in Tokyo in 1992, when he accompanied Locarno
festival director Marco MOi ler. The director of the Venice film festival in 1997 was Mr. Felice
Laudadio, and it was his first year. He asked his staff for suggestions for suitable jury members
and Roberto Silvestri recommended Shinya Tsukamoto. I think Laudadio didn't know who
he was, but Silvestri's recommendation was so strong that he decided to invite him. When
Silvestri came to my booth in Cannes and told me that he was interested in having Tsukamoto
140 I RON MAN - The Ci nema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
142 I RON MAN - The Ci nema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
as a member of the jury I couldn't believe it. I told him 'Are you sure?'," she laughs. "He said
he was very sure, but I half doubted him. Laudadio could still reject the idea. But after Cannes
I received a fax, saying: ' La Biennale invites Shinya Tsukamoto to be a member of the jury'.
I didn't connect it directly with the film festival, because the Biennale is a much bigger event,
encompassing many different art forms. As soon as I realised that it was indeed the film
festival I immediately called Shinya: 'You're a member of the jury in Venice! ' "
Of the festival experience, Joo remembers: "The treatment was fabulous. Shinya could
choose his airline, the hotel was five stars, dinner was offered every night." During the
screenings, however, Tsukamoto found himself in a somewhat less luxurious situation. With
a limited command of English and no Japanese subtitles to help him, the daily film screenings
quickly began to wear on him. Joo: "Of course among the competing films there was Takeshi
Kitano's Fireworks, for which he didn't need any subtitles. He was a fan of Takeshi, so he
really rooted for Fireworks. Jane Campion was the president of the jury and initially she
wasn't crazy about the film. She didn't see any justification for the violence. But Tsukamoto
explained that the violence functions more as symbolism. He tried to be very persuasive. In
the beginning there were only a few jury members behind the film, but after he gave his
speech almost 80% of the jury were convinced and Fireworks got the prize."
The following year the festival had again changed its director, with Alberto Barbera taking
Laudadio's place. "Barbera used to be the director of the Turin film festival;' says Joo, "and he
was also a big fan of Shinya's films. He actually watched Tetsuo II in Tokyo in '92 together with
Silvestri and MOi ler. The three of them really helped bring Tsukamoto's name to the world."
Going to Venice with Bullet Ballet in 1998 was quite a change from the previous year's
all-expenses-paid luxury. For starters, aside from accommodation, the costs had to come
out of Kaijyu Theater's pockets. "I went to Venice all alone in 1998," recalls Tsukamoto. "We
didn't publicise Bullet Ballet at the festival because there was nobody to handle press
contacts. We did make a giant poster for the film, but I couldn't hang it anywhere because
we hadn't paid for ad space. I did bring some flyers that I distributed around the festival
myself. I was a member of the jury the year before, but there I was handing out flyers. The
official screening went okay. It was a full house and they applauded the film afterward. The
most impressive moment was the press conference. It was full of people and I wondered
why so many had turned up. That is still the biggest crowd I've ever had at a press conference."
Lef: Koji Tsukamoto ( l eN) puts i n an appearance as a gang l eader.
Right: Goda runs toward his bri ghter future.
CHAPTER 8 I The Bl ack Hol e I Bul l et Bal l et 143
The experience only confirmed his ambivalent feelings about Bulet Balet, however:
"There were reviews of the film in the French newspapers Liberation and Le Monde. Le
Monde devoted a lot of space to it and wrote a very positive review. Liberation on the other
hand was very negative. At first the translator tried to soften it up when she read me the
article, but when I asked for more details she eventually told me that it said: ' I' ve had enough
of this! ' I watched the film with a degree of distance and I felt that both of those reviews were
right. I had conflicting feelings about the film as well and those two articles were like having
my feelings projected for everyone to see. But still, it was better than being ignored."
Ambivalent though the press reactions may have been, Le Monde's glowing review caused
a stampede for the rights among French buyers. "After that review in Le Monde, a lot of French
buyers contacted me," remembers Kiyo Joo, "and they were actually competing for it. Each of
them tried to convince me that they were the ones that should get it and not the others. Finally
it was Canal+ who bought not only Bulet Balet, but all of Tsukamoto's earlier films as well."
144 I RON MAN - The Ci nema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
After Venice Bullet Ballet embarked on the lengthy festival run that was by now
becoming customary for a Tsukamoto film, showing at the Toronto, Vancouver, London and
Rotterdam festivals among numerous others. The Japanese theatrical release, however,
only occurred at the very end of this tour, in early 2000, when, remarkably, it opened several
months later than Gemini, the film Tsukamoto made after Bullet Ballet. Tsukamoto explains
the reason for the delay: "After Venice I decided to re-edit the film. Around the same time I
received an offer from the distribution company There's Enterprise, 21 who were interested
in handling the film's theatrical distribution in Japan. It still took us a year from that point
until the actual release, because before I had a chance to re-edit the film, I began work on
Gemini. In the end I couldn't go back to editing Bullet Ballet until after I had finished the
next film, around the end of 1999."
The generation gap theme present in Bullet Ballet indicated that Tsukamoto realised
that he was no longer a young man, a realisation that he seemed to quickly make his peace
with: he got married soon after the production of the film finished. "After turning 30, I
searched for calmness and that's something I found in my wife. From around the same age
I also felt that I would like to have a child. I wanted to touch a real human body, one that
had something of myself inside it. I think those feelings replaced the wish for adventure
that I had in my youth."
Above: Gada bites the bul l et.
Opposite: The remai ns of Gota' s gang go up i n fl ames.
CHAPTER 8 I The Bl ack Hol e I Bul l et Bal l et 145
The concept of the human body as weapon is something that is present in both Tetsuo films,
particularly Tetsuo If, and in Tokyo Fist. As we've seen, despite implying violence and destruction,
the results of the body becoming a weapon are usually positive: destruction clears the way
for rebirth. Bulet Ballet, however, casts the concept in a somewhat different light.
In Tokyo Fist, insurance salesman Tsuda recoiled in disgust at the sight of a dead
cat. I n Bullet Ballet advertising executive Goda sees a dead seagull and doesn't show the
slightest reaction. This sums up the difference between Bullet Ballet and its predecessors:
aside from its opening and closing minutes the film spends the entirety of its running time
immersed in the phase of destruction, confronting it, examining it and coming to new conclu­
sions. Inspired by his personal experiences Tsukamoto re-examines his own work in Bullet
Ballet and comes up with what to all intents and purposes is a reality check.
Here the physical does indeed exist in present-day Tokyo, not just isolated in a little
wooden house or within the walls of a boxing gym, but as the flipside of the coin, the hidden
night-time side of the city that looks so sterile and tidy by day, a side whose existence
Tsukamoto's protagonists simply were never aware of. Bullet Ballet represents Tsukamoto's
discovery of the margins of society, the world of crime and vice, outcasts and immigrants,
and above all the world of youth.
Bullet Ballet shows us very little of its protagonist's ordinary life. We see Goda returning
home one night after a drink, unassumingly passing the ambulance and police cars in front
of the entrance to his building. Inside he learns from the police that his girlfriend of ten
years, Kiriko, to whom he had only just been on the phone, has committed suicide by
shooting herself with a revolver. He is unable to comprehend her actions and realises that
for the past ten years he has been living a lie: what he thought was true turs out to have
been false. Attempting to lear what motivated Kiriko, he goes in search of a . 38 Special,
the gun with which she took her own life. Heading into the more notorious areas of town,
he is initially conned by a man who claims to be a gun dealer, spending a small fortune on
a package that turs out to contain a squirt gun. Continuing his search, he stumbles upon
the self-destructive Chisato, the girl he saved from jumping in front of a train several days
earlier, who turns out to be in cahoots with a small gang of street punks headed by the
leather-clad Gota. Under the command of club owner and drug dealer Idei they spend their
nights beating up hapless salarymen and waging war with other neighbourhood punks.
Gada falls victim to them too, but the encounter feeds the obsession with destruction
instilled in him by his girlfriend's death. In them, he finds the ideal targets for his sought­
after . 38 Special.
Bullet Ballet is told as the discovery of an unknown world, both narratively (Goda doesn't
know how to get hold of a gun in his own world, so he has to look for it elsewhere) and
stylistically. I ts style is entirely constructed around this principle, starting with the use of
black and white film. In Tetsuo this reflected the colourless surface of metal, here it above
all emphasises the descent into a shadow world. In combination with a strict division between
nighttime and daytime scenes, this renders the shadow world very dark and the regular
world very bright. The aspect of the unknown is conveyed through the geography of its
CHAPTER 8 I The Black Hole I Bul l et Bal let 147
locations (a labyrinth of alleyways and side streets), the seemingly guerrilla-style shooting,
the handheld camerawork whose nervous jitters reflect Goda's tension and the often narrow
framing that suggests the possibility of a surprise around every corner; particularly in the
first half of the film, people and objects constantly intrude into the frame unexpectedly.
With this underworld representing the physical, the central presence of youth is an
intriguing choice. In Bullet Ballet, the gang of juvenile delinquents are actually searching
for the same thing as the protagonist. Goda's longtime companion committed suicide while
he wasn't even aware that anything was wrong with her. He was too numb to notice and
tries to find understanding for her motivations by immersing himself in violence and death,
hoping to wake himself up. The gang of young punks are as desensitised as he is. To them,
hunting after salarymen and getting into fights is merely a game. They are entirely unaware
of the real implications of violence, pain and death. These things fascinate them because
they are not part of their everyday, sterile urban lives and their actions speak of their lack
of understanding and empathy. When one delinquent gets a bullet in the leg, he falls down
to the ground and starts to cry like a child: for the first time he understands the full impact
of violence and pain, and the basic fact that it hurts like hell.
The character of I dei has a very symbolic function in this context. Spurring these
kids on and supplying them with dope, he personifies the lure of this dark side of life. He
reinforces the idea that it's all a game, something full of excitement and without risks. I dei
isn't so much a human being as the devil on these characters' collective shoulders. During
the film's climactic confrontation, in which the repercussions of their violent acts come back
to haunt the group of punks, it is I dei who dies first, suddenly. The shot of his body on the
floor, flattened by the angle of the camera, looks wholly inhuman and empty, a fly crawling
over his face suggesting rapid decomposition and the end of the illusion he represents.
In Tokyo Fist the flashback scenes created the link between the reckless energy of
youth and pure physical experience, implying that youth has to end at some point, and that
physicality ends with it. Bullet Ballet has a slightly more positive outlook on the end of youth,
dividing its adolescent characters into those who have a future and those who don't. The
latter are those who embrace reckless abandon to the fullest with no regard for what comes
after, but the director's sympathy is for the few characters that are aware of the imminent
necessity of moving on. Bullet Ballet certainly isn't a nihilistic film or even a pessimistic
one. Goda at first embraces destruction after developing his obsession with handguns (in
this film the gun, which gives its owner the power to rewrite all the rules through destruction,
is the catalyst), but gradually comes to realise that he wants to save lives rather than to destroy.
He recognises that his lack of understanding of Kiriko's actions is entirely due to his self­
centered attitude (which Gota needs to remind him of first) and he finds in the suicidal
Chisato a possibility of redemption, an opportunity to not let the same thing happen twice.
(Her role as a substitute for Kiriko is accentuated from this point onward, starting with her
intrusion into his house, wearing Kiriko's clothes and singing to him over his mobile phone
like she did right before the suicide. )
At the same time Goda becomes a catalyst for Chisato. Thanks t o his insistence on
saving her - guarding over her during a prolonged street battle with the gang's main rivals
- she overcomes her self-destructive urges, which were essentially the product of a fear of
growing up, as she admits in the scene of her and Gada on the rooftop, looking at a nearby
school and its diligent students working on their own futures.
148 I RON MAN - The Ci nema of Shi nya Tsukamoto
Inside Tokyo's maze 01 alleyways.
Chisato's fears are echoe
d in Got6, who has his own doubts about his outlook. Already
standing with one foot in maturity - he has a job and is a salaryman himself - his doubts
are strengthened when one of his buddies tells him that being in the gang is just a temporary
thing, a way to blow off steam before heading to university. Torn between his real feelings
and the wishes of Idei and the gang, his insecurities drive him to commit murder, something
he has repeatedly been incapable of on previous occasions. Instructed by Idei to take a life
in order to save face after having been caught in his salaryman suit by Chisato, he kills his
friend Shigeo, a boxer who represents his polar opposite: a young man who has found a
positive outlet for his energy. Berating him for the black eye he received in a street fight,
Shigeo confronts Got6 with his doubts and self-hate.
CHAPTER 8 I The Black Hole I Bullet Ballet 149
The outlooks of Goda, Chisato and Gota have a major influence on the film's
conclusion, in which the young boxer's father comes to the gang's hideout to avenge his
son's death. Having previously eliminated two of their members, six remain, including Goda
who is present in a continued attempt to save lives. Gota's nervous tension and Goda and
Chisato's resignation are quite a contrast with the remaining three, who dope themselves
up and enter the moment with a devil-may-care attitude. It is these three that end up dead,
while Goda, Chisato and Gota survive, albeit badly injured.
That the three characters with a willingness to embrace the future would survive
this climax suggests a moralistic undertone. However, the definition of the character of the
father elevates this event to a different level and brings it in line with Tsukamoto's main
theme. In an earlier scene, the only previous scene to feature the character, the father and
his friends were in their son's dressing room before a match, talking about how they didn't
need to exercise when they were his son's age, because in the immediate aftermath of
World War I I "it was enough of a fight just to survive." Having had this experience makes
him the toughest of all characters in the film. In the final confrontation he takes on six
people on his own and survives with two bullet wounds which he stoically shrugs off. The
moment he shakes the blood off his arm in order to continue his way toward Gota sums
this up in a single image.
Bulet Balet finds its closure in a beautiful final scene, in which Chisato and Goda,
basking in the light of a rising sun, run toward their respective futures, each in a separate
direction. It's an ending that is anything but moralising or nihilistic, but which is instead hopeful.
An ending that tells us that Bulet Balet, like all of Tsukamoto's films, talks about moving
Two things inspired me to make Bullet Ballet. Firstly, since the period of Hiruko I've had an
interest in the generation after me, the delinquent kids who hang around Shibuya and who
were called 'Teamers'. Secondly, there's the existence of a generation gap between my
generation and theirs. Neither of us knows the experience of war, but the younger people
seem to be even more ignorant of what that experience must have been like. So those kids
are almost like extraterrestrials to me, they seem to live permanently inside a video game.
Those were the two sources of inspiration for Bullet Ballet and I guess in that sense it's
similar to my other films, but Bullet Ballet and Tetsuo /I still today feel like chaotic films to
me, in terms of both their subject and their production. That chaos is inside me, but I have
the feeling it was inside the audience as well, so I don't know if Bullet Ballet managed to
communicate with its audience as well as I had hoped.
- Shinya Tsukamoto
Above: Gota and Idei look down on their prey.
Opposite: Gada and Chisato embrace life.
CHAPTER 8 I The Black Hole I Bullet Ballet 151
9. Taking a Stroll
Gemini (1999)
In 1998, eight years and three independent films after making Hiruko the Goblin, Tsukamoto
accepted an offer to direct a film for an outside producer for only the second time in his
career. The delay had not been for lack of interest, but had everything to do with the director's
uncompromising attitude: "I used to receive a fair amount of offers, but I refused nearly all of
them. Maybe producers have begun to think that it's pointless to ask me, because today I
get fewer requests than in the past. Actually, I'm always happy when someone offers me a
project. If it's an adaptation of a novel, for example, I read the novel thinking of how to adapt
it and how I can put my stamp on it. That's fun to do. But if I don't see a way to make it my
own I lose interest and turn down the offer. Filmmaking takes a lot of time, so if a project
doesn't spark my interest, I can't accept it."22
Gemini, clearly, was a different case. Firstly, the offer came from Toshiaki Nakazawa of
Sedic International, the same man who had offered Tsukamoto Hiruko in 1990. Secondly, it
was an adaptation of a story by one of Tsukamoto's favourite authors, Edogawa Ranpo.
Thirdly, the originator of the project, and its proposed star, was Masahiro Motoki, a young
actor who began his career as a pop singer in the boy band Shibugakitai (The Cool Kid Trio')
in the '80s, but who in recent years had increasingly moved away from his wholesome image,
flexing his acting muscles in challenging film roles, such as that of the homosexual extortionist
in Takashi Ishii's crime thriller Gonin in 1995, real-life manga artist Hir6 Terada in Jun Ichikawa's
Tokiwa: The Manga Apartment (Tokiwaso no Seishun, 1996) and the salaryman lost in the
wilderness of rural China in Takashi Miike's The Bird People in China (ChOgoku no ChOjn,
1998, also produced by Nakazawa and Sedic International). Motoki's own connection with
the work of Edogawa Ranpo went back several years to his starring role in The Mystery of Rampo
(Rampo), Shochiku studio's lavish celebration of the mystery author's life and work, made to
commemorate the centenary of Ranpo's birth in 1994. With Naoto Takenaka in the title role,
Motoki took the part of the author's most famous creation, private sleuth Kogor6 Akechi.
The actor's idea for the adaptation of Geminiwas to make it into a medium-length feature,
a film running under seventy minutes. This concept was inspired by French director Gaspar
Noe's 38-minute film Care (1991, though not released in Japan until 1994), which despite
its unconventional running time had achieved considerable commercial and critical success
in Japan. With this idea as the only requirement, Tsukamoto began work on the screenplay,
CHAPTER 9 I Taking a Stroll I Gemini 153
expanding the slight premise of the original story, which concerns a pair of twins from a rich
family, the oldest of whom receives the family's entire fortune while the younger is left without
a cent. The junior kills his older brother in a fit of jealousy, throws his corpse down the garden
well and takes over his identity and his wife. Tsukamoto decided to keep the older brother
alive inside the well, opening up a further range of possibilities and emphasising the switching
of roles between the two characters, with one going from mud-caked rags to sophisticated
suits and the other vice versa. In the sibling rivalry that forms the story's heart, he also found
a very personal appeal: "When I wrote the screenplay for Gemini, I was very emotionally
attached to all the scenes between the two brothers. I think my relationship with K6ji when
we were kids really played a part in that; it shaped the film. The scene towards the end where
Yukio throttles Sutekichi and Sutekichi asks his brother for mercy, that really took me back
to my childhood and playing with K6ji."
The director made another fundamental change in the period setting, transposing the
action from the early Sh6wa era (the latter half of the 1920s) to the late Meiji period (the
first decade of the twentieth century). "I made that change because I wanted to employ a
contrast between rich and poor," explains Tsukamoto, "which isn't present in Ranpo's story.
That contrast existed in the Meiji period, but the situation had changed by the Sh6wa era."
Meanwhile, Sedic had budgeted the project as a medium-length film, allocating less
money than for a full-length feature. However, a limited running time would also mean a
limited shooting schedule and thus lower costs than on a feature. Realising that his usual
working methods would be incompatible with the short schedule, Tsukamoto looked for
seasoned professionals to fill some of the key roles on the production. "To get the film made
in such a short time, I wanted to have people that I could trust to be able to do their job
largely by themselves, without my interference." While the director remained in charge of
the camerawork, he enlisted the help of Y6hei Taneda for production design, while Motoki
brought in two of his own former collaborators, costume designer Michiko Kitamura and
make-up artist Isao Tsuge. 23 "I knew about Kitamura and had admired her work since my
time at Ide Production," Tsukamoto says. "If I was going to collaborate with professionals on
Gemini, I wanted to work with geniuses like her."
Major names were scouted to appear in front of the camera as well, with a cast of
seasoned character actors surrounding Motoki. Naoto Takenaka, Renji Ishibashi (playing
the Meiji-era ancestor of his homeless character in Tetsuo), Tomorowo Taguchi, butoh
dancer Akaji Maro, manga artist Shungiku Uchida and rising young star Tadanobu Asano
appeared in small supporting parts, while veteran actress Shiho Fujimura and famed science­
fiction novelist, playwright and actor Yasutaka Tsutsui played the twins' parents. 24 For the
female lead Tsukamoto chose fashion model Ry6, who had virtually no acting experience
aside from a handful of TV appearances. Sedic suggested a number of alternatives, but
the director would have none of it. Again it was the actress's face that convinced him that
she was right for the part: "Her face is very impressive. From the point of view of a cinematog­
rapher I could very easily imagine that her face in combination with a certain style of costume
and make-up could result in something very special. The producer preferred an idol-type
actress, but I insisted on casting Ry6."
In keeping with the project's ambitions, major studio Toho came on board as domestic
distributor. However, it immediately set forth the provision that Gemini be a full, feature­
length film. Sedic agreed and promptly decided to upgrade the film's format from 16mm to
154 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
Dr. Yukio Daitokuji (Masahiro Motoki, left) and his wife Rin (Ryo).
35mm and expand the production time to one month. Short for Tsukamoto but quite royal
by Japanese film industry standards, it was the maximum amount of time Masahiro Motoki's
schedule would allow. Only one thing stayed the same: the budget. This meant a search for
ways of cutting corners, with the director and crew making most of the sacrifices: "I hoped
to save some money by organising the production through Kaijyu Theater," Tsukamoto
professes, "but this only made things more difficult. For a while it even seemed likely that
my company would go bankrupt because of this film. I gave up my royalties on the video
release in exchange for more production money. That was the first and last time I involved Kaijyu
Theater in an outside production, but if I hadn't done it we probably would never have been
able to make the film. Even all the famous crew worked for a lot less than their usual fee."
Lower ranking crew members, including the Kaijyu Theater staff Tsukamoto brought in to
keep the project afloat, worked for a pittance. Tsukamoto decided to shoot silent and handle
sound in post-production in order to eliminate the need for a sound crew. "All the money we
had on that film went up on screen. The film looks very expensive, but there was hardly any
difference budget-wise compared with my own independent films."
CHAPTER 9 I Taking a Stroll I Gemini 155
The doctor and his assistants protect themselves from contamination.
To make matters worse, a flu epidemic hit the crew in the midst of production. "One
after another my crew fell ill and had to leave the project," the director remembers. ''The second
assistant director, who was an intermediary between myself and Michiko Kitamura, dropped
out first, followed a little while later by the third assistant director. My first assistant director
tani didn't get ill, but he was never on set in the first place. He was in the office, too
busy trying to draw up the schedules for all these famous people who had only limited time to
spend on this film. Since he's one of my regular crew, he's used to making much more lenient
schedules. As a result of all this, I didn't have a single assistant on set. I finally caught the flu
myself on the day that we were scheduled to shoot the love scene between Motoki and Rye.
We had another important scene to do right after that as well, so I couldn't possibly stay home.
I was completely worn out those days on set. Sometimes I would take a rest by leaning my
head on the viewfinder of the camera, pretending to be looking through the lens. The fact that
we got the film made was nothing short of a miracle, like achieving the impossible."
That the sacrifices paid off is abundantly clear from the film itself; Gemini is one of
the most sumptuous visual feasts in Tsukamoto's filmography. The polar opposite of the
156 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
monochrome Bulet Balet, it virtually explodes with colour, in costumes, sets, make-up and
lighting, playfully incorporating numerous anachronisms and flights of fancy in its visuali­
sation. The film is certainly one of the great testaments to Tsukamoto's talents as a cinematog­
rapher, though he admits that the visualisation was in large part thanks to the input of his
collaborators: "My initial intention was to stay as faithful to the period setting as possible.
But all these talented people working on the film had their own ideas about how to go about
visualising the characters and sets, so things gradually moved away from my original vision.
For example, Michiko Kitamura's idea for the character played by Tadanobu Asano was very
different from my thoughts. I envisioned a vengeful but otherwise normal samurai, but she
saw him as a kabuki actor and wanted to make him very theatrical." Tsukamoto admits that
he occasionally clashed with the headstrong Kitamura over their deviating visions, particu­
larly after the second assistant director had taken his sick leave: "It was difficult at times, but
I think we actually came to get along much better as a result of those arguments."
Despite the clashes, a middle ground was found, as Tsukamoto explains: "My approach
was to make the very colourful elements which the crew contributed a little bit less colourful,
by making them dirty, more down-to-earth. In contrast, for the doctor's rich family we used a
far more authentic approach to the materials and the designs. So the result was a kind of mixture
of faithful and imaginative. At the first production meeting I set out my criteria and my visions,
and based on that the crew went to work on their designs and visualisations. Even if the
final results were quite different, they still started from the indications I gave them, and
maybe this is the reason why it all fits together quite well:'
As a result, however, the film moved further and further away from its origins: "When
I made Gemini I completely let go of the idea that it was based on Ranpo's work and made
it as if it was my own original story. At the first screening I was genuinely surprised when I
saw the text 'Based on a story by Edogawa Ranpo' in the film's end credits."
Lef: Director and crew on a night shoot at the garden well.
RighI: Tsukamoto regular Naoto Takenaka in the flashback to Rin's muddled past.
CHAPTER 9 I Taking a Stroll I Gemini 157
Yukio consoles his mother (Shiho Fujimura).
The film also marked Tsukamoto's first encounter with computer graphics: "On Hiruko
and on a few commercials25 I had already worked with optical effects. I saw CGI as simply
an extension of these techniques. I tried to minimise the use of computer graphics and in
the end I only used CGI for two scenes; one is Sutekichi's first attack on Yukio before he
throws him down the well and the other is the final fight between the brothers. I limited it
for financial reasons, but there was also an additional motivation. These two scenes are
the only moments in which the two brothers actually have physical contact and in both
cases it's very violent. With CGI I could emphasise that violence by having both characters
in the frame at the same time. The first scene worked out very well, but I have my doubts
about the second one. Motoki's face is covered in mud in that sequence, so his face is not
that clear to begin with. If he had been more recognisable then the combination of his two
forms in that one shot would have been more impressive."
Despite the obvious differences between Gemini and his previous films, the director
once again called on ChO Ishikawa to provide the music. Tsukamoto: "If I really make a
completely different film from my other stuff and I think it really won't fit with his music, in
that case there is the possibility that I would ask a different composer. But until now, I've
always felt his music would fit, so I' ve always asked him to compose the scores of my
films. Even if I'm very demanding or ask him to do something new, the results are always
158 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
Tsukamoto supervises the green screen shoot for the film's CGI sections. A mudcaked Masahiro Motoki looks on.
really satisfying. If I throw him one ball, he'll throw me back several more. Maybe it's difficult
for him at times, but for me it's a great joy to work with him."
Ishikawa also sees Gemini as a break with what he and Tsukamoto had done up
until that point: "You could say that up to and including Bullet Ballet, the music is like a
kind of continuous work. Then from Gemini onward it's a different stage to me. Gemini
gave me a wider view of Tsukamoto's work, so I wanted to do something different from
what I'd done before. When I worked with him on it, it seemed quite obvious that he was
very focused on the film and on getting the pathos across. That was the difficult thing for
me on Gemini."
Ishikawa came up with a score revolving around a haunting choral vocal: "I used
the sound waves of the human voice and then I manipulated them in a variety of ways,
like overlaying, reversing, cutting and so on." Reacting to Tsukamoto's satisfaction with
their collaboration and the metaphor of bouncing back balls, Ishikawa says: "There is a
child called Shinya Tsukamoto and I give him nice things to play with, because I enjoy
seeing his smiling face."
The film was completed in the summer of 1999, with a running time of 84 minutes,
long enough for it to qualify as a feature film. It opened theatrically in Japan in September
that same year. "To see this little cult movie distributed by a major studio like Toho was a
CHAPTER 9 I Taking a Stroll I Gemini 159
Receiving the Grand Prize at the Neuchatel Fantastic Film Festival in Switzerland.
Tsukamoto is flanked by iury members Tobe Hooper and Amanda Plummer.
very unusual experience," Tsukamoto remembers. "I couldn't resist a chuckle when I saw
the Toho logo at the start of the film instead of the name of Kaijyu Theater. Having a big
billboard for this film on the side of a building in Ginza was a real kick as well."
Like its predecessor, the film received its official world premiere at the Venice Film
Festival, a few days before its theatrical release back home. Though he visited the festival
with his two lead actors Masahiro Motoki and Rye, Tsukamoto remembers it as being
somewhat uneventful: "The experience wasn't so different from the previous year's. The
crowd reaction was good. It was the film's world premiere so in that sense it was nice, but
it didn't receive any great acclaim." It did, however, do more than decent business with foreign
buyers, meaning that all the effort the director and his cast and crew put into the troubled
production had not gone to waste: "Gemini was sold to foreign territories for a higher price
than my other films," Tsukamoto comments, "so I guess that means the film looks quite
expensive after all." The irony of the situation was of course that none of the profits benefited
Kaijyu Theater. Tsukamoto officially being only a director for hire, it was Sedic and its
foreign sales agent Wild Bunch that made the deals. " It's kind of sad, but in a way I can
laugh about it now," he says. "That goes for all the problems we had on Gemini. Everybody
put so much energy into the film during that short time, that the atmosphere on set was
often very festive. The memory of that ambience on set is what stays with me and I can
laugh away the rest."
160 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
That Bullet Ballet constituted a change for Tsukamoto is confirmed by Gemini: the margins
of society play a prominent role here as well. This being the director's first period piece,
however, the margins have been replaced by slums and their outcast inhabitants made
even more downtrodden.
Taken as a whole, though, Geminis closest cousin is Tokyo Fist. Structurally, the two
films are virtually identical, both revolving around a love triangle that features a married
couple's union upset by an interloper, whose rough-edged demeanour forms the catalyst
for a fundamental change in the protagonists. It may be a period piece, but at its core
Gemini is pure Tsukamoto.
The household of Dr Yukio Daitokuji is the model of upper class sophistication, founded
upon tradition but embracing the best of wester science. The young physician lives with
his prim parents and a staff of four maids, while his patients consist of the country's elite.
The only source of dissonance in the house is Yukio's wife Rin. Though statuesque in form,
her origins are shrouded in mystery her recollections going no further back than the traumatic
event of a blazing fire, which happened the night before she first met the handsome doctor
on a river bank. Despite their thinly veiled contempt for Rin, Yukio' parents adore their son,
whose fame has spread across the land thanks to the medals he received for his honourable
service as a medic on the battlefield. However soon after the seeming perection is interupted
by a foul odour emitting from an unknown location in the house, both parents end up dead
at the hands of a mysterious intruder whose leg is disfigured by a large birthmark in the
shape of a snake. The intruder in question is Sutekichi, Yukio's long-Iost twin brther disowned
at birth due to his deformity and raised in the nearby slum. Dumping his brther down the
dried-up well in the garden and leaving him there to ponder his sins, Sutekichi passes
himself of as Yukio and proceeds to take over the household, easing his way into the bed
of Rin, with whom he shares a backgrund of which Yukio was never aware.
While structurally and thematically similar to the director's earlier work, Geminis period setting
does dictate several changes, whose motivation and impact are of great interest when seen
within the scope of Tsukamoto's oeuvre. Foremost among these changes is the replacement
of the desensitisation / physicality dichotomy with a distinction between classes. In utilising a
more fundamental rich / poor divide, Tsukamoto's recurring theme, which seemed so tightly
bound to contemporary issues, gains a more timeless validity. In fact, Geminis protagonist
goes through a change that is not only beneficial to himself as an individual, but that also
takes into account how he relates to the people around him. Yukio Daitokuji becomes not
merely a man who can show and act on his emotions, but someone who gains permanent
understanding and sympathy for those on the lower ranks of the social ladder.
Yukio starts the film as a man living in the gilded cage of the upper class. His attitude
toward his fellow man is illustrated in the scene in which he has to choose between treating
a possibly pest-infected baby from the slums and the mayor of the town, who has injured
himself in a fall. He orders his maids to chase off the child and its mother and shepherds
the mayor to his surgery, where he boasts about how simple the treatment of the man's
puncture wound is compared to the injuries he had to treat on the battlefield.
CHAPTER 9 I Taking a Stroll I Gemini 161
Rather than having lost touch with a part of life like Tsukamoto's contemporary protag­
onists, Yukio consciously chooses to ignore anything that is not part of his immaculate world.
He refers to the slums as "breeding grounds for disease" and regards their inhabitants as
criminals. "They simply are that way, from birth," he explains in a conversation with his wife,
his aversion indicating the gaping chasm of class distinction.
Sutekichi is defined as Yukio's mirror image in every way. Raised in the slums, he has
taken lives whereas Yukio's job is to save them, he is full of rage where Yukio is aloof, agile
where Yukio is stiff. The intimacy between Yukio and Rin is, in the words of the wife "all over
in a few minutes." No physical contact between the couple is even shown in the film, whereas
Sutekichi, after shoving his brother down the well and assuming his identity, covers her with
kisses from the first night: the contrast between desensitisation and corporeality is very
much present in Gemini.
Imprisoned at the bottom of the well, Yukio is confronted with the dirt and the vermin
he normally tries to avoid. Forced to eat the rice that his brother throws down into the mud,
he gradually begins to resemble the slum dwellers he once despised: covered in grime, his
clothes reduced to torn rags. True to his position as Yukio's mirror image, Sutekichi moves
in the opposite direction, not just adopting his brother's life style but embracing it. When he
camouflages the birthmark that is the only physical distinction between himself and Yukio,
he essentially becomes him. In the end, each brother transforms into the other. When Yukio
finally crawls out of the well (which, tellingly, he was incapable of doing when he was still
his old self) and strangles his brother - thus completing the process by taking a life, with
the tears he sheds forming signs of a capacity to show emotion - he also absorbs him.
Left: Director and star rehearse the first meeting of the twins.
Right: Preparing for a scene at the Daitokuji residence.
Opposite: Tsukamoto in a characteristically pensive pose.
162 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
The Yukio who ends the film is a composite, uniting the character traits of his brother with
his own into a single body, his physicality symbolised by the child he has had with Rin, and
his rupture with class distinction culminating in regular house calls to the nearby slum.
The third party in this equation, Rin, goes through a development entirely of her own.
Gemini therefore continues the feminist thread of Tokyo Fist and Bullet Ballet that would
take centre stage in Tsukamoto's next film A Snake of June. From the start Rin is defined in
two ways. Firstly by the disdain she receives from Yukio's parents, as well as from Yukio
himself, who tells her, in a moment of anger, "I validate your existence." Secondly, she is
defined through her empathy for the lower classes. We see her giggling as she helps the
maids scrub the house and stand up to her husband in protest when he turns away the poor
mother and her sick child. When in the latter scene he orders her to leave his surgery, she
storms outside where even Yukio's assistants only dared venture in special protective gear
because of the possible contamination hazard.
The later revelation of her own background as a slum dweller bears this out, but it
also shows her self-dependency and strength. Separated from her original partner Sutekichi,
first by force and later by his refusal to return to her, she had to take care of herself. "In the
ruins of that fire I decided to start a new life," she explains to Sutekichi after his return, telling
him her decision to marryYukio was a conscious choice. As Sutekichi transforms into the spitting
image of her husband, she again rejects his claims to her.
GeminIs plot unfolds in images of great beauty. Purely in terms of pictorial splendour,
it is Tsukamoto's most successful film. Such striking scenes as the almost luminescent specks
of blood on Sutekichi's face after killing the vengeful intruder played by Tadanobu Asano,
flames burning their way through a paper screen and the colour patterns inside the well
are a testament to Tsukamoto's abilities as a director of photography. The film embraces colour
as much as its predecessor Bullet Ballet eschewed it. Audacious stylisation marks the film
throughout, the period setting allowing for a freedom to experiment with make-up, costumes,
lighting and set design in a way that would be far too conspicuous if done in a contem­
porary context.
Like most of Tsukamoto's films Gemini is so strong on a formal level that it succeeds in
telling its story virtually through style and images alone. I ts experiments may be bold, but
they always serve to express the director's themes and concerns, the desensitisation / physicality
divide functions as the bottom line for all. The carnivalesque style of the slum dwellers' clothes,
hair and make-up, their choreographed movements, the sex scenes portrayed as dances,
Sutekichi cartwheeling through the hallways of the Daitokuji house with mud caked to his
face, the musical interludes, the powerful voice-based musical score: all these function to
express and emphasise the vitality of the lower class. This is put into contrast with the stiff manner
of Yukio's household: the geometric interior design, the spotless clothes, the near absence of
music, the orderly nature of the surgery, even in the midst of an operation. The static framing
and long takes in the early section of the film gradually give way to the pans, handheld shots
and quick edits that typify the scenes set in the slum; as Sutekichi makes his presence felt in
Yukio's house, the visual style of one location intrudes into the other.
Such examples underline how Gemini, despite its outward differences, is truly a Shinya
Tsukamoto film.
164 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
Hiruko and Gemini are different from my other films, since I was asked to direct them by
somebody else. Hiruko was based on Daijir6 Moroboshi, whom I like a lot, and Gemini was
based on Edogawa Ranpo, whom I also really love. Both were very joyous projects for me.
On Gemini I had the occasion to make a period film and also to express the feeling of perversion
that I found in Ranpo's work. But I was so personally invested in the project while I was
shooting it that I almost forgot that it was based on Ranpo. It felt like my own original film. It
was very nice to be able to collaborate with so many talented people, like Michiko Kitamura,
Isao Tsuge and Y6hei Taneda. If my others films are a bit like whiskey, taking a long time to
ripen, then Gemini is like Chinese cooking; I gathered many different, fresh ingredients and
then put them together on a strong fire for a short time. It was a very short and intense shoot.
- Shinya Tsukamoto
Above: Renji Ishibashi returns as a Meiji era ancestor of his character in Tetsuo.
Opposite: The influence of butoh dance is readily apparent in the slum scenes.
CHAPTER 9 I Taking a Stroll I Gemini 165
10. Rainy Season
A Snake of June (2002)
The desire to make an erotic film has been a constant throughout Tsukamoto's career. But
for all its persistence, the wish never took shape. Tetsuo incorporated elements of it, albeit
disguised as flesh violated by metal. His other films, nearly all revolving around love triangles
and intrusions into the lives of couples, utilise sexual tension without ever moving into the
realms of the erotic. The sex scenes in Tetsuo II, Tokyo Fist and Gemini are mostly stylised
affairs, their choreography removing the carnality from the act.
"For about fifteen years I'd been walking around with the idea of doing an erotic film,"
the director explains. "Every year in June when the rainy season started, the wish to make it
would creep up inside me. That season in Japan is very hot and humid, which inspired me
with regards to A Snake of June's eroticism. But by the end of the summer I would always
lose that motivation. Until June of the following year, when I would get inspired again. That
cycle repeated itself over and over, because I don't write screenplays so quickly. I would become
motivated in June, but I would still be thinking about it and not have put pen to paper by the
time the summer finished."
The basic idea he had in mind all this time was that of a stalker threatening a housewife.
"I wanted to make a film in which every image is infused with eroticism. A totally erotic film.
I've been interested in filming the naked body for a long time. Maybe in the case of a
pornographic film people imagine that it exploits the image of the female body, but my original
intention was to transcend the difference between the male and the female body. Over the
years, though, various aspects of this idea found their way into the other films I made."
Sources of inspiration for the original idea included Georges Bataille's novella Story
of the Eye (Histoire de l'oeil, 1928) - an explicit account of a transgressive love affair between
two teenagers that starts with erotic gameplay but gradually grows more and more violent,
leading to the deaths of their sexual partners - and the monochrome nude photography of
such artists as Robert Mapplethorpe, Helmut Newton, Man Ray and Bruce Weber. In keeping
with these sources, violence had as strong a presence as eroticism in the story Tsukamoto
was considering: "The original idea was different from the finished film, more violent, more
pornographic and more immoral. Violence and eroticism are closely related, they both originate
from our animal instincts. They are as basic as the need to eat. That's why I want them to
play a strong part in my films, I don't want to whitewash that instinctive aspect."
CHAPTER 10 I Rainy Season I A Snake of June 167
Lef: The hallucination begins.
Right: The androgynous Rinko (Asuka Kurosawa).
In common with Tsukamoto's earlier films, it would take a spark to finally turn the lingering
thought into an actual project. A producer from Canal+, the company that had bought his
entire back catalogue for release in France, suggested to him that a Japanese film with
erotic elements might do well in the French market. "I figured I'd better try and make it while
I had the chance, so I wrote a synopsis and presented it to Canal+, but they turned it down,"
Tsukamoto laughs. "But because I'd started working on it, the ideas just kept coming and I
decided to continue developing it as my own project."
While the basic idea of a stalker and a housewife remained largely the same, the story
began to develop along different lines, moving away from the violent aspects. Parallel to the
influence of Bataille and the aforementioned photographers, Tsukamoto found inspiration in
a drawing he had made in elementary school: "The first image I had for the film was that of
a snail crawling across the wet leaf of a hydrangea in full bloom. That image was the source
for the film. It was something I drew when I was a child, a picture of a boy, me, going to see
flowers and snails, carrying an umbrella and wearing adult-sized shoes. The drawing was
printed in the school paper, which marked the first time I received the approval of adults for
something I'd made."
The image of a snail on a wet plant would develop into the film's main visual motif, as
Tsukamoto explains: "1 always felt that if I were to make an erotic film, I would use the image
of skin covered with water drops. When it gets humid and hot in Japan a lot of girls start
wearing miniskirts, which provokes some men to start stalking them. There is this kind of
erotic atmosphere in the air around that time of year."
This idea not only gave the film its title ("During the rainy season, sexuality is stimulated
by the environment. You can sense this oozing feeling inside, which is like the movements
of a snake"), it also points toward the close thematic relation it has with Tsukamoto's earlier
work: "My films always talk about the correlation between the decline of physical sensations
and the modern concrete city. We live in these cities and little by little we lose this physicality
168 IRON MAN· The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
CHAPTER 10 I Rainy Season I A Snake of June 169
One of the film's more symbolic moments.
that is a basic part of humanity. But if water enters into that equation, things change. Water
stimulates the growth of weeds and plants between the concrete, which in turn attract insects,
and brings life into this concrete world. New life is born and whether you like it or not, this
makes you more aware of your own body."
A major part of the change in direction lay in the treatment of the female protagonist,
who, in contrast with the subjugated housewife of the original concept, actually grows stronger
and more defiant during the course of the story. Tsukamoto feels that his outlook on women
changed overthe years, particularly as a result of his marriage, though his films of course already
signalled an increasingly important role for the female characters as far back as Tokyo Fist.
In the lead role of Rinko, Tsukamoto cast Asuka Kurosawa, a thirty-year-old actress
who had debuted in 1993 in the lead role of Mitsuo Yanagimachi's About Love, Tokyo (Ai ni
Tsuite, Tokyo), but had only appeared in film intermittently since then. Tsukamoto explains
his choice: "The casting director recommended Asuka Kurosawa to me. I knew her name
from the time when I was looking for a lead actress for Tokyo Fist. She was one of the three
actresses I was considering for that part, but we didn't meet in person back then. Since it was
an erotic film, I expected the casting for A Snake of June to be difficult because the actress
would have to do nUdity. Of course it's easy to find someone if you look among the category
of actresses who do that sort of thing for a living, those that play in straight-to-video films for
example, but I didn't want that type of actress. I wanted somebody who had a certain pureness.
170 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
Rinko in the throes of ecstasy.
I also wanted an actress whose body was a bit Italian in type: broad shoulders, sturdy legs,
full lips. I find that quite attractive. I thought Kurosawa was very suitable for the part. After she
read the script she told me she liked the character of Rinko and felt sympathy for her:'
As her husband Shigehiko, the director selected novelist and occasional actor VOji
Kotari. "His face did it for me. I was looking for someone with a shiny, bald head who also
looked intelligent. There are very few actors like that, maybe he is the only one." Kotari's
burly frame created quite a drastic physical contrast with the lithe Kurosawa, fourteen years
his junior, but Tsukamoto claims that this was not his intention: "I originally envisioned
Rinko as being in her late thirties. The contrast came from casting Asuka Kurosawa, who
is a lot younger. But I felt she was the most suitable person for the role and the contrast
was the natural result."
The mismatch between its lead actors was but one of the striking visual character­
istics of the film. In contrast with the film that preceded it, A Snake of June was shot in
monochrome and in a standard, 1 : 1. 33 aspect ratio. The monochrome found its origin in his
wish to echo the style of the nude photography that inspired the film's source idea, but
Tsukamoto furthermore decided to give the images a blue tint, referring firstly to the colour
of the hydrangea and secondly to the humidity and incessant downpour of the rainy season.
"I wanted to envelop the entire film in images of rain. Blue to me is the colour of concrete
soaked by rain water and reflecting the cloudy sky." The choice of screen ratio was informed
CHAPTER 1 0 I Rainy Season I A Snake of June 171
Lef: A hint of Tetsuo.
Right: The stalker Iguchi (Shinya Tsukamoto) attempts to re-awaken Shigehiko's dormant emotions.
by the director's wish to separate his characters on screen, to isolate them inside a "one­
person size" square frame in order to emphasise their solitude. Tsukamoto also intended to
evoke a sense of enclosure, which for him went hand-in-hand with his perception of eroticism:
"When I was in junior high I bought my first ever SM erotic magazine. The images inside it
exuded the atmosphere of perverse things going on behind locked doors and inside small
rooms. This kind of eroticism that is closely tied to enclosed settings is similar to the atmosphere
of Edogawa Ranpo's stories and it's an ambience that has always fascinated me!'
In terms of the film's musical direction, however, Tsukamoto's ideas were a lot more
vague. " In the past Tsukamoto always had clear ideas for the music," Shinichi Kawahara
remembers, "but with A Snake of June he didn't. He spent a lot of time in discussion with
ChO Ishikawa in order to spark ideas." Ishikawa concurs: "It was very difficult to imagine
which type of music Tsukamoto wanted. There is a main theme but it took me a long time to
come up with it." In the end Ishikawa found inspiration in the rhythm and sounds of the flash
bulb on the stalker's camera, which illuminates Rinko as she loses herself in ecstasy during
the film's climactic sequence. "The difference between A Snake of June and the other films
is that I tried very hard to make the music connect with the film. More than making it sound
good, I wanted to create music that would make the listener feel the world of the film. For
example, if you listen to it purely as music you get the impression that it would have been
better to polish it a bit more, but I avoided this in order to get the film's mood across. It's not
finished when you only listen to it; it needs to be accompanied by the film."
Completed in the summer of 2002, A Snake of June continued what was becoming
a Tsukamoto tradition by premiering at the Venice film festival in September of that year,
despite the much contested fact that Alberto Barbera had been forced to make way as
festival director as a result of Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's cultural reforms.
Barbera's replacement was Moritz de Hadeln, former head of the Berlin and Locarno
172 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
film festivals. A Snake of June competed in the sidebar program christened Controcorrente,
or Upstream in English, where it won the Special Jury Prize. Kiyo Joo remembers: "Originally
I believe there was only one prize, the San Marco prize, but they decided to also award a
Special Jury Prize and two Special Mentions. At first the organisers told us that A Snake of
June would win the San Marco. But later on, on the day of the ceremony, one of the festival
staff members called me to say 'Sorry, it's not the San Marco, it's the Special Jury Prize.' I
was so upset, because how could they make such a big mistake. The San Marco would
have meant a cash prize. I was so angry that I suggested to Tsukamoto to boycott the
ceremony, but he replied: 'No way, if they want to give me a prize, I'll take it.' I was a little bit
surprised by his reaction, but I should have understood that directors are like this. They
want to be recognised." This being his first occasion to clinch an award after three trips to
Venice, Tsukamoto's reaction was understandable.
Shinichi Kawahara, who had remained in Tokyo, heard the news by telephone: " I
received a call from Venice from Tsukamoto. He sounded quite restrained but I could tell he
was very emotional. In the past he always said that winning a prize is pure chance, that it's
Iguchi among his photographs.
like an accident. It depends entirely
on the preference of the jury. Of
course, each time we make a film
we try our best, but it's not our aim
to win awards. However, we did
notice that emphasising the fact that
A Snake of June had won this award
in Venice was very beneficial in
terms of selling the film." Joo: "A
Snake of June marked the first
occasion that one of Tsukamoto's
films was sold to Eastern Europe.
There was a retrospective of his films
in Poland. Tsukamoto was invited
and he said that he enjoyed it a lot.
That was the first time his films were
introduced to Eastern Europe. And
finally it allowed me to sell A Snake
of June to Poland."
The positive reception for the
film took Tsukamoto somewhat by
surprise: "To be honest, I was
expecting a much more negative
reaction. I thought the audience
would be divided, a 50-50 split at best
or that more than half wouldn't like
it. I was quite pleasantly surprised
in the end that so many people
enjoyed it. My previous films have
always received quite a polarised
CHAPTER 10 I Rainy Season I A Snake of June 173
reaction, but for A Snake of June I was expecting it to be stronger than normal. I t's a film
about a man sexually blackmailing a woman and I was worried whether the audience would
accept that basic idea. However, in writing and making the film my honest affection went to
the character of Rinko. It's the same affection that I feel for the women who are close to me
in real life. I was hoping that the viewer could sense that genuine feeling in the film as well,
because I thought it was more like an undercurrent than an obvious ingredient. The fact that
many people sensed it quite easily was a relief and a source of great joy for me."
In Venice, one of the film's most vocal supporters was Controcorrente jury member
Catherine Breillat, the French feminist filmmaker whose own work is often overtly sexual.
"I was very happy with the fact that a woman supported the film,"Tsukamoto says of Breillat's
enthusiasm, "especially a female director who makes films about women's sexuality." Breillat
perceived some of the influences that shaped the film when she likened it to Tatsumi
Kumashiro's 1973 erotic film The World of Geisha ( Yojohan Fusuma no Uraban), the
Japanese title of which refers to goings-on in small rooms behind closed doors. Even
though Kumashiro shot the film in widescreen, as was customary for the erotic films from
the Nikkatsu studio that he worked for, the director blocked off parts of the frame in the
film's many sex scenes, going so far as to cover up to half the image with a black bar, thus
creating an unmistakable sense of almost claustrophobic enclosure.
In the months that followed, A Snake of June picked up prizes at festivals in Spain and
Portugal, as it did the customary round across the international film festival circuit before the
Japanese theatrical release in May 2003. This period gave Tsukamoto the opportunity to embark
upon a new venture: the novelisation of one of his films.26 "The publisher and the distributor
Above: Asuka Kurosawa, Shinya Tsukamoto and YOji Kotari proudly show off the jury prize in Venice.
Opposite: A contemplative Rinko, captured on camera by Iguchi.
pushed me jnto writing it.The distributor felt it would generate good publicity for the film's release.
I've long harboured the wish to write a novel, but if you're leading a calm, everyday life, it's
better not to do it. Because once you start, it's like hell. For that reason I resisted it for a long
time, but this time others tried to pressure me into doing it and I decided to go for it. I had
some trepidation though, because I'd never written a novel before and had no idea how to
do it properly. Sure, I'd made a number of films that I'd devoted my complete attention and
devotion to, but in writing a novel there was the risk of screwing it up completely."
"Once I started I realised that it was indeed hell. It took about three months and I tried
to concentrate on it as much as possible. Aside from a few voice-over jobs I did nothing but
write my novel. When you run your own company like I do, you can't really devote so much
time to something that brings in so little money. The book was published in 8000 copies, so
the total amount I could make on the royalties was about 1 million yen [about US$ 10,000].
For three months of work, that's a very low sum compared to my normal activities. What's
more, it was around the same time as the birth of my son. The first three weeks I just wrote
whatever I thought was right, then after that I began to elaborate and refine what I had
written. I approached it as an original novel, not as a novelisation. It was hard, but I had a
real sense of achievement after it was done. I love the book now, it's like my fetish. I hold it
in my hands once a day and gently caress it before putting it back on the shelf."
CHAPTER 10 I Rainy Season I A Snake of June 175
Like Tokyo Fist before it, A Snake of June sees Tsukamoto taking a major leap forward in
his work. It is the second watershed in his filmography, closing off what came before and
announcing a new direction.
Rinko is a telephone counsellor at a hospital, giving support to people with a variety of
mental and physical prblems. Her marriage to Shigehiko is a happy one, but it has one prblem
of its own: it is devoid of intimacy Symptomatically Shigehiko is obsessed with cleanliness
and scrubs the bath and sink almost daily and sleeps most nights alone on the couch rather
than in bed with his wife. As a result, Rinko occasionally indulges herself in sexual fantasies
and masturbation, which she carefully keeps hidden frm her husband. When one day an
envelope arrives in the mail containing photos of her masturbating, and one of her former
patients calls to say he took the photographs, her life is shaken up. The caller Iguchi, tells
her she will receive all the negatives on one condition: that she realises her private fantasies.
Wishing to keep her activities a secret from her husband, she consents. Her initial unease
at having to walk arund town in a miniskirt and no underwear gradually gives way to diferent
feelngs and the reawakening of her repressed desires.
Purity is the keyword in discussing A Snake of June. Like its protagonist the film achieves a
state of purity in its expression of Tsukamoto's recurring themes, a purity that his previous
work never attained. The big difference between A Snake of June and the director's previous
films27 is that A Snake of June talks about undressing, about stripping away layers, whereas
all the films that came before did the opposite, they showed characters dressing up, covering
themselves with extra layers: adding metal to flesh in the Tetsuofilms, wearing piercings, boxing
gloves and protruding bumps and bruises in Tokyo Fist, carrying guns in Bullet Ballet and
being covered in mud and rags in Gemini. Although the thickness of these layers decreased
with each film, they were transformations that obscured the source of it all: the human body.
In A Snake of June there is no transformation. There is merely revelation, the revealing of
the human body in all its naked purity. The one physical transformation the film hints at,
Rinko's breast surgery after the discovery of a tumor, never actually takes place.
Nevertheless, A Snake of June follows the mould ofTsukamoto's previous films closely.
It contains the same central theme of desensitisation versus physicality and employs the
structure of a catalyst character interfering with a couple in order to liberate them. Tsukamoto
expresses the sterility and lack of intimacy between Rinko and Shigehiko very succinctly on
a stylistic level. Firstly, the physical mismatch between the lead actors evokes the emotional
distance between them and the hurdle they need to overcome to breach that gap. Secondly,
Rinko's appearance is rather androgynous in the early sections of the film, with her buttoned­
up shirt, short hair and glasses. Thirdly, there is a degree of stylisation to the performances
of the two leads, a stilted manner of speaking that emphasises their reliance on formality
rather than spontaneity, even in communicating with each other. Fourthly, the director visually
isolates his characters within the narrow frame, separating them into individuals even though
they are a married couple. Furthermore, Tsukamoto rarely allows them to have physical contact
or even look each other in the eye, while their apartment is a cold concrete pad similar to
the ones in Tetsuo II, Tokyo Fist and Bullet Ballet.
CHAPTER 10 I Rainy Season I A Snake of June 1 77
The images that gave birth to the film: the snail. ..
This is as far as similarities go, however. A Snake of June deviates from the blueprint
in a way that is very significant. The character of Iguchi is, unlike similar catalyst characters
in the earlier films, not defined in terms of his diametrically opposite situation to Rinko and
Shigehiko. We get to know very little about his social position, indicating that A Snake of
June is less concerned with a rupture with social constraints than with the characters' personal
journeys. Aside from their lack of intimacy, Rinko and Shigehiko come across as a happy
couple who are free from dissonant factors interfering with them from outside, like Tsuda's
work fatigue in Tokyo Fist. Here, the source of desensitisation is not found in society. In
fact, they live in a world that contains bits and pieces of physicality: the incessant rain that
brings life to the city (shown in shots of flowers and of the snail crawling over a leaf) and
their own apartment which, though constructed of concrete, contains a wide variety of
plants. The characters' desensitisation is entirely self-inflicted.
This change toward a more personal focus is the result of a shift in perspective that
is as radical as it is obvious. For the first time, the woman is the undisputed protagonist of
a Tsukamoto film. She is not an equal part of a triangular structure as in Tokyo Fistand Gemini,
but dominates the proceedings. Though the film is separated into three sections, labelled
178 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
... and the rain-covered hydrangea.
with the symbols "9", "a" and a combination of the two that indicates one woman and two
men, the "man" chapter, focusing on Shigehiko, is very brief compared to the "woman"
chapter (8 minutes versus 37 minutes, respectively), while the "one woman and two men"
sequence still clearly revolves around the woman.
While A Snake of June can not strictly be called feminist - the focus of the film is too
personal and other than the repression of Rinko's sexuality she suffers no oppression of
any other kind from her environment (unlike Hizuru in Tokyo Fist and Rin in Gemim) - it is
very unfair to go to the other extreme and label the film exploitative or misogynist, as some
have done on the basis that its story is about a man who blackmails a woman into performing
sexual acts in public. A Snake of June is not a film about rape, neither symbolic nor otherwise,
most of all because the sex is never forced upon Rinko against her will. "I'm not trying to
force you into sex," Iguchi tells her, "I just want you to do what you really want." Iguchi
doesn't force her to degrade herself or do anything against her will. What he forces her to
do is to face herself and her feelings, in order to let her break out of her physical and
emotional repression. Essentially he reverses the roles: Rinko, who has sacrificed herself
to help others in her job as a telephone counsellor, is now counselled herself, guided along
CHAPTER 10 I Rainy Season I A Snake of June 179
the same difficult steps and decisions as her own patients. "You made me want to live," explains
Iguchi, who now wants to return the favour.
Certainly, it is undeniable that Iguchi is blackmailing Rinko, which means he is forcing
her, exerting a power over her. However, the worst thing that can happen if she doesn't consent
is that her husband will rediscover her sex drive. In other words, even if she were to say no,
she will break out of her self-imposed repression. Neither option is a road to ruin, but both
lead to liberation instead, as confirmed by the "one woman and two men" section, in which
Rinko intentionally lets Shigehiko find one of the photographs in order to reawaken his desire.
One of the best examples of the non-exploitative nature of the film's sexual subject
matter can be found in Iguchi's photographs of Rinko. In addition to the majority of them being
of non-sexual situations (Rinko sitting on a park bench, smiling at a child, staring at the clouds,
etc. ), the pictures of her masturbating, particularly those taken right after her orgasms, show
Rinko exuding a great strength and self-confidence, her facial expressions powerful and
defiant. Sex is not her weakness but her strength.
The character of Iguchi, furthermore, is not portrayed in terms of perversion. Even in
the opening scene, in which he submits photos of a vibrator to the editor of a porno magazine,
he is defined in terms of contrast with the previous contributor, a man who photographs
women while he has sex with them and whose pictures solicit a lot more enthusiasm from
the editor. When Iguchi withholds one photograph from Rinko, he acts out of fear of sending
it to her, since it shows the proof of her disease. The entirety of Iguchi's actions in A Snake of
June is aimed at letting Rinko achieve the life she deserves, not to submit her to a man's
desires, but to liberate her own.
Left: One of the stalker's spycams.
Right: Iguchi in action.
Opposite: A mini-skirted Rinko takes her first uneasy steps toward liberation.
CHAPTER 10 I Rainy Season I A Snake of June 181
This is why Iguchi is almost a non-physical presence in Rinko's life. She knows him only
as a voice over the phone. This is significant with regards to the aspect of self-determination
in Rinko's actions. By communicating with her over the phone, Iguchi effectively becomes a
voice inside her head, particularly after she starts using the earplugs of the mobile phone he
sent her. Through this, he becomes the voice of her subconscious. "I'm telling you to do what
you want to do" is the voice of her suppressed desire crying out to be heard at the surface.
Rinko finds her liberation by listening to her own desire and becomes a woman with
more strength than ever before. She is anything but a victim, as shown when she subsequently
initiates the sexual liberation of her husband. In this section the film takes an odd and seemingly
incongruous turn, reverting to stylised metaphoric imagery that is close to Tsukamoto's early
cyberpunk works, in the scene in which Shigehiko hallucinates being kidnapped and forced
to watch a couple having sex and in the one in which Iguchi beats him up after tying him
down with a metal tentacle protruding from his crotch. Such stylisation seems at odds with
the route to purity the film travels. However, what these scenes show us is how deep Shigehiko's
own repression runs. His suppression of his desires is even stronger than Rinko's and he is
unable to face up to his desires without some kind of filter. He needs to be gradually guided
to confront them. These images function within the parameter of purity, because they are
symbolic of Shigehiko's distance from it.
To liberate her husband, Rinko asks Iguchi's help. Starting with the intentionally discarded
photograph, she awakens a form of jealousy in Shigehiko, which marks the start of his realisation
that he has desires for his wife. The introduction of Iguchi into the equation, through a phone
call and the spiking of Shigehiko's drink that brings on the aforementioned hallucination,
prepares him for the moment when Rinko draws him out of his shell, in the scene in which
she strips and masturbates in the rain. Under Iguchi's hyperactive flashbulb, whose rhythm
indicates the cadence of Rinko's excitement, the reawakening does indeed take place and
Shigehiko masturbates while looking at his wife in the throes of ecstasy.
The scene that follows expresses the change, showing the couple seated at the dinner
table, smiling as they, for the first time in the film, look each other straight in the eyes. This is
still only a step in the process, however. Shigehiko has realised that he has desires, as witnessed
by his wish to "see all of her" when he demands the photographs of the encounter from Iguchi.
This is where Iguchi finally becomes a physical presence in the life of the couple, appearing
from out of nowhere to beat up Shigehiko, and taunting him with threats that Iguchi will take
over his position in Rinko's life. Although Iguchi here is acting at Rinko's request, this sequence
is reminiscent of the scenes of men fighting while the woman has achieved her liberation in
Tokyo Fist and Gemini, the metal tentacle protruding from Iguchi's crotch symbolising the
undertone of male virility.
His jealousy, and thereby his desire for his wife, reaching its apogee, Shigehiko rushes
home, carrying a gun stolen from a beat cop, expecting to find Iguchi with his wife. When all
he finds is her waiting for him, they are finally able to consummate their mutual liberation and
make love. The all-eclipsing importance of this act is expressed by the fact that it takes them
beyond the threat of Rinko's breast cancer that has been hovering over them like a dark
cloud. This sequence contains a degree of ambiguity about Rinko's decision to have her
breast amputated, but this ambiguity indicates that this decision doesn't matter, not to the
film and not to them. Whatever the decision was, they are reunited then and there and they
embrace each other, warts and all, in pure desire.
182 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
Someone told me that A Snake of June felt like a fresh start, something very new for me,
but I've carried the concept around with me for a long time. To me, it felt like going back to
the past, not like something new, but the end result did become something different after
all. After Canal+ turned down the synopsis, the ideas kept coming and I couldn't stop thinking
about the concept. If I had left it at that, it would have been like an abortion, so I continued
to develop it. There wasn't such a big difference between this concept and my other films,
but I felt that I'd better make it while I still could. But the resulting film is actually quite different
after all. Maybe it's because I was a newlywed at the time and my mother was getting older
that I had a lot of opportunity to consider the situation of the women around me. I felt a sense
of sympathy and admiration for them and this probably found its way into the film. So if my
initial idea was to make a very perverse, erotic film, the result was very different, much
gentler and warmer. It's a mystery to me how exactly that could happen.
- Shinya Tsukamoto
Above: Shigehiko waits for his wife.
CHAPTER 10 I Rainy Season I A Snake of June 183
11. The Tell-Tale Heart
Vital (2004)
"Now that I've completed this film, I feel that I probably won't explore the theme of violence
any more in my future films," After making A Snake of June Shinya Tsukamoto found a new
theme that he wanted to delve into: the human body in its pure, natural state.
If the fascination with the body had found its source in his wish to make an erotic
film on A Snake of June, with Vital, its follow-up in every regard, Tsukamoto had become
much more conscious of the immediacy of his newly chosen trope: "Around the time I was
developing A Snake of June, I was planning to go on a bicycle trip. Just after I'd left the
house I felt a slight pain in my back. Since giving up at that point would have been a bit
embarrassing, I persisted. Then halfway through my trip I tried to get off my bike, but couldn't.
I couldn't move. It was quite shocking and it resulted in me being bedridden for quite a long
time. It was a scary experience, because it was almost as if my body was dead, while my
brain was fully alive and functioning. That was actually the source of inspiration for Vital,
the idea that consciousness can survive inside a lifeless body."
A Snake of June had brought Tsukamoto to the human skin, but with Vital he
intended to go beyond and explore the inside of the body. A lot less squeamish about the
subject than he had been that night in 1992 at the house of Alejandro Jodorowsky, he
embarked upon extensive research into human anatomy and dissection, finding in the
work of Leonardo da Vinci a major source of inspiration. "I looked at many of da Vinci's
drawings and I could really sense his curiosity for the interior of the human body. I had a
similar kind of curiosity while I was working on Vital." During a trip to Italy for a retrospective
of his work, Tsukamoto visited the La Specola natural history museum in Florence,
renowned for its extremely detailed, life-size wax reproductions of human bodies and
body parts in various stages of dissection.
As part of his research the director also observed actual dissections of human corpses
at a university hospital, finding in this experience further food for thought about the relationship
between body and consciousness: "I observed several dissection classes and at one point
I wondered 'What's the difference between these students and the bodies on their tables?
The difference is consciousness, but where in the body is our consciousness located?' I asked
their professor, a man who can normally answer any question about the tiniest detail of
the human body, but he didn't have an answer to mine."
CHAPTER 11 I The Tell-Tale Hearl I Vital 1 85
Amnesiac medical student Hiroshi (Tadanobu Asano).
What struck him furthermore about the experience was that the dissections "didn't look
or feel grotesque at all." In writing the screenplay Tsukamoto down played the grotesque
aspects of the subject in favour of a focus on artistry and beauty. He envisioned the main
character Hiroshi, a medical student who dissects the body of his own dead girlfriend
Ryoko as part of his studies, as a modern-day da Vinci, a young man with a feverish
attention to detail and a great talent for drawing, who minutely sketches the insides of Ryoko's
body. On the copy of the shooting script that Tsukamoto carried around with him during
the production of the film, he had written 'Leonardo da Vinci' in large katakana characters,
as if to constantly remind himself of the direction his film should take in handling its
potentially grotesque subject matter.
For the same reason the director felt that he needed to envelop the dissection scenes,
which form the bulk of the story, in sequences that emphasised beauty. Nature, which had
already played a key role in A Snake of June, became a central presence in Vital as well,
providing another link between the two films. Tsukamoto's approach also had its impact
on casting, particularly in his choice forthe actor who would portray HiroshLTadanobu Asano,
who had played the role of the vengeful samurai in Gemini, was Tsukamoto's first choice
for the part: "Asano has the beauty, pureness and naturalness I was looking for," the director
says. "The subject of dissection can easily become quite gruesome, so I wanted to surround
it with beauty."
1 86 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
Tsukamoto had once played alongside the young actor, nearly ten years earlier in
Naoto Takenaka's Quiet Days of Firemen. Asano remembers the experience vividly: "I
remember that at the wrap party for that film he told me that he and I should work together
on one of his films one day. I was really happy to hear him say that and I had literally been
waiting since then for the moment that he would ask me. When we made Quiet Days of
Firemen I had already seen Tetsuo and really liked it. I saw it on video when I was about 18
or 19 years old, in the early '90s. It was very impressive. I was in a rock band at the time
and I felt a similar vi be from the film as I got from playing music. So it was great to have a
chance to work with him on Takenaka's film." Tsukamoto confirms Asano's memories of that
moment: "I'd been thinking about working with him ever since we were in Quiet Days of
Firemen together, but there was never a suitable role for him. Hiroshi in Vital is a student, so
I couldn't play the part myself and I immediately thought of Asano."
In addition to his physique, it was the actor's skill that made Tsukamoto decide on
Asano, who is known for his understated and subtle performances: "He is not the type of
actor who underlines his character's feelings. There is a lot going on in the head of the
character of Hiroshi and I think a lot of actors would try to show that explicitly in order to get
those emotions across to the audience, but Asano doesn't work that way." On set, Tsukamoto
gave Asano very little direction, leaving the actor to interpret the character as he saw fit.
"Tsukamoto rehearsed with the actresses, but not with me," Asano states. "When I did the
costume fitting I discussed my point of view of the character with him and that conversation
is the only time we talked about my part and my performance."
The women in Hiroshi's life: fellow student Ikumi (Kiki, left) and girlfriend Rybko (Nami Tsukamoto, right).
For the two main female characters Ryoko and Ikumi, Tsukamoto cast two newcomers
opposite the experienced Asano, ballet dancer Nami Tsukamoto - no relation - and model
Kiki respectively. "I cast Kiki first;' he explains. "I found her picture in a magazine. She was a
model and I felt she had something very girlish and immature to her, but at the same time
her eyes had great strength. Visually she fit the character very well. Casting the part of Ryoko
was really difficult, for two reasons. Firstly, the actress had to be able to dance in addition to
being suitable for the character in terms of appearance and charisma. The dance sequences
are really important in the film and I wanted to cast a dancer in the part of Ryoko even if that
CHAPTER 11 I The Tell-Tale Heart I Vital 1 87
meant casting someone who can't act, which is why I went to see performances by the three
biggest ballet companies in Tokyo. Secondly, whoever was going to play the part had to
agree with having a full-body cast made, from which we could sculpt the corpse. That's a
very uncomfortable process, but it's also a rather sensitive issue to have this perfect copy of
your naked body for everyone to see."
Tsukamoto's chosen approach did however create some major restrictions for the
film's production. Asano, being one of the most in-demand actors in Japan, was unable to
give Tsukamoto the many months the director had previously taken to make his films.
Additionally, Tsukamoto had decided to shoot Vita/on 3Smm, which also created time restric­
tions: "I wanted to shoot this film in 3Smm because I wanted to film nature. In my mind nature
should be shot in 3Smm format, to bring out its colour. This meant that we had to rent a
3Smm camera, which is more expensive than 16mm. In order to keep the budget manageable
we had to limit the shoot to seven weeks. Vita/was my own independent production, but the
way we made it was a bit like the Chinese cooking style of Gemini."
"Those seven weeks was the maximum we could allow ourselves," admits Shinichi
Kawahara, who in addition to his customary role of assistant director also co-produced the
film. "It was really tight, we couldn't even afford to have one additional day. We had to be
very conscious of sticking exactly to the shooting schedule. Tsukamoto's attitude on set was
the same as always, so it was a miracle that we could finish the film in such a short time. Of
course, in the end it was Tsukamoto who decided that he could shoot the film in seven
weeks. A film's schedule really depends on the director's rhythm." Adds Tsukamoto: "The
fact that I could shoot the film so quickly is largely thanks to my crew. Many of them have
worked with me several times and they've become very experienced and skilful. They know
what they need to do and they can do it quickly."
Complicating matters was the fact that the director's back problems played up again
just before the start of production: "I was tied to my bed for a few weeks. My situation was
similar to Ryoko on the autopsy table. I could understand in that moment how much her
character needed the dance sequences, how she needed to explode and move her body.
After I went outside again for the first time I could sense the smells of the trees and flowers
in the air, and that also informed the character of Ryoko. I did feel pain and I must admit I
was worried for the future, about not being able to carry a camera any more." During the
shoot several practical solutions alleviated the burden of carrying the heavy 3Smm camera,
including suspending it on a pair of rubber straps. Steadicam shots were handled by
Tsukamoto's long-time camera assistant Takayuki Shida.2
The film was shot mostly in two locations, an abandoned hospital in the city of Yokohama
and the subtropical island of Okinawa, which represent the two sides of the story. For Asano,
the shoot at the hospital was a peculiar experience. "The night before we began shooting I
received the call sheet," he recalls. "I noticed the name of the hospital and it seemed familiar.
I called my mother and asked her which hospital I was born in, but she wasn't sure of the
exact name any more. So I said 'Was it the Aiji Center?' and she said 'Yes, that's it!' A few
days later she visited us while we were shooting there and she took me to the actual room
where I was born."
For the nature scenes, Tsukamoto had considered other options, including Ogasawara,
an island off Tokyo that once served as the location for the classic kaijO film Destroy All
Monsters! (KaijO S6shingeki, 1968) - albeit fancifully recreated in the Toho studios - and
188 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
Left: Hiroshi awakens in a hospital bed.
Right: Ikumi prepares for dissection class.
Yakushima, an island south of Kyushu covered in dense, ancient forests.29 Both proved to
be too inconvenient for the short production time: Ogasawara could only be reached by
boat and world heritage site Yakushima lacked the necessary infrastructure. "I thought about
nearby foreign territories too, like Guam, but it would have been too much hassle and too
expensive to deal with the local authorities," explains the director, who finally chose the
main island of the Okinawa archipelago, just a short flight from Tokyo and as well developed
in terms of infrastructure as the Japanese mainland. Tsukamoto elaborates: "I'd always had
a fascination for Okinawa. In junior high I often borrowed picture books on Okinawa from
the school library. I finally had the chance to go there myself in 1998. I rented a moped and
did a complete tour of the island. For someone who has lived in a city his entire life it was a
very impressive experience."
For the first time in his career, Tsukamoto benefited from government sponsorship for
one of his films. Still a rarity in Japan, the money didn't come without a fight. "I applied for
financial support from the Agency for Cultural Affairs, but they turned me down. I tried again
later, even though normally it's pointless to make the same request twice. But I was so fired
up, thinking, 'If they don't support this film, what the hell is the point of their existence?!' With
that anger I wrote another request and maybe my passion found its way to them through
my letter, because they accepted it the second time around." Even after the green light had
been given, however, things were still far from ironed out. Kawahara: "I n September 2003
they told us unofficially that we would receive the money, but that we would only receive it
once the film was completed. But it was still unofficial and there was a risk that they might
change their mind. For all we knew they could still decide that they didn't like the finished
film:' For Tsukamoto the situation was reminiscent of his attempts to find funding with video
companies when he was making Tetsuo, when the same companies that showed him the
door while he was making the film, came up to him with excuses after he had finished the
190 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
film and won the prize in Rome: "When I start a new project people refuse or ignore me, but
after the film is finished suddenly they are all ears. I expected that this situation would improve
as my career went on, but it hasn't changed at all."
Vital marks the first occasion that Tsukamoto has made use of digital editing. Right
up to A Snake of June he had still been cutting by hand and on film. "Maybe I should have
switched a lot earlier," he ponders, "but I enjoyed doing it by hand too much. I've been doing
it the old-fashioned way since the time of my 8mm films, cutting it by hand, winding the film
rolls. It was hard to let go of that procedure. But my films always take a long time to complete,
so switching to computer editing was a good start to at least diminish the post-production
time." His fondness for editing on film ties in with his do-it-yourself background as a filmmaker,
which has continued to characterise his films long after digital techniques like computer
graphics had become affordable for independent filmmakers: "I like the 'realness' of this way
of working, so even now I find it hard to let go of this handmade approach."
When it came to doing the musical score, Tsukamoto, like on A Snake of June, found
himself without a clear idea as to its precise direction or tone. According to ChO Ishikawa it's
Shinya Tsukamoto studies his script during the shooting of the
hospital scenes.
an indication of a change in
Tsukamoto, a change to which he
responded as a musician: "I feel
that there is a pre-Snake of June
period and a post-Snake of June
period in Tsukamoto's work. My
approach to doing the music didn't
change after A Snake of June, but
until that film my music tended to be
more of a mixture of disparate
elements. Individual odd noises
played a greater part in it. Recently
the music has become more
harmonious. My personal feeling
is that since A Snake of June I have
been in search of something more
essential, more substantial. I
search for sounds inside myself
more than in the past. I try to bring
them out from inside myself. That's
a tough thing to do, especially in a
mental sense. How do I transform
those things I dig up, which are very
abstract, into music? The music
that comes out of this process is
actually simpler in nature than what
I did in the past, which is a very
paradoxical situation. But it's also
stronger, more evocative music at
the same time."
CHAPTER 11 I The Tell-Tale Heart I Vital 191
Ishikawa admits that Vital provided a challenge for him, not only because of the lack of
instructions from the director: "The first thing I heard about the film was that it was about
dissection. I read the script later on, but even after reading it I didn't have any clear ideas
about what the music should be like. The term 'dissection' conjures a very strong image and
you can't help but follow that. You think about something shocking or scary, so the first idea
that came along was to use scary music. It's a thought that anyone would have, it's very
obvious and unoriginal, but it's alii could come up with at that point. I didn't really start working
on the music until I had a much better view of the meaning of dissection in the film. After I'd
reached that understanding, the music went in an entirely different direction from the ideas I
had earlier. In this film the music for the dissection symbolises the idea that the human body
is a combination of organic components. I felt that the music should investigate that organic
structure. I visited the set several times and sensed a similar feeling, but still couldn't find the
right inspiration for the music. I met with Tsukamoto after he finished the rough cut, but it
took me quite a while to find the basic concept for the music. I tried out a few melodies and
played them for him. Some of them weren't suitable for the film and now I think that was
because I tried to, in a way, save the film from its dark elements of dissection and death. The
music was too cheerful and not suited to the images. Around the same time I had the idea of
using a guitar, which eventually pointed me in the right direction. What stayed with me the
first time I watched the film was the element of wind. I chose the guitar because it fits with
that idea. I don't know the colour of the wind, but I found a way to evoke it by using the guitar."
For the first time since Tetsuo /I Tsukamoto also added a theme song, blue bird,
performed by pop singer Cocco. "I liked her music and I felt there were some similarities between
Vital and the atmosphere of Cocco's songs," says Tsukamoto. "I gave her the screenplay
and some time later I received a demo tape. I wasn't sure what to do with the song at first,
since I almost never use theme songs in my films. But I liked it and I thought it fit very well
with the story, so I asked her to record it properly for use in the film."
Left: Beyond the skin.
Centre: Tsukamoto checks a set-up during the Okinawa shool.
Right: In search of human consciousness.
192 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
Rybko's blue bird tattoo.
Vita/carried on the tradition of a Tsukamoto film premiering at the Venice Film Festival.
After yet another change of festival director it was Tsukamoto's old acquaintance Marco
MOiler who was at the helm of the event in 2004. Vitals first public screening took place in
the Orizzonti ('Horizons') section of the festival, although the film had already received its
unofficial unveiling at the film market of the Cannes Film Festival four months earlier. Despite
not winning any prizes, Tsukamoto's presence was strong in Venice that year, with the Mostra
also showing two films that featured Tsukamoto as an actor: Takashi Shimizu's DV-shot
horror film The Stranger from Afar (Marebito) and Suzuki Matsuo's colourful comedy Koi no
Man: Otakus in Love (Koi no Man).
The film opened theatrically in Japan in December 2004, its promotional campaign again
downplaying the grotesque aspects of the story. The director clearly wanted to make it known
that Vita/ was not a film that fit the image people had of him based on his work of the past.
Shinya Tsukamoto had moved on: "Like any child, I wondered about outer space when I
was little. I wondered if the universe had an end and, if so, what lies beyond the edge. But if
you look at something under a microscope, the view is similar to looking at outer space. If
you want to know about the biggest thing, all you need to do is look at the smallest. Maybe
Leonardo da Vinci also realised this. To learn how the universe works he made drawings of
everything around him and in particular of the human body. He dissected bodies himself
1 94 IRON MAN· The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
Hiroshi's father (Kazuyoshi Kushida) guards over Ry6ko's body.
and made anatomical drawings. I also observed dissections and with my own eyes I saw
the scalpel dig into the body. Yet I couldn't figure out where in that body we can find
consciousness. If we can't discover all the answers when we explore inner space, then we
will never know about outer space either. I resigned to this knowledge with joy, I was at peace
with not being able to find the answer. So when I finished Vitali somehow felt refreshed, like
I'd found a new environment for myself. In Tetsuo II, Tokyo Fist and Bullet Ballet the protag­
onists hurt their own bodies hoping to find out whether or not they are living in a dream. In
Vital the protagonist is confronted with a dead body and enters it. In the end he crosses
through the gate; from the agonised, suffocating life of the city he emerges in the vast realms
of nature. One day I would like to make a movie that will take me even further and deeper
into nature, far away from that gate. For now, though, I would like to continue exploring the
area just outside the gate, the way I did with Vital:'
Tsukamoto resumed this exploration even before Vita's release. Upon his return from
Venice he began production on a short film, a commission intended as part of an omnibus
film entitled female. Conceived by Shinya Kawai, who had previously supervised the multi­
vignetted Jam Films and Jam Films 2to considerable commercial success, it featured five short
films based on an equal number of short stories, all written specifically for the film by female
novelists. female dealt with a theme familiar to Tsukamoto: eroticism in general and women's
CHAPTER 11 I The Tell-Tale Heart I Vital 195
sexuality in particular. Adapting Mariko Koike's story Tamamushi[tr: Jewel beetle), he revisited
the territory explored in A Snake of June: "I felt there were still things left for me to investigate
about the subject of eroticism. The original story's attitude toward its female character was
quite similar to what I tried to do with A Snake of June. I had been carrying an idea around
with me for quite a while, concerning an erotic film with a female protagonist named Memeko
Kinta.3o At one point I even considered doing a series around her. When I read Koike's short
story I thought it was very suitable to my Memeko Kinta idea and I figured it would be an
opportunity to finally make a film about the character."
Played by Eri Ishida, the plump, slightly dull-witted but also resilient Memeko brings
to mind the heroine of one of Tsukamoto's favourite films, Sh6hei Imamura's Intentions of
Murder, which provided a similarly unglamourised portrait of an ordinary woman's sexuality,
in its case a put-upon housemaid named Sadako. The title Tamamushi refers not only to
the aforementioned type of insect, but in Japanese also has the connotation of irides­
cence. With a woman's naked skin radiating more brilliance and sheen than the metallic
males of his early films ever did, the days of cyberpunk seemed further away for Shinya
Tsukamoto than ever.
196 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
A Snake of June constituted a move toward purity on the part of the director. Prior to it, the
human body had been a vehicle: its manipulation - through mutating, damaging and scarring
-formed a way to escape the numbness and desensitisation induced by the city environment.
Inflicting and enduring pain awakened the dormant senses and led the way to liberation.
The body was a means to an end. A Snake of June and Vital move beyond this idea and
look at the body itself, discovering in the process that everything Tsukamoto had been
searching for was already there. They form a re-evaluation of the director's preoccupations.
This results in two films that are markedly less violent than their predecessors, partic­
ularly in the case of Vital. Violence formed a part of the manipulation of the body as seen
in the earlier films. Now, manipulation and violence are no longer needed. Tsukamoto
discovers that the body itself already holds all the keys inside it, naturally, and he becomes
comfortable with showing and confronting the human body in its pure state. With Vital,
Tsukamoto's altitude toward the body, the most crucial ingredient of his work, has turned
around completely from what it was in the days of Tetsuo and its successors.
Nature and the natural state of being are the director's new subjects. A Snake of
June's numerous insert shots of plants and animal life among urban concrete - represented
by the central image of the snail on the wet leaf - were an acknowledgement that the
physical world has existed alongside us all the time, even inside the city. In Vital, this
acknowledgement is definitive, caught in a single shot that starts by looking up at the director's
prototypical sterile skyscrapers, then pans down to reveal an open sewer at their base,
where water flows in abundance and grime and moss cover the cracked concrete walls.
Sterility and vitality exist side-by-side and no longer form a contrast.
Hiroshi Takagi is a medical student plagued with amnesia after a road accident that took
the life of his girlfriend Ry6ko. Settling back into his parents' concrete apartment with his
mind a blank sheet, he walks around like a ghost. T he discovery of an anatomy textbook
rekindles memories of his devotion to his medical studies and as the recollections, partic­
ularly those of his girlfriend, slowly start to fow back, he decides to re-enter university and
pick up where he left off. Ikumi, a classmate who numbly drifts through the days, feels
drawn to Hiroshi, but soon realises she has to compete with the lingering presence of
Ry6ko. When the body on his class dissection table turs out to be that of his dead girlfriend,
Hiroshi starts a feverish search for their shared past, hoping to find what was lost by digging
it up from inside her preserved corpse.
Vital may largely throw the contrast between urban numbness and physicality overboard
as a theme, but it still functions as the film's narrative framework. Hiroshi's amnesia is the
desensitisation that he tries to overcome in order to regain his memory and his feelings. It
has obliterated lifelong bonds, without which he feels no affinity or emotion even toward
his own parents. "I never thought you would ever forget this mug," says his father while
silting at Hiroshi's hospital bed.
Other familiar ingredients from the Tsukamoto canon are retained as well. There is
the apartment of Hiroshi's parents, all cold designer concrete. When their son starts to make
an effort to regain his memory, he moves out of their house and into a squalid student room.
CHAPTER 1 1 I The Tell·Tale Hearl I Vilal 197
Lef: Tsukamoto and Tadanobu Asano discuss a scene.
Right: A camera suspended on rubber straps alleviated the pressure on the director's bad back.
There is the isolation and numbness of the characters, like Ikumi, who finally finds in the
pain she feels over Hiroshi's devotion to Ryoko the sensations she so longed for. Visually,
Tsukamoto continues the isolation of characters in the frame, but working with a wider screen
ratio than in A Snake of June, the others become out-of-focus blotches in the fore- or
background: they form vague, ghost-like presences in each other's world, not unlike Ryoko
in Hiroshi's. Finally, there is the familiar story structure of the love triangle, but this time one
that involves a lot less violence. The third element, which could be either Ikumi or Ryoko's
corpse, is not out to destroy the couple but feeds off it.
While all these habitual aspects are firmly in place in Vital, the big difference is the
diminished role of social relevance; there is no more talk of sterility and sensation. Much
like his protagonist, Tsukamoto shuts off the outside world in his exploration of the mysteries
of the human body. This is not a bad thing per se. Firstly, the director has certainly been
clear enough about his social concerns in his work up to this point. One gets the impression
of a filmmaker who is well aware that he has made his point and who has moved into new,
more abstract territory. Secondly, the questions he poses in Vital regarding the relationship
between the human body and human consciousness are anything but inconsequential. It
touches on the very essence of our being, a mystery that even our greatest minds have
been unable to unravel.
The abstract nature of Vital can clearly be sensed from the way in which it evokes the
passing of time. That is to say, it doesn't. There are several indications of how much time
passes, including an overt verbal one when Hiroshi's professor says: "Our four-month dissection
class has come to an end", but the story feels like it takes place in suspended time. How
much time elapses between Hiroshi's release from hospital and him resuming his studies is
unclear. The film also jumps back and forth into what seem like flashbacks or memories but
actually form an alternative present, another reality, that of the continued togetherness of Hiroshi
and Ryoko in a slightly unworldly subtropical paradise. Time is not an issue when you have
no past: "I'm confused about time," Hiroshi literally says to his father at one point.
198 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
Ikumi discovers the truth about Ry6ko.
At the same time, the film treats Ryoko not as a dead person but as a presence, no
further removed from Hiroshi than those human blotches that consistently fill the edges of
the frame. To Hiroshi at least she is still there and her consciousness is still intact; he meets
her in the alternate present and the fact that her body ended up on his autopsy table is because
"she led herself there," as the professor says. Her will and consciousness seem to still be
alive. Her last words, spoken with clarity just before she died, linger and resonate through
the physical presence of her body and through the memories and realisations that come
bubbling up from Hiroshi's subconscious. Her legacy for Hiroshi is the message that he
should open himself up to sensations, to make conscious attempts to feel, like her explosive
dance routines in the alternative present.
The end of the dissection class brings that openness, which comes as a liberation
for all three characters: for Hiroshi, for Ikumi and also for Ryoko's body, finally put to rest.
Leaving the school building, Hiroshi stares up at the verdant trees, his thoughts and feelings
summed up by the words of Ryoko in the film's final, subjective shot: "It smells so good."
They have regained their senses and become, as the title says, vital.
200 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
Perhaps it's because I'm getting older, but living in the city is becoming more and more
stressful for me. I wanted to be closer to nature. Maybe it's for this reason or maybe it's
because I already made several films about the subject of life in the city that I wanted to
take the next step and move beyond the contrast of body and city. One day I thought that if
you focus more on the human body and maybe go through the body, even the body of a
human being living in the city, then you will find nature. It's like moving through a tunnel at
the end of which you arrive at nature. I became quite curious about dissection and at one
point I had the opportunity to observe the dissection of a human corpse. After it, everything
fell into place in my mind and the ideas kept coming. I feel great relief that I was able to
make this film. It's as if a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
- Shinya Tsukamoto
Above: Hiroshi lost in Ihe maze of his own memory.
CHAPTER 11 I The Tell-Tale Heart I Vital 201
12. Li ke Goi ng Fi shi ng
When 10-year old Shinya Tsukamoto looked up at the blue sky while performing in his
first school play, what was born was not just a love of acting, but a devotion to it. Although
Tsukamoto describes his acting work as "very seriously doing a hobby," a look at even his
earliest appearances in his own Bmm films reveals a commitment that goes beyond the
reaches of a mere diversion. In Genshi-san he gave himself the part not of the monster,
but of one of the spectators, a boy who keeps his head cool amid a panicking crowd; he
chose the acting part over the more obvious title role.
This characterises his choices as an actor all through his Bmm period as well as
his stage work. Tsukamoto has always been judicious when casting himself, thinking
carefully about which part to play and how to play it. Not rarely he would choose to play
second fiddle rather than be the star of his own shows, as in T he Adventure of Denchu
Kozo (both in the stage and screen versions) and the Tetsuo films, in which he chose the
villain role instead of the hero.
What little video material exists of his stage work with KaijO Shiata invariably shows
him to be a very energetic performer. "As a boy I used to be rather shy and not very good
at dealing with other people," he explains. "It was only when I started appearing in school
plays that I learned how to relate to people and be more socially adept." About his approach
to his craft, he says: "I'm serious and also rather insecure, so I try to understand a character
as much as possible. Then if you can't understand the character so well, you try other
things. If you follow the outline of the character then that will at least make it easier for
you to get closer to him, even if you still don't quite understand his real motivation. That's
why I like to prepare in whatever way I can."
When he made Tokyo Fist, he joined a boxing gym. For Bullet Ballet he took shooting
lessons. When he played a magician in Takashi Miike's film Dead or Alive 2 (Dead or Alve 2:
T6b6sha, 2000), he studied magic. As he says, Tsukamoto likes to prepare "physically," echoing
in his acting work the transformations undergone by the characters in his films: "1 have a tendency
to take it easy in life and it's only through making movies that I feel awake and alive."
"I think he is a very interesting actor," says Takashi Miike, who in addition to Dead or
Alive 2 also cast him as a criminal mastermind hypnotist in Ichi the Killer (Korshiya 1, 2001).
CHAPTER 12 I Like Goi ng Fishing 203
"When he directs a film he does it not as if it's his work, but his destiny. But acting for him is
like going fishing. His style of acting is very orthodox compared to his way of directing, which
is very particular. He plays very theoretically, almost reacting instead of acting."
Tsukamoto began appearing in other directors' films shortly after Tetsuo II. The first
of these appearances was in The Most Terrible Time in My Life ( Waga Jinsei Saiaku no Toki,
1 994) for Kaizo Hayashi. "I don't have a background as an assistant director. I never saw
other directors at work, so as an actor I get a chance to do that after all, which is an interesting
experience. But I only act in the films of directors I like," explains Tsukamoto.
Indeed, as in the case of Hayashi, there is a cross-fertilisation between Tsukamoto
and the directors in whose films he appears. Hisashi Saito, author of the first draft of the
Tokyo Fist screenplay, cast Tsukamoto i n his short what ever ( 1 997) and in the feature
film Sunday Drive (2000) , the latter of which was furthermore produced by Kaijyu Theater.
Sunday Drive co-starred Takuji Suzuki, later to act in A Snake of June, who had taken
part as a director in the PIA Film Festival in 1 988, the year of Denchu Kozo. Tomoo Haraguchi,
who directed him in the fantasy film Sakuya: Slayer of Demons (Sakuya Y6kaiden, 2000) ,
was the make-up effects artist on Bullet Ballet. Go Riju appeared i n Vital after casting
Tsukamoto in his own film Chloe (Kuroe, 2001 ) .
204 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
The most striking example, however, is his relationship with fellow actor/director Naoto
Takenaka. After their first collaboration on Hiruko, Takenaka cast Tsukamoto in Quiet Days
of Firemen in 1994. Takenaka in turn appeared in Tsukamoto's Tokyo Fist and Gemini, while
Tsukamoto showed up in the Takenaka-directed Tokyo Biyori ( 1997) and Quartet for Two
(Rendan, 2001), as well as in Takenaka's stage production T V Days ( Terebi Deizu, 1996). Quiet
Days of Firemen was, as previously noted, a particularly fateful venture for Tsukamoto, given
the later casting of his other co-stars Tadanobu Asano and Kyoka Suzuki in his own films.
His friendship with Takenaka also resulted in arguablyTsukamoto's oddest screen appearance,
as a transvestite bottled-water salesman in Ben Wad a's The Perfect Education (Kanzen
Naru Shiiku, 1997), of which Takenaka was the star. Not particularly taken with the film as a
whole, Tsukamoto says he accepted the role at Takenaka's request.
Tsukamoto's provision that he only works with filmmakers he admires has resulted
in appearances in a large number of films for directors who, like him, come from an
independent film background. Shunichi Nagasaki, who cast Tsukamoto in Some Kinda
Love (Romansu, 1996) and Dogs (Doggusu, 1999), Masashi Yamamoto, who directed him
in Atlanta Boogie ( 1996), Isshin I nuda, for whom he worked on the animation/live action hybrid
Tracing Jake (Densetsu no Wani Jeiku, 2004), and Go RijQ are all proponents of the 8mm
movement of the late 1 970s, while the late Shinji Somai, who directed Tsukamoto in Wait
and See (A, Haru, 1998) is considered a forerunnner of the contemporary, post-studio era
Japanese film scene.
In his development as an actor Tsukamoto himself refers to the years 2000 and 2001
as his peak period. During 2000 he acted in Sakuya: Slayer of Demons, the supernatural drama
A Drwning Man (Oboreru Hito). in which he took the lead opposite highly respected dramatic
actress Reiko Kataoka, Chloe, Ichi the Killer and Blind Beast vs. Dwarf(Mojt tai Issun Boshl) .
The latter title, a colourful hotchpotch of Edogawa Ranpo influences directed by veteran
ero-guro filmmaker Teruo Ishii,31 saw Tsukamoto incarnating Ranpo's detective character
Kogoro Akechi. "I discovered Tsukamoto when I saw Tetsuo," says Ishii, "which was an
extraordinary film. I really thought he was an exceptional director. We first met during a panel
discussion that we were both invited to and we hit it off very well. When I asked him to play
in my film he gladly accepted. He's a wonderful actor and he did very well on the film."
Tsukamoto: "I built a real momentum and energy as an actor in 2000, which continued
into the following year when I made A Woman's Work." A character- and dialogue-driven
ensemble piece, A Woman's Work ( Torabaiyu, directed by Kentaro
tani, another 1988 PIA
festival contestant) is one of the best examples of Tsukamoto's acting skills, something that
wasn't lost on others, as he won two prizes for Best Supporting Actor in 2001, at the Yokohama
Film Festival and the Mainichi Film Concours.32
Aside from film Tsukamoto also appeared in a number ofTV productions, albeit sparingly.
His most attention grabbing part on the small screen was in the Mike Hama: Private Detective
(Shiritsu Tantei Hama Maiku) series. Based on the character created by Kaizo Hayashi for
The Most Terrible Time in My Life and its two theatrical sequels Stairway to the Distant Past
(Haruka na Jidai no Kaidan 0, 1995) and The Trap ( Wana, 1996), the TV series saw Masatoshi
Nagase reprising his role as the titular sleuth in twelve episodes directed by reputable
filmmakers including Sago Ishii, Shinji Aoyama and Isao Yukisada. Tsukamoto appeared in
a different role from the one he played in the firsttwo of Hayashi's original films, as the scarfaced
villain in the penultimate instalment of the series, Man Woman, Woman Man (Onna to Otoko,
CHAPTER 12 I Like Going Fishing 205
Otoko to anna, a. k. a. Mike Hama Must Die), directed by Alex Cox, the English filmmaker of
Repo Man, Sid & Nancy and Revenger's Tragedy fame.
In addition to his acting, Tsukamoto also does voice-over work, mostly for television
and radio commercials. Far more prolific in this area than in any other - his voice can be
heard in an average 25 TV ads a year - he admits that his voice acting is his main source
of income. "Acting is a kind of favourite hobby. I do voice-over work to make a living. The TV
commercials pay really well. It only takes a day of work at most for each job, so the pay is
relatively high given how little time it takes." He began voice acting in the period when he
was working for Ide Production: "I was working as an assistant director at the time. One of
my tasks was to make the test versions of the commercials, a kind of prototype for the
finished version. For those I would usually do the voice-overs myself. Others at the company
thought my voice sounded nice and they let me do some of the real commercials as well."
Tsukamoto has been the voice for campaigns by BMW (1 995/'96), NTT Docomo (1 997-2003),
Toyota (2001 /'02) and Kirin Beer (1999-2001), among many others.
Given that Tsukamoto usually takes the better part of a year on his own films, which
leaves only the time between his own productions for doing other projects, the result is a filmog­
raphy that shows a neat division between directing years and acting years. There are few acting
roles for the years in which his own films are made and released. In the intermediate ones,
however, he racks up the acting credits, with an average of four a year in addition to his
appearances in his own films. That he would be so open in his choices as an actor and
voice actor while at the same time so independent and uncompromising as a director seems
odd and brings to mind the work philosophies of John Cassavetes, whose career saw a
very similar division.
For Tsukamoto, quite simply, it is all part of the same urge: "In the beginning of my
career I was forced to do everything myself. But while doing so, I discovered that I find all
these aspects of the process very interesting. I like to draw pictures, I like to tell stories, I
like to write scripts and I like to act too. I also like to make posters for the promotional
campaigns of my films. I even like figuring where in the city we should hang those posters
and what effect that will have. I'm really interested in all these aspects, so I don't really
want to give any of them up."
One of Tsukamoto·s earliest
acting appearances, in his
Smm film Donten.
206 IRON MAN· The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
Epilogue. Tetsuo Strikes Back
When, after A Snake of June, Shinya Tsukamoto confessed: "Now that I've completed this
film, I feel that I probably won't explore the theme of violence any more in my future films,"
he ended the sentence with the following words: " . . . with the exception of Tetsuo in America."
Despite the failure to get a Tarantino-produced Tetsuo 11/ off the ground in the early 1990s,
Tsukamoto always kept the possibility of making a third entry in the back of his mind. It
was during the writing of this very book that he began to seriously consider making it his
next project after Vital.
But with the long lapse since the second Tetsuo and especially with the direction
Tsukamoto's film have been travelling in since - further and further away from cyberpunk
-mounting a Tetsuo II/at this point in his career seems like an odd choice. The director ponders
the seeming incongruity: "I don't really know why I decided to return to the world of Tetsuo
now. Maybe I will find the reason while making the film. Though finally doing Tetsuo III does
feel like building a solid base to support the films that will follow after it."
Over those twelve years ("Maybe the reason I didn't make Tetsuo III all these years
is because Tokyo Fist already dealt with the same themes"), Tetsuo III has had a long time
to gestate in Tsukamoto's mind, and the idea has morphed through a variety of shapes.
"The idea of doing a third Tetsuo started when an American company tried to convince me
to make a third film in the U. S. A. ," he explains, "so from the beginning the premise for the
third film was to do a Tetsuo in America. I originally envisioned it as quite a big project with
location shooting in the U. S. , but I changed my mind later on. For a while after that I really
wanted to stick to the idea of yojohan SF33, the concept of science fiction in an everyday
environment, to do it as an independent movie and shoot it in Japan." He also briefly
considered a compromise of sorts, a mixture of the two that would have only parts of its
story set in the States. Finally, he decided that the Japanese capital is Tetsuo's natural
home: "Cyberpunk belongs in Tokyo, like in William Gibson's novels or in Blade Runner,
where that rainy city is so much like Tokyo. The protagonist of Tetsuo 11/ will be an American,
but the story will be set in Tokyo Cyberpunk City."
More than a decade down the line, though, cyberpunk isn't quite the buzzword it
used to be. The world has changed and science fiction has changed with it, a situation of which
EPILOGUE I Tetsuo Strikes Back 207
Tsukamoto is very conscious: "Probably the main theme of the Tetsuofilms is the relationship
between the human body and the city. The Matrix and Fight Club dealt with some of the
same things, but Tetsuo III will focus more on weapons of war, treating the body as that
kind of weapon. I want to make Tetsuo 11/ with a very detailed, American movie feel. I mean
that if Tetsuo: The Iron Man was a kind of distortion of horror films, then Tetsuo III will be a
distortion of Blade Runneror the Alien series. The body as weapon, which is either restrained
or unleashed, is not an uncommon subject in American cinema. On the whole, war will play
a much greater role than in the previous films."
Despite holding on to the idea of an American protagonist, he doesn't immediately
see someone of the stature of Tim Roth, the projected star of the Tarantino-produced
version, as a likely candidate: "I'd like to find someone who is above all suitable to the role,
in terms of personality and physique. That's much more important than getting someone
famous. I'd love to find some marvellous newcomer who is not tied down by schedules and
union rules. I will cast Japanese actors for the bad guy roles and I will play the main
antagonist again, like in the other two films, and fight the big final battle with Tetsuo. I'd like
to have Tomorowo Taguchi again too, but he's become a very popular actor in Japan now.
I can't occupy him indefinitely any more, like I used to. For Tetsuo 11/1 will need a cast and
crew that are prepared to sacrifice all their time, with no limits."
The concept of a flying Tetsuo will probably find its way into the third film after all,
meaning that the film's ambitions will not be limited to just an intense and lengthy shoot.
Yet, Tsukamoto refuses to consider the option of accepting co-production funds to alleviate
the burden. If a second sequel to Tetsuo sounds like a cash cow, Tsukamoto is not about
to make things easy on himself. "Maybe, just maybe, the film will be beneficial to KaijyuTheater,
but my problem is that I can't think seriously about money. I never had the money to make
films the proper way, and that won't change with Tetsuo 11/. It'll be the same old situation
and we'll need to find a realistic method of shooting. But that's okay. If Hollywood movies
are made under bright sunshine, a Tetsuofilm should be made as the epitome of underground
darkness. A lot of American companies approached me with offers to produce Tetsuo III,
but this film won't necessarily improve from that kind of co-production system. The movie
should directly reflect my instinctive impulses. It will be difficult to find the budget, because
I can't really bother my friends for money any more, but, at the same time, this extreme situation
probably forms the best set of circumstances for making a film like this."
A sequel to his two internationally most lauded and famous films will doubtlessly
travel better and be seen more widely than many of the films he made over the past ten
years, but Tsukamoto remains characteristically modest: "It has never happened that one
of my films received a good reaction when I was expecting one. Quite the opposite, in fact.
The films I made with no holds barred, for which I was expecting a real bashing from the
public, those are the ones that were well received. So I try not to expect anything or have
any dreams. This is the state of mind I want to make this film in. This doesn't mean I will
shut myself off from the world, though. I want to try my best to make a film that more people
will like than any of my previous movies, but I will make Tetsuo 11/ as dark and deep as a
Tetsuo film should be, with no compromises."
208 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
Shinya Tsukamoto filmography
Films as director
[tr: Mr. Primitive)
10 mins.
8mm, 1:1.33
©1974 Tsukamoto Shinya
[tr: Giant cockroach story)
e:::-: I) #�
50 mins.
8mm, 1:1.33
Cast: Shinya TSUKAMOTO, Itaru OYAMA, Takako OE, Daisuke NAITO
©1975 Tsukamoto Shinya
25 mins.
8mm, 1:1.33
Cast: Shinya TSUKAMOTO, Itaru OYAMA, Hiroko OKAMOTO
©1975 Tsukamoto Shinya
[tr: Cloudy sky)
60 mins.
8mm, 1:1.33
Cast: Shinya TSUKAMOTO, Sadao TAMAMUSHI, Mariko MATSUMOTO, K6ji TSUKAMOTO, Toshio OKUDA, Junichir6
©1976 Tsukamoto Shinya
[tr: Flying in a helltown piss lodge]
±f1IIJ\�""m I::-lt.J
120 mins.
8mm, 1: 1.33
Cast: Sadao TAMAMUSHI, Kiyoko NISHIYAMA, Mariko MATSUMOTO, Koji TSUKAMOTO, Toshio OKUDA, Junichiro
©1977 Tsukamoto Shinya
[tr: Wing 2]
40 mins.
8mm, 1:1.33
Cast: Hideaki SAKAUCHI, Sadao TAMAMUSHI, Sawako FUKUDA
©1978 Tsukamoto Shinya
[tr: Lotus flower fly!]
90 mins.
8mm, 1: 1.33
©1979 Tsukamoto Shinya
Futsu Saizu no Kaijin
18 mins.
8mm, 1: 1.33
Producer: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Screenplay: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Director of photography: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Editor: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
©1986 Tsukamoto Shinya
210 IRON MAN· The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
DenchO Koz6 no B6ken
45 mins.
8mm, 1: 1.33
Production I dislribution: Kaijyu Theater
Sales: Gold View
Cast: Nariaki SENBA, Nobu KANAOKA, Tomorowo TAGUCHI, Shinya TSUKAMOTO, Kenji NASA, Kei FUJIWARA,
Mitsuru SAGA
Producer: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Screenplay: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Director 01 pholography: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Editor: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Music: Nobu KANAOKA, Juke Joint Junk, Bachikaburi
Special effects: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
© 1987 Kaijyu Theater
67 mins.
16mm, 1: 1.33
Production I distribution: Kaijyu Thealer
Sales: Gold View
Japanese release: July 1, 1989
Cast: Tomorowo TAGUCHI, Kei FUJIWARA, Shinya TSUKAMOTO, Renji ISHIBASHI, Nobu KANAOKA, Naomasa
Producer: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Screenplay: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Director of photography: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Editor: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Song: Mihatenu Omoi, composed by Akio OKUSAWA
Special effects: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Assislant director: Kei FUJIWARA
© 1989 Kaijyu Theater
Hiruko: Y6kai Hant;
90 mins.
35mm, 1: 1.85
Production: Sedic
Distribution: Shochiku Fuji
Sales: Gold View
Japanese release: May 1 1, 1991
Cast: Kenji SAWADA, Masaki KUDO, Megumi UENO (Rin MIYAMA), Yasuaki TSUKAHARA, Daisuke YAMASHITA,
Naoto TAKENAKA, Hideo MUROTA, Kimiko YO, Chika ASAMOTO
Producers: Toshiaki NAKAZAWA, Masamichi HIGUCHI, Toshiyasu NAKAMURA
Screenplay: Shinya TSUKAMOTO, based on the manga by Daijiro MOROBOSHI
Director of photography: Masahiro KISHIMOTO
Editor: Yoshitami KUROIWA
Music: Tatsushi UMEGAKI
Song: Tsuki no Yor wa by Megumi UENO
Special effects: Eiichi ASADA
Special make-up effects: Takashi ODA
Assistant director: Shigeru SAKURADA
© 2000 There's Enterprise Inc. I Kaijyu Theater
Tetsuo II: Body Hammer
83 mins.
35mm, 1: 1.33
Production I distribution: Kaijyu Theater I Toshiba EMI
Sales: Gold View
Japanese release: October 3, 1992
Cast: Tomorowo TAGUCHI, Shinya TSUKAMOTO, Nobu KANAOKA, Keinosuke TOMIOKA, Min IWATA, Su-Jin KIM,
Hideaki TEZUKA, Nobuo ASADA, Toraemon UTAZAWA, Shinichi KAWAHARA
Producers: Hiroshi KOIZUMI, Shinya TSUKAMOTO, Fuminori SHISHIDO, Fumio KUROKAWA, Nobuo TAKEUCHI,
Screenplay: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Director of photography: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Editor: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Song: Materials by Tomoyasu HOTEl
Special make-up effects: Takashi ODA
Assistant directors: Hiroyuki KOJIMA, Shinichi KAWAHARA, Kiyohide OTANI
© 1992 Toshiba-EMil Kaijyu Theater
50 secs.
16mm, 1:1.33
Production: MTV Japan
Producer: Hideaki OGURI
Director of photography: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Editor: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Music: Nine Inch Nails
212 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
Tokyo Fisuto
87 mins.
35mm, 1: 1.85
Production I distribution: Kaijyu Theater
Sales: Gold View
Japanese release: October 21, 1995
Chu ISHIKAWA, Nobu KANAOKA, Tomorowo TAGUCHI, Julie Dreyfus
Producer: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Screenplay: Shinya TSUKAMOTO, from a story by Hisashi SAITO and Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Director of photography: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Editor: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Special make-up effects: Akira FUKAYA, Tadahiro INOUE
Assistant director: Kiyohide OTANI
© 1995 Kaijyu Theater
Baretto Baree
/�V' t . /�VI
87 mins.
35mm, 1: 1. 85
Production: Kaijyu Theater
Distribution: There's Enterprise
Sales: Gold View
Japanese release: March 11, 2000
Cast: Shinya TSUKAMOTO, Kirina MANO, Tatsuya NAKAMURA, Takahiro MURASE, Ky6ka SUZUKI, Hisashi lGAWA,
Tomorowo TAGUCHI, Su-Jin KIM, Masato TSUJIOKA, Kazuyuki IZUTSU, K6ji TSUKAMOTO, Katijah Badami, Takahiro
KANDAKA, Makoto SHIOZAKI, Takahide SAKUMA, Samuel Pop Aning
Producer: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Screenplay: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Director of photography: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Editor: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Special make-up effects: Takashi ODA, Tomoo HARAGUCHI
Assistant directors: Shinichi KAWAHARA, Kiyohide OTANI, Takeshi KOIDE, Hisakatsu KUROKI
© 1998 Tsukamoto Shinya I Kaijyu Theater
84 mins.
35 mm, 1 : 1. 85
Production: Sedic International / Marubeni
Distribution: Toho
Sales: Sedic International
Japanese release: September 15, 1999
Cast: Masahiro MOTOKI, Ry6, Yasutaka TSUTSUI, Shiho FUJIMURA, Naoto TAKENAKA, Tadanobu ASANO, Renji
ISHIBASHI, Akaji MARO, Su-Jin KIM, Tomorowo TAGUCHI, Jun MURAKAMI, Shungiku UCHIDA, Eri yO, K6ji
Producers: Toshiaki NAKAZAWA, Taishi NISHIMURA
Screenplay: Shinya TSUKAMOTO, based on the short story S6seiji: Aru Shikeiin ga Ky6kaishi ni Uchiaketa Hanashi by
Director of photography: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Editor: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Special make-up effects: Takashi ODA
Assistant director: Kiyohide OTANI
© 1999 Sedic International / Marubeni
Rokugalsu no Hebi
77 mins.
35mm, 1 :1.33
B&W (blue-tinted)
Production: Kaijyu Theater
Distribution: There's Enterprise
Sales: Gold View
Japanese release: May 24, 2003
Cast: Asuka KUROSAWA, Shinya TSUKAMOTO, YQji KOTARI, Susumu TERAJIMA, Tomorowo TAGUCHI, Takuji
Producer: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Screenplay: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Director of photography: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Editor: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Special make-up effects: Takashi ODA
Assistant directors: Shinichi KAWAHARA, Takeshi KOIDE, Hisakatsu KUROKI
© 2002 Kaijyu Theater / Tsukamoto Shinya
214 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
[tr: Lizard]
50 mins.
Hi-Vision, 16:9
Production: NHK Enterprise 21 I Kazumo I Kaijyu Theater
Broadcast date: September 26, 2003
Cast: Ryo
Producers: Makoto UEDA, Naonori KAWAMURA, Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Based on the short story by Banana YOSHIMOTO
Director of photography: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Editor: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Music: Kensaku TANIKAWA
2004 VITAL
86 mins.
35 mm, 1:1.85
Production: Kaijyu Theater
Distribution: There's Enterprise
Sales: Gold View
Japanese release: December 11, 2004
Cast: Tadanobu ASANO, Nami TSUKAMOTO, Kiki, Kazuyoshi KUSHIDA, Lily, Jun KUNIMURA, Ittoku KISHI BE, Go
Producers: Shinya TSUKAMOTO, Keiko KUSAKABE, Kiyo Joo, Koichi KUSAKABE, Shinichi KAWAHARA
Screenplay: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Director of photography: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Editor: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Song: blue bird by Cocco
Special make-up effects: Takashi ODA
Assistant directors: Shinichi KAWAHARA, Takeshi KOIDE, Hisakatsu KUROKI
© 2004 Shinya Tsukamoto I Kaijyu Theater
segment Tamamushi
22 mins.
35mm, 1: 1. 85
Production: female Film Partners
Japanese release: May, 2005
Producers: ShGsaku MATSUOKA, Shinya TSUKAMOTO, Shinichi KAWAHARA
Screenplay: Shinya TSUKAMOTO, based on the story by Mariko KOIKE
Director of photography: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Editor: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Assistant directors: Takeshi KOIDE, Hisakatsu KUROKI
© 2004 female Film Partners
49 mins.
DV, 1:1.85
Production: Kaijyu Theater
Cast: Shinya TSUKAMOTO, Kaori FUJII
Producers: Shinya TSUKAMOTO, Shinichi KAWAHARA
Screenplay: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Director of photography: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Edilor: Shinya TSUKAMOTO
Assistant directors: Takeshi KOIDE, Yuji ANBE
©2005 Shinya Tsukamoto / Kaijyu Thealer
Films as actor
Waga Jinsei Saiaku no Toki
Director: Kaizi HAYASHI
Director: Naoto TAKENAKA
Haruka na Jidai no Kaidan 0
Director: Kaizi HAYASHI
Director: Shunichi NAGASAKI
216 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
Aloranla Bugi
7t5;: ::
Director: Masashi YAMAMOTO
TV DAYS [stage play]
Terebi Deizu
Director: Ryo IWAMATSU
[tr: A fine day for Tokyo]
Director: Naoto TAKENAKA
WHAT EVER [short]
Director: Hisashi SAITO
Director: Shunichi NAGASAKI
Kanzen Naru Shiiku
Director: Ben WADA
Koi no Tamerai
'(t::i' � \
Directors: Ken YOSHIDA, Akio YOSHIDA, Toru MORIYAMA, Hideki ISANO
A, Haru
S. f
Director: Shinji SOMAl
[tr: Secret flower garden]
f� \ (: II
Director: Masayuki YOSHIZUMI
Nichiy6bi wa Owaranai
B H B l;*t' tJ � \
Director: Yoichiro TAKAHASHI
Sandei Doraibu
"/T1 f71:
Director: Hisashi SAITO
Sakuya Yokaiden
Director: Tomoo HARAGUCHI
[tr: House where ghosts live)
Director: Naoto KUMAZAWA
Dead or Alive 2: Tobosha
Director: Takashi MilKE
Director: Naoto TAKENAKA
MojO lai Issun Boshi
ilv S--;
Director: Teruo ISHII
Director: Go RIJU
Koroshiya 1
Director: Takashi MilKE
C . r;� \ 1
Director: Kentaro OTANI
Oboreru Hilo
Director: Naoki ICHIO
218 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
Episode: Man Woman, Woman Man (a.k.a. Mike Hama Musl Die)
Shiritsu Tantei Hama Maiku: Onna to Otoko, Otoko to Onna
fknJ�f. i�-? r�C�, �C�J
Direclor: Alex Cox
ENGIMONO [TV series]
Episodes: Mashin Nikki & Ame ga Kuru
[Ir: Performer: Machine diary & The rain is coming]
it1 r��-/8�cJ rfj{<.J
Direclor: Hiloshi ONE
[tr: The sound of cicadas]
Directors: Mikio SATO, Kenji TANAKA
Denselsu no Wani Jeiku
f�mO'= � I-?
Direclor: Isshin INUDO
Koi no Mon
Director: Suzuki MATSUO
Director: Takashi SHIMIZU
Thealre plays
With Yumemaru:
[Ir: Dream circle]
October - December 1977
Location: Nichidai Tsurugaoka High School + Sendagaya Town Hall
[tr: Double suicide in Ekota]
November I December 1978
Location: Nihon University
[tr: Carnival of masks]
December 1979
Location: Nihon University
[tr: Carnival of masks revised]
June 1980
Location: Jiyugaoka Kumano Shrine
[tr: Carnival of masks definitive version]
;�;J . {ii��
July, August 1980
Location: Otsuka Jels Hall
[tr: Caramel double suicide war]
= 1:; Jl"L,rt�
December 1980
Location: Musashino University
[tr: Heavy metal rope]
" t -;? JlO*
March 1982
Location: Dairakudakan Hall
[tr: Adventure of electricity pole boy]
September 1984
Location: Asakusa Mokubatei Hall
With KaiO Shiati
[tr: Stardust monster express]
April - June 1985
Location: Takadanobaba station parking lot
=1: ;JlIL,rt�
December 1985
Location: Ashibe Hall
August - October 1986
Location: Takadanobaba station parking lot
220 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
Shinya Tsukamoto films on eve
Studio Canal (France)
Region 2
French sublitles
Note: released as bonus feature on
the DVD of Hiruko the Goblin I Gemini.
Artsmagic (U.S.A.)
Region 0
English subtitles
Extras: interview with Tsukamoto,
audio commentary by Tom Mes,
Studio Canal (France)
Region 2
French subtitles
Extras: introduction by Jean·Pierre
Dionnel, interview with Tsukamoto,
Note: released as two-disc package
with Tokyo Fist
Warner Home Video (Japan)
Region 2
English & Japanese subtitles
Extras: making-of directed by Takashi
Miike, footage from Venice Film
Festival, interview with Tsukamoto,
Masahiro Motoki and Ry6, special
effects tutorial, three trailers, easter
egg option, behind-the-scenes
photographs by Ry6, promotional
artwork, director and cast biographies
and filmographies.
Note: extras are not subtitled.
Rarovideo (Italy)
Region 2
English & Italian subtitles
Extras: two interviews with
Tsukamoto, documentary
Note: released as Tsukamoto Trilogy
box set, with Tetsuo and Tetsuo II.
Artsmagic (U.K.)
Region 2
English subtitles
Extras: interview with Tsukamoto,
audio commentary by Tom Mes,
Beam Entertainment (Japan)
Region 2
No subtitles
Extras: footage from film festivals
and release, music video, photo
Filmfreak (The Netherlands)
Region 2
English, French, Dutch subtitles
Extras: trailer
Starmax (Korea)
All Regions
English, Korean & Japanese
Extras: making-of featurette, photo
gallery, production notes, television
spots, trailer.
Beam Entertainment (Japan)
Region 2
No subtitles
Note: only available as part of box
set Tsukamoto Shinya Collector's
Fejui Media (Taiwan)
All regions
English & Chinese subtitles
Extras: Trailer
Ocean Shores (Hong Kong)
Region 3
English & Chinese subtitles
Extras: trailer
Studio Canal (France)
Region 2
French subtitles
Extras: interview with Tsukamoto,
introduction by Jean-Pierre Dionnel,
Note: released as two-disc package
with Hiruko the Goblin.
Eastern Cult Cinema I Artsmagic
Region 2
English subtitles
Extras: cast & crew biographies and
Fangoria International I Media
Blasters (U.S. A.)
Region 1
English subtitles
Extras: Interview with Tsukamoto,
Goblin Creation featurette, photo
gallery, trailers.
Happinet Pictures (Japan)
Region 2
English & Japanese subtitles
Extras: Also released as two-disc
limited edition (BIBJ-3875), with four
making-of documentaries, stills
galleries, trailers, DVD-rom features.
Rapid Eye Movies (Germany)
Region 2
German subtitles, optional German
Extras: audio commentary by Shinya
Tsukamoto, interview with Shinya
Tsukamoto, trailer, slides how.
Studio Canal (France)
Region 2
French subtitles
Extras: The Adventure of Denchu
Kozo, interview with Tsukamoto,
introduction by Jean-Pierre Dionnet,
Note: released as two-disc package
with Gemini.
Asia Extreme lTartan Video
(U.S. A. )
Region 1
English subtitles
Extras: trailer, liner notes,
director and cast filmographies
and biographies.
Universe (Hong Kong)
Region 3
Chinese subtitles
Extras: trailer
Image Entertainment (U.S. A. )
Region 1
English subtitles
Extras: trailer
Asia Extreme I Tartan Video (U.S. A. )
Region 1
English subtitles
Extras: audio commentary by John
Shirley, trailers
Asia Extreme ITartan Video (U.K.)
Region 0
English subtitles
Extras: trailer
Rarovideo (Italy)
Region 2
English & Italian subtitles
Extras: two interviews with
Tsukamoto, documentary
Note: released as Tsukamoto Trilogy
box set, with Tetsuo II and The
Adventure of Denchu Kozo.
Beam Entertainment (Japan)
Region 2
No subtitles
Extras: deleted scenes, trailer
222 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
Beam Entertainment (Japan)
Region 2
No subtitles
Extras: Interview with Tsukamoto,
interview with special effects creator
Takashi Oda, special effects tutorial,
photo gallery, image boards,
creature statistics, theatrical trailer,
notes on the Yaka; Hanta manga,
Tsukamoto filmography.
Asia Extreme ITartan Video (U.K.)
Region 0
English subtitles
Extras: trailer, liner notes,
director and cast filmographies
and biographies.
Studio Canal (France)
Region 2
French subtitles
Extras: two interviews with
Tsukamoto, trailer, introduction by
Jean-Pierre Dionnet
Note: released as two-disc package
with Tetsuo II: The Body Hammer
Studio Canal (France)
Region 2
French subtitles, optional French
Extras: making of, interview with
Tsukamoto, two trailers, introduction
by Jean-Pierre Dionnet
Note: released as two-disc package
with Tetsuo: the Iron Man.
Beam Entertainment (Japan)
Region 2
No subtitles
Extras: audio commentary by
Tsukamoto, making of, trailer, photo
gallery, Tsukamoto filmography.
Manga Live 1 Manga Video (U.S.A. )
Region 0
English subtitles
Extras: Tsukamoto biography, trailer.
Manga Live 1 Manga Video (U.K.)
Region 2
English subtitles
Extras: Tsukamoto biography, trailer
Happinet Pictures (Japan)
Region 2
English & Japanese subtitles
Extras: Also released as two-disc
limited edition, with making-of
documentary, interviews with director
and cast, audio commentary by
Shinya Tsukamoto, footage from
Venice Film Festival, music video,
stills gallery, trailers.
Rarovideo (Italy)
Region 2
English & Italian subtitles
Extras: two interviews with
Tsukamoto, documentary
Note: released as Tsukamoto Triogy
box set, with Tetsuo and The
Adventure 01 Denchu Kozo.
Manga Live 1 Manga Video (U.S.A.)
Region 0
English subtitles
Extras: Tsukamoto biography,
theatrical trailer.
Studio Canal (France)
Region 2
French subtitles
Extras: interview with Tsukamoto,
trailer, introduction by Jean-Pierre
Note: released as two-disc package
with Bulet Balet.
Asia Extreme ITartan Video (U. K. )
Region 0
English subtitles
Extras: trailer, liner notes,
director and cast filmographies
and biographies.
Beam Entertainment (Japan)
Region 2
No subtitles
Extras: live music performance by
Der Eisenrost, trailer, photo gallery.
Tsukamoto and crew during the making of Toky Fist.
1. In his book Tokyo: A View of the City, Donald Richie includes a diary passage from
1947 in which he describes how one could see Mount Fuji from the Ginza. Now an
area of huge office blocks with no panoramas save for the traffic-infested roads,
Ginza was a flat land of rubble at the time of Richie's diary entry.
2. Edogawa Ranpo (1894-1965) was the pseudonym for Taro Hirai. The pen name
(sometimes rendered as Edogawa Rampo) is a multiple play on words, which
translates roughly as "walking disorderly along the Edo river," but whose
pronunciation is based on the Japanese phonetic rendition of the name of one of the
author's main influences, Edgar Allan Poe. Often running into trouble with Japan's
pre-war militarist authorities for the scandalous and subversive nature of his work,
Hirai authored numerous stories in the fantasy, horror and detective fields. Notable
films based on his work include Kinji Fukasaku's Black Lizard (Kurotokage, 1968),
Yasuzo Masumura's The Blind Beast (MojO, 1969) and Noboru Tanaka's The
Watcher in the Attic (Edogawa Ranpo Ryokikan: Yaneura no Sanposha, 1976).
Fukasaku's film features Ranpo's most famous creation, the detective Kogoro
Akechi, whose adventures were adapted for film and TV a great number of times.
3. The suffix '-chan', meaning 'little', is used for those younger than the speaker and is
often applied to (very) young boys, girls and young women. It commonly expresses
affection and is occasionally also employed against the hierarchy of seniority, for
example by children when speaking to their grandparents.
4. Measuring the floor size of a room by the number of tatami mats needed to cover it
is a traditional and still very common method. Tatami measurements differ from area
to area, but the standard size used for apartment buildings is 85cm x 170cm.
5. ShOji Terayama (1935-1983) was an experimental playwright, poet, screenwriter,
theatre director and filmmaker whose strongly autobiographical work often featured
events unfolding within a dream world, charged with erotic, and often incestuous,
tension. Notable films include Throw Away the Books, Let's Go into the Streets (Sho
o Suteyo, Machi e Deyo, 1970), Emperr Tomato Ketchup (Tomato Ketchappu Kotei,
1971) and Pastoral: To Die in the Country (Den'en ni Shisu, 1974).
6. The age of twenty (hatachl) has special significance in Japan, as it is considered the
moment when one comes of age and leaves childhood behind. January 15 is a
national holiday on which all those who turn twenty that year take part in the
ceremony of seiinshiki, the celebration of adulthood.
7. "Deux ou trois choses que je sais d'ATG", in Art Theatre Guild: Unabhfngiges
Japanisches Kino 1962-1984, Roland Domenig (ed.), Vienna: Viennale, 2003, p. 30.
8. The full title on screen is FutsD Saizu no Kaiin: The Greate [sic] Analog World.
This subtitle also appears at the start of The Adventure of Denchu Kozo.
9. Fictionalised in William Gibson's Broadway play The Miracle Worker and its
subsequent film adaptations.
10. Tsukamoto had submitted Hasu no Hana Tobe to the festival, then known as the Off
Theater Film Festival, in 1979. The film was not selected.
11. Another example is the work of another of Tetsuo's crew members, Sh6jin Fukui,
whose films Pinocchio 964 (1991) and Rubber's Lover (1996) are very clearly
inspired by Tetsuo: The Iron Man.
12. The TV show Heisei Meibutsu Terebi: Ikasu Bando Tengoku [tr: Heisei attractions
TV: hotshot band heaven], or Ikaten ('fried squid') for short, began in February 1989
on the TBS channel. The show proved very popular in its Saturday midnight slot and
helped launch the 'Band Boom': the surge in popularity of homegrown rock bands.
Before Ikaten, TV music shows focused mostly on lightweight pop music. Tetsuo star
Tomorowo Taguchi directed a film called Iden & Tity in 2003, which documented the
Band Boom period.
13. The year 1989 also saw the birth of the straight-to-video industry (or V-cinema), with
the release of Shund6
kawa's Crime Hunter (Kuraimuhanta: Hikari no J6dan) by
the video arm of the Toei studio. Many of Japan's foremost filmmakers today have a
background in V-cinema, including Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Takashi Miike, Hideo Nakata,
Takashi Ishii and Shinji Aoyama.
14. In the Kojiki, I zanagi and Izanami decide to become a couple by walking around a
pillar and meeting each other on the other side as if they were strangers meeting for
226 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
the first time. Izanami, the woman, exclaimed "Oh, what a handsome youth!", after
which Izanagi, the man, said "Oh, what a beautiful maiden!" After this, Hiruko was
born, but he was deformed. He didn't have bones and so grew into a shapeless
mass. His parents asked the gods what caused their child's deformity and the gods
answered that it was due to the woman speaking first after the meeting on the other
side of the pillar. It was not the natural order; the woman should always let the man
speak first. After abandoning Hiruko, the couple re-enacted their meeting at the
pillar, this time with Izanagi exclaiming his feelings first. The couple then gave birth
to the islands that make up Japan and later to its inhabitants.
15. Hiruko is identified as Ebisu, God of Fishermen, one of the Shichifukujin, or Seven
Deities of Good Fortune.
16. Hiruko also resembles several of Tsukamoto's early 8mm shorts, notably Kyodai
Gokiburi Monogatari.
17. Among them is Julie Dreyfus, the later Sophie Fatale from Quentin Tarantino's Kill
Bill Vol. 1.
18. Kojima's dialogue even refers to the Kurosawa film at one point.
19. The solitary old house between skyscrapers is also reminiscent of the house of
scientist Dr. Rotwang in Metrpolis. The similarity is unlikely to be entirely
coincidental, since Tsukamoto shows Tsuda and Hizuru watching Metrpolis on
TV at one point during Tokyo Fist.
20. The term japayuki, meaning 'coming to Japan', was coined by a journalist as a
reference to karayuki, the name given to the Japanese women who went to the
occupied parts of Asia to work as prostitutes, or 'comfort women', for the Japanese
forces before and during World War II. Y6ichi Sai's 1993 film All Under the Moon
(Tsuki wa Dotchi ni Deteiru) is a pivotal work in the depiction of the japayuki and the
role of foreigners in contemporary Japanese society. Its story revolves around the
romance between a Filippino bar hostess and a taxi driver of Korean descent.
21. There's Enterprise, an independent production and distribution company headed by
the husband and wife team of K6ichi and Keiko Kusakabe, continues to be the
theatrical distributor and publicist for Tsukamoto's films to this day.
22. One of the offers Tsukamoto refused was the adaptation of Loop, K6ji Suzuki's
follow-up novel to his horror hits The Ring (Ringu) and The Spiral (Rasen) (the film
versions of which were directed by Hideo Nakata and J6ji lida respectively).
Tsukamoto: "It took them a very long time to write the script. I liked the novel, but not
the screenplay they finally came up with. Since it took them so long to write it, I figured
that making any changes to it would again take ages, so I turned down the project."
23. Y6hei Taneda's credits include Shunji Iwai's Swallowtail Butterfly (Suwarteiru,
1996), Lee Chi Ngai's Sleepless Town (Fuyaj6, 1998), Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the
Shell 2: Innocence (lnosensu, 2004) and Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003).
Michiko Kitamura worked on Yoshimitsu Morita's And Then (Sorekara, 1985) and
Kitchen (1989), Takashi Miike's Ichi the Killer (Koroshiya 1, 2001) and Kazuaki
Kiriya's Cassher (2004) among others.
Isao Tsuge was at the time mainly known as a stylist in the fashion industry. Gemini
was his first film.
24. Other former Tsukamoto collaborators appearing in the film include Su-Jin Kim as
the detective investigating the murders of Yukio's parents and K6ji Tsukamoto as an
aid to the wounded mayor.
25. Including one for sportswear brand Asics in 1995 that made extensive use of visual
effects. The same year he also shot a series of commercials for House confectionery,
featuring baseball hero Ichir6 Suzuki.
26. Novelisations written by film directors have been an increasingly common
occurrence in Japan in recent years, with filmmakers like Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Shinji
Aoyama and Naomi Kawase all having written novels based on their own films.
Aoyama even won the prestigious Yukio Mishima literary prize for the novelisation of
his film Eureka.
27. This has been noted by K6shi Ueno: "Glimmers of Originality Amid Confusion and
Stagnation - Current Japanese film as seen at Tokyo FILMeX 2002", in Tokyo
FILMeX 2002 Catalogue, Tokyo: Tokyo FILMeX, 2002
28. Earlier the same year Tsukamoto had had to deal with the same problem when he
shot a 50-minute TV special for national broadcaster NHK. Entitled Tokage, it formed
part of the R6doku Kik6: Nippon no Meisaku [tr: Recitation travelogue: Japanese
masterpieces] series, each episode of which saw a director filming an actor or
actress of choice reciting a story by a leading 20th-century Japanese author.
Tsukamoto was asked to tackle Banana Yoshimoto's short story Lizard (Tokage) and
chose his lead actress from Gemini, Ry6, as his narrator. Working with high­
definition video, he shot the entire 50 minutes in a single take using a steadicam. To
spare his back, the camera he used consisted essentially of only a lens and
viewfinder, while an assistant carried the actual tape recording unit behind him.
Tokage won a prize as second runner-up in the Drama section of the 2004 ATP
(Association of All Japan TV Program Production Companies) Awards.
228 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
29. Yakushima was the model for the ancient, enchanted forests in Hayao Miyazaki's
animated epic Princess Mononoke (Mononokehime, 1997).
30. The name Memeko Kinta is a play on words, derived from memeshii ('effeminate')
and kintama ('testicle').
31. Er-guro-nansensu (for 'erotic grotesque nonsensical') was a catchphrase of the
1910s and 1920s, a term used to describe (and dismiss) a stream of popular culture
and art forms, of which Edogawa Ranpo is one of the best-known proponents. After
World War II the term, often abbreviated to er-gur, became more loosely applied
to art, in particular films, that combined the erotic and the horrific. Teruo Ishii's work
in the genre includes a cycle of films chronicling Edo-period torture practices
(including Shogun's Joy of Torture / Tokugawa Onna Keibatsushi, 1968, The
Yakuza's Law/ Yakuza Keibatsushi: Rinchi, 1969, and Hell's Tattooers / Tokugawa
Irezumishi Seme Jigoku, 1969) and the oneiric and haunting The Horrr of
Malformed Men (Edogawa Ranpo Taizen: Ky6fu Kikei Ningen, 1969), a film partly
based on Ranpo's writings that is still banned from video release in Japan for its
depictions of physical mutation. Ishii was a contract director with the Shintoho and
Toei studios for most of his career, resulting in quite lavish production values for his
films of the 1960s. Though forced to work with more modest means in recent years,
Ishii's taste for the grotesque hasn't waned, as witnessed by his adaptations of the
work of absurdist manga artist Yoshiharu Tsuge (including Wind-Up Type / Nejishiki,
1999, starring Tadanobu Asano) and his remake of Nobuo Nakagawa's portrait of
hell and eternal damnation Jigoku (2001).
32. The award in Yokohama covered his work in Chloe, Ichi the Killer and A Woman's
Work, the Mainichi award the same three films plus A Drwning Man. It is quite
common in Japan for film prizes to be awarded for an artist's combined work of one
33. The term yoj6han refers to a room the size of four-and-a-half tatami mats, like the
one Tsukamoto lived in during the period he made Tetsuo and Hiruko.
Tsukamoto Shinya Kaitai Shinsho (Shinya Tsukamoto Complete Col/ection), Tokyo: Toshiba EMI, 1995
HK Extreme Orient Cinema, Vol. 13, Paris: Seven Sept, January 2000
Tokyo FtLMeX 2002 Catalogue, Tokyo: Tokyo FILMeX, 2002
Tsukamoto Shinya Dokuhon: FutsO Saizu no Kyojin, Tokyo: Kinema Junposha, 2003
PIA Film Festival PFF Official Catalogue 2003, Tokyo: PIA Corporation, 2003
Clements, Jonathan and Helen McCarthy, The Anime Encyclopedia: A Guide to Japanese Animation Since 1917,
Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press, 2001
Clements, Jonathan and Motoko Tamamuro, The Dorma Encyclopedia: A Guide to Japanese TV Drama Since 1953,
Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press, 2004
Domenig, Roland (ed.), Art Theatre Guild: Unabhingiges Japanisches Kino 1962-1984, Vienna: Viennale, 2003
Duus, Peter (ed. ), The Cambridge History of Japan: Volume 6, The Twentieth Century, Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1989
Mes, Tom, Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike, Godalming: FAB Press, 2003
Mes, Tom and Jasper Sharp, The Midnight Eye Guide to New Japanese Film, Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press, 2004
Novielli, Maria Roberta, Storia del cinema giapponese, Venice: Marsilio Editori, 2001
Richie, Donald, Tokyo: A View of the City, London: Reaktion Books, 1999
Schilling, Mark, Contemporary Japanese Film, Trumbull: Weatherhill, 1999
Tombs, Pete, Mondo Macabro: Weird and Wonderful Cinema Around the World, New York: SI. Martin's Griffin, 1998
Tsukamoto, Shinya, Rokugatsu no Hebi, Tokyo: Magazine House, 2003
Van Haute, Luk, Revival van de Japanse film, Amsterdam: Salome -Amsterdam University Press, 2002
Online resources
hllp:lwww.cojicoji. com/shuhei/tori.html
hllp:lwww.monstershindig.comltv/ultraq01 .html
All quotations are taken from interviews conducted by the author, unless otherwise indicated.
230 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
119 - 116,216
About Love, Tokyo - 170
The Adventure of Denchu Kozo - 12, 27, 33, 34, 36-47,
49, 52, 54, 63, 65, 71, 77, 81, 82, 86, 127,203, 204, 211,
Agency for Cultural Affairs - 190
A, Haru see Wait and See
Aihara, Hiromi - 34, 54, 83, 84,86,90, 114, 120, 212
Ai Mitsu - 26
Ai ni Tsuite, Tokyo see About Love, Tokyo
Akai Kuchibiru - 69
Akai Satsui see Intentions of Murder
Akatento - 31
Akechi, Kogoro - 153, 205, 225
Akira - 60
Alien - 51, 59, 77, 208
Aliens- 59
All Under the Moon - 227
Ame ga Kuru- 219
Anbe, Yuji - 216
And Then - 228
Aoyama, Shinji - 60, 205, 226, 228
Asada, Eiichi - 71 , 212
Asada, Nobuo - 212
Asamoto, Chika - 212
Asano, Tadanobu - 154,157,163, IB6, 186, 187, 188,
19B, 205, 214, 215, 229
Ashibe Hall - 36, 220
Ashita no Jo see Tomorow's Joe
Asmik Ace - 115
Atanta Boogie - 205, 217
Atoranta Bugi see Atlanta Boogie
Avary, Roger - 92
Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival-86, 90, 91
Bachikaburi - 39, 43, 211
Badami, Katijah - 135, 213
Bakuretsu Toshi see Burst City
The Ballad of Narayama - 10, 58
Barbera, Alberto - 143, 172
Baretto Baree see Bullet Ballet
Barker, Clive - 59
Bataille, Georges - 167, 168
Bay City Rollers, The - 26
Berlusconi, Silvio - 172
Bethke, Bruce - 59
Siennale di Venezia see Venice film festival
Bird People in China, The - 153
Bitteress of Youth - 23, 24
Black Lizard - 225
Blade Runner- 24,59, 60, 207, 208
Blankey Jet City - 132
Blind Beast, The - 225
Blind Beast vs. Dwarf - 205, 218
blue bird- 192, 215
BMW - 206
Borei no Sumu Ie - 218
B. P- 115
Breillat, Catherine - 174
Broken - 89
Bruce Ko}i - 21 , 22
Brussels Fantastic Film Festival - 86
bubble economy - 84, 131
Bullet Ballet - 8, 42, 66, 92, 124, 131-151, 157, 159, 161,
163,164, 177,195,203, 204,213,217,221,213
Burst City - 40
butoh - 154, 165
Cahiers du Cinema - 59
Cameron, James - 59
Campion, Jane - 143
Canal+ - 144, 168, 183
Cannes Film Festival-10, 58, 140, 143, 194
Canon Scoopic - 50
Care - 153
Caro, Marc - 86
Carpenter, John - 77
Casio - 35
Cassavetes, John - 206
Casshern - 228
Caterpillar, The - 16
Chloe - 204, 205, 218, 229
Christopherson, Peter - 89
Chugoku no ChOjin see Bird People in China, The
Cine mart - 115
Cocco - 192, 215
Cool Kid Trio, The see Shibugakitai
Cox, Alex - 12, 206, 219
Crazy Thunder Road - 40
Crime Hunter - 226
Crenenberg, David - 51, 59, 63, 64, 65, 95
Culture Publishers - 133, 134
cyberpunk-l 0, 59, 60, 63, 93, 95, 119, 121, 182, 196,
Dadaism - 18
DAF - 55
Daiei - 23
da Vinci, Leonardo - 185, 186, 194
Dead or Alive 2 - 203, 218
Dead or Alive 2: Tb6sha see Dead or Alive 2
de Hadeln, Moritz - 172
DenchU Koz6 no B6ken see Adventure of Denchu Kozo,
Den'en ni Shisu see Pastoral: To Die in the Country
Densetsu no Wan; Jeiku see Tracing Jake
Destroy All Monsters! - 188
Dodeskaden - 26
Doggusu see Dogs
Dogs - 205, 217
Donten - 21 , 24, 25, 26, 46, 206, 209
Donzoko see Lower Depths, The
Dotsuitarunen see Knock-Out
Dreyfus, Julie - 213, 227
Drowning Man, A - 205, 218, 229
Dune - 86
Edogawa Ranpo - 16, 24, 25, 77, 153, 154, 157, 165,
172, 205, 214, 225, 229
Edogawa Ranpo Ry6kikan: Yaneura no Sanposha see
Watcher in the Attic, The
Edogawa Ranpo Taizen: Ky6fu Kikei Ningen see Horrr
of Malformed Men, The
EinstOrzende Neubauten - 55
Eisenrost, Der - 138, 223
Ekota Shinju - 32, 34, 219
Emperr Tomato Ketchup - 225
Engimono - 219
Eraserhead - 56, 67
ere-gure - 205, 229
Evil Dead - 67, 77
F2 - 54, 83, 84
Fancy Dance - 60
FantaFestival - 10, 57
female - 195, 215
232 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
female Film Partners - 215
Fight Club - 208
Film Comment - 59
Fireworks - 140, 143
Fly, The - 51, 59, 63
Flying Tetsuo - 92, 208
Fortissimo Film Sales - 90
Fujii, Kaori - 116, 118, 21 3, 216
Fujimura, Shiho - 153, 158, 214
Fujiwara, Kei - 33, 36, 36, 41, 42, 43, 45, 49, 50, 52, 53,
54, 57, 62, 63, 65, 82, 210, 211
Fukasaku, Kinji - 58, 225
Fukatsu, Eri - 59
Fukaya, Akira - 213
Fukuda, Sawako - 210
Fukui, Shojin - 226
Full Metal Yakuza - 8
Furukawa, Toru - 209
Futsu Saizu no Kaiin see The Phantom of Regular Size
Futsu Saizu no Kaiin: The Greate Analog World - 226
Fuwa, Mansaku - 214
Fuyaj6 see Sleepless Town
Gamera - 17, 46
Garamon - 17
Gemini - 6, 16 42, 64, 66, 78, 109, 145, 153-165, 167,
177, 178, 179, 182, 186, 188, 205, 214, 221, 222, 228
Genshi-san - 21, 22, 25, 31, 203, 209
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence - 228
Ghost of Yotsuya, The - 17
Gibson, William (novelist) - 59, 207
Gibson, William (playwright) - 226
Gigantor - 18
Giger, H. R. - 51
Ginza Now - 26, 46
Godzilla - 17, 36, 37, 46, 71
Golden lion - 10, 140
Gomess - 17
Gonin - 153
Gozen no Bokusa - 114, 116
Hagiwara, Kenichi - 24
Haikaburi Hime Monogatari - 115
Hana-bi see Fireworks
Haraguchi, Tomoo - 204, 213, 218
Harisu no Kaze see Sensational Harris, The
Haruka na Jidai no Kaidan 0 see Stairway to the Distant
Hasegawa, Shahei - 69
Hashiguchi, Ryosuke - 60
Hasu no Hana Tobe - 1 4, 28, 28, 29, 29, 210, 226
Hayashi, Kaizo - 70, 204, 205, 216
Hebimetaru no Nawa - 220
Heisei Meibutsu Terebi: Ikasu Bando Tengoku see Ikaten
Hell's Tattooers - 229
High and Low - 126
Higuchi, Masamichi - 212
Himitsu no Hanazono - 217
Hirai-1 14
Hirai, Taro see Edogawa Ranpo
Hirohito - 57
Hiroi, Juke - 43
Hiruko the Goblin - 22, 27, 55, 69-79, 81, 82, 83, 86, 93,
96, 98, 99, 101, 115, 116, 131, 133, 151, 153, 158, 165,
205, 212, 221, 222, 227, 229
Hiruko: Y6kai Hanta see Hiruko the Goblin
Histoire de l'oeil see Stor of the Eye
Hooper, Tobe - 77, 160
Horror of Malformed Men, The - 229
Hoshikuzudama no Monsuta Ekusupuresu - 36, 36, 220
Hoshi of the Giants - 18
Hotei, Tomoyasu - 85, 212
House - 228
Human Chair, The - 16
Ichikawa, Jun - 153
Ichikawa, Kon - 25, 58
Ichio, Naoki - 218
Ichise, Takashige (Taka) - 45, 46, 74
Ichi the Killer - 203, 205, 218, 228, 229
Iden & Tt - 226
Ide Production - 35, 37, 39, 46, 52, 154, 206
19awa, Hisashi - 213
lida, Joji - 227
Ikaten - 57, 226
Imamura, Shohei - 10, 24, 58, 196
Imomushi see Caterpillar, The
Innocence see Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
Inosensu see Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
Inoue, Tadahiro - 213
Indiana Jones - 77
Intentions of Murder - 24, 196
Intentions of the Ninja - 22
Inudo, Isshin - 205, 219
Isano, Hideki - 217
Ishibashi, Renji - 50, 64, 154, 165, 211, 214
Ishida, Eri - 196, 215
Ishii, Sago - 40, 46, 60
Ishii, Takashi - 153, 226
Ishii, Teruo - 12, 205, 218, 229
Ishikawa, ChO - 55, 55, 57, 85, 119, 124, 135, 137, 138,
139, 158, 159, 172, 191, 192, 211, 212, 213, 214, 215,
Iwai, Shunji - 228
Iwamatsu, Ryo - 217
Iwata, Min - 212
Izanagi and Izanami - 76, 226, 227
Izutsu, Kazuyuki - 132, 134, 135, 213
Jackson, LaToya - 35
Jam Films - 195
Jam Films 2 - 195
Japan Home Video - 54
Jarmusch, Jim - 54
Jarman, Derek - 49, 50
Jeunet, Jean-Pierre - 86
Jigoku - 229
Jigokumachi ShOben Geshuku nite Tonda yo - 25, 26,
26, 27, 46, 210
Jipangu see Zipang
Jodorowsky, Alejandro - 57, 86, 185
Jokyo Gekijo - 31
Joo, Kiyo - 90, 91, 114, 115, 140, 143, 144, 173, 215
Joy Division - 55
Juke Joint Junk - 43, 211
Kadokawa, Haruki - 58
Kagemusha - 58
kaijO eiga - 17, 21, 46
KaijO Shiata - 13, 35, 36, 39, 203, 220
Kaiu S6shingeki see Destroy All Monsters!
Kaijyu Theater - 13, 81, 134, 143, 155, 160, 204, 208,
211, 212, 213, 214, 215, 216
Kaiteiban Kamen Shanikusai - 220
Kamen Shanikusai - 220
Kanaoka, Nobu - 32, 33, 36, 37, 41, 42, 43, 50, 50, 57,
59, 63, 82, 83, 86, 94, 210, 211, 212, 213
Kanbayashi, Kazuo - 212
Kandaka, Takahiro - 213
Kaneda, RyO - 59
Kaneko, ShOsuke - 45, 46
Kanzen Naru Shiiku see Perect Education, The
Kara, JOro - 27, 31, 32, 33, 34, 34, 36, 50, 54, 83
Karmann Ghia - 19, 19
Kase, Ryo - 215
Kataoka, Reiko - 205
Kaufman, Lloyd - 57, 86
Kawahara, Shinichi - 71, 72, 81, 83, 84, 91, 133, 134,
137, 138, 139, 172, 173, 188, 190, 212, 213, 214, 215,
Kawai, Shinya - 195
Kawamura, Naonori - 215
Kawase, Naomi - 60, 228
Kazumo - 215
Keller, Helen - 42
Ketteiban Kamen Shanikusai - 220
Kiki - 187, 187, 215
Kill Bill Vol. 1 - 227, 228
Kim, Su-Jin - 83, 92, 212, 213, 214, 228
Kinema Junpo - 119, 120
Kino, Hana - 215
Kirin Beer - 206
Kiriya, Kazuaki - 228
Kishibe, Ittoku - 215
Kishimoto, Masahiro - 212
Kiss to Moonlght - 57, 59
Kitamura, Michiko - 154, 156, 157, 165, 228
Kitano, Takeshi - 10, 60, 140, 143
Kitchen - 228
Kizudarake no Tenshi - 24
Knock-Out - 60
Kobayashi, Kaoru - 215
Koide, Takeshi - 213, 21 4, 215, 216
Koike, Mariko - 196, 215
Ko; no Mon see Ko; no Mon: Otakus in Love
Koi no Mon: Otakus in Love - 194, 219
Ko; no Tamera; see Love's Hesitations
Koizumi, Hiroshi - 212
Kojiki - 76, 77, 226
Kojima, Hiroyuki - 82, 212
Komatsuzawa, Yoichi - 57
Komazawa, Jun -209
Kore-eda, Hirokazu -60
Koroshiya 1 see Ichi the Killer
Koshiishi, Etsuko -39
Kotari, YOji -169, 171, 1 75, 214
Kudo, Masaki -70, 212
Kumashiro, Tatsumi -23, 25, 174
Kumazawa, Naoto -218
Kunimura, Jun -21 5
Kuraimuhanta: Hikari no J6dan see Crime Hunter
Kure see Chloe
Kuroi TankyOsha -69
Kuroiwa, Yoshitami -212
Kurokawa, Fumio -54, 84, 212
Kuroki, Hisakatsu - 213, 214, 215
Kurosawa, Akira -10, 20, 25, 26, 58, 59, 71, 126, 227
Kurosawa, Asuka - 168, 170, 171, 1 75, 214
Kurosawa, Kiyoshi -226, 228
Kurotokage see Black Lizard
Kuruizaki Sanda Rodo see Crazy Thunder Road
Kusakabe, Keiko -215, 227
Kusakabe, Koichi -215, 227
Kushida, Kazuyoshi -195, 215
Kyarameru ShinjO Sensa -34, 36, 220
Kyodai Gokiburi Monogatari - 22, 209, 227
Kyofu Kikei Ningen see Horor of Malformed Men, The
Kyojin no Hoshi see Hoshi of the Giants
Lang, Fritz -78, 78
Last Drive -115
Laudadio, Felice -140, 143
Lee Chi Ngai -228
Liberation -144
Lily -215
Lizard see Tokage
Locarno Film Festival -140, 172
Loop - 227
Love's Hesitations -217
Lower Depths, The -26
Lupin 11/-18
Lynch, David -59
Mainichi Film Concours -205, 229
Makusu no Yama see MARKS
Mangetsu no Kuchizuke see Kiss to Moonlight
Mano, Kirina -132, 133, 134, 137, 142, 213
Man Woman, Woman Man -205, 219
Mapplethorpe, Robert -167
Marebito see Stranger from Afar, The
Mark City -135
MARKS - 132
Maro, Akaji -154, 214
Mashin Nikki - 219
Masumura, Yasuzo -225
Materials - 212
Matrix, The -208
Matsumoto, Mariko -209, 210
Matsumoto, Shunsuke -26
Matsuo, Suzuki -194, 219
234 IRON MAN - The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
Matsuoka, ShOsaku - 215
McCartney, Paul -72
Melias, Georges - 46
Metropolis - 60, 78, 78, 227
Mifune, Toshiro -126
Mihatenu Omoi -211
Miike, Takashi -9, 12, 60, 153, 203, 218, 221, 226, 228
Mikami, Hiroshi -45, 46
Mike Hama Must Die see Man Woman, Woman Man
Mike Hama: Private Detective -205, 219
Miracle Worker, The -226
Mishima, Yukio -228
Miyama, Rin (see also Ueno, Megumi) -212
Miyazaki, Hayao -229
Mizoguchi, Kenji - 59
Mizuki, Shigeru -21
Mochizuki, Rokuro -60
MojO see Blind Beast, The
MojO tai Issun Boshi see Blind Beast vs. Dwar
Monde, Le -144
Mononokehime see Princess Mononoke
Morita, Yoshimitsu -228
Moroboshi, Daijiro - 69, 165, 212
Moraoka, Seiji -210
Moriyama, Tru -217
Most Terible Time in My Life, The -204, 205, 216
Motoki, Masahiro-153, 154, 155, 155, 156, 158, 159,
160, 214, 221
MTV Japan -89, 90, 212
MTV Japan TOH#I - 90, 212
Muller, Marco -140, 143, 194
Munakata, Shiko -26
Murakami, Jun -214
Murase, Takahira -134, 213
Murata, Hideo -70, 72, 212
Musaka, Naomasa -50, 57, 64, 116, 120, 211, 213
Musashino Hall - 57, 60, 61
Mystery of Rampo, The -153
Nagasaki, Shunichi -115, 205, 216, 217
Nagase, Masatoshi -205
Naito, Daisuke -209
Nakagawa, Nobuo -229
Nakamura, Tatsuya -132, 137, 213
Nakamura, Toshiyasu -212
Nakata, Hideo - 46, 226, 227
Nakazawa, Toshiaki -69, 153, 212, 214
Namiki-za -25
Narayama Bushiko see Ballad of Narayama, The
Naruse, Mikio - 25
Nasa, Kenji -36, 43, 44, 53, 54, 211
Nejishiki see Wind-Up Type
Neuromancer -59
Newton, Helmut - 167
New York Festival - 90
NHK -215, 228
Nichiyobi wa Owaranai see Sunday's Dream
Nihon 0 Kiroku Suru Eiz6 -46
Nihon University -32, 219, 220
Nikkatsu -23, 50, 174
Nikon -35
Nine Inch Nails -89, 212
Ningen Isu see Human Chair, The
Nishimura, Taishi - 214
Nishiyama, Kiyoko -210
No', Gaspar -86, 153
NTI Docomo -206
obakyu -17
Oboreru Hito see Drowning Man, A
Oda, Takashi - 83, 212, 213, 214, 215, 222
e, Takako - 209
Ott Theater Film Festival -226
Oguri , Hideaki -212
Okamoto, Hiroko - 209
Okamoto, Kihachi - 25
kawa, Shundo - 226
kubo, Ken - 45, 46, 58
Okuda, Toshio - 209, 210
Okusawa, Akio -211
mori , Kazuki -45, 46, 74
ne, Hitoshi - 219
Only You - 43
Onna to Otoko, Otoko to Onna see Man Woman, Woman
Organ - 54
Organ Vital -54
Oshii, Mamoru - 228
shima, Nagi sa - 10, 45, 46, 58
tani, Kentaro -205, 218
tani, Kiyohide -156, 212, 213, 214
tomo, Katsuhiro - 60
yama, Itaru -22, 23, 209
yama, Kiyoshi - 210
Ow, Yasujiro -25, 59
Palme d' Or -10, 58
Pastoral: To Die in the Country -225
Peguila -17
Perfect Education, The - 205, 217
The Phantom of Regular Size -12, 33, 39-47, 50, 63, 65,
210, 216, 226
PI A - 34, 46, 49, 54, 69, 71, 81, 83, 90, 115
PI A Fi lm Festival ( PFF) - 44, 45, 46, 49, 54, 69, 115,
204, 205
PIA Magazine - 49
pinku eiga - 60
Pinocchio 964 -226
Poe, Edgar Allan -225
Poltergeist -77
Pop Aning, Samuel -213
Princess Mononoke -229
Pulp Fiction - 92
Quartet for Two - 205, 218
Quiet Days of Firemen - 116, 133, 187, 205, 216
Raging Bull - 118
Raimi , Sam - 59, 77
Rana Porsa Porosa -85
Rampo see Mystery of Rampo, The
Rasen see Spiral, The
Rashomon -10
Ray, Man - 167
Redford, Robert -119
Rendan see Quartet for Two
Repo Man - 206
Revenger's Tragedy -206
Reznor, Trent -89, 90
Ri chi e, Donald - 225
Ri ju, Go - 204, 205, 215, 218
Ring, The - 46, 227
Ringu see Ring, The
R6doku Kik6: Nippon no Meisaku - 228
Rokugatsu no Hebi see Snake of June, A
Roman Porno - 23
Romansu see Some Kinda Love
Roth, Tim -92, 208
Rotterdam Film Festival -114, 145
Rubber's Lover- 226
Rupan Sansei see Lupin 11/
Ryo - 6, 154, 155, 156, 160, 214, 215, 221, 228
Saga, Mi tsuru - 45, 47, 211
Sai , Yoichi -132, 227
Saigo no Doraibu see Last Drive
Saito, Hisashi - 115, 116, 204, 213, 217, 218
Sakamoto, Junji - 60
Sakamoto, Ryoma -44
Sakauchi, Hideaki - 210
Sakuma, Takahide -213
Sakurada, Shigeru - 212
Sakuya: Slayer of Demons - 204, 205, 218
Sakuya Y6kaiden see Sakuya: Slayer of Demons
Sandei Doraibu see Sunday Drive
Sanjuro - 20
Sato, Toshi ki - 60
Sato, Mikio - 219
Sawada, Kenji - 72, 74, 212
Scanners - 59
Scott, Ridley -51, 59, 77
Sedic International - 69, 70, 81, 153, 154, 160, 212, 214
Seishun no Satetsu see Bitteress of Youth
Sekine, Shoji - 26
Semishigure - 219
Senba, Nariaki - 41, 211
Sensational Harris, The -18
Seven Samuri - 24
Shall We Dance? - 60
Shibugakitai -153
Shichinin no Samurai see Seven Samurai
Shida, Takayuki -188
Shimizu, Takashi - 12, 194, 219
Shinoda, Masahiro - 58
Shinozaki , Makoto - 60
Shinsengumi -44
Shintoho - 23, 229
Shin Tsubasa - 27, 27, 29, 210
Shi ota, Tokitoshi - 61 , 83
Shiozaki, Makoto - 213
Shirayama, Hideo - 210
Shiritsu Tantei Hama Maiku see Mike Hama: Private
Shishido, Fuminori - 212
Shochiku - 23, 73, 153, 212
Shochiku Fuji - 212
Shogun's Joy of Torture - 229
ShOnen Tanteidan - 16
Sho 0 Suteyo, Machi e Deyo see Thrw Away the Books,
Let's Go into the Streets
Sid & Nancy - 206
Sight & Sound - 59
Silvestri, Roberto - 140, 143
Sleepless Town - 228
Snake of June, A - 13, 42, 61, 64, 66, 83, 106, 107, 163,
167-183, 185, 186, 191, 196, 197, 198, 204, 207, 214,
219, 222
Somai, Shinji - 205, 217
Some Kinda Love - 206, 216
Sana Otoko, Kyobo ni Tsuki see Violent Cop
Sorekara see And Then
86sei; see Gemini
Soseiji: Aru Shikeiin ga Kyokaishi ni Uchiaketa Hanashi -
Soylent Green - 25
Specola, La - 185
Spiral, The - 227
Stairay to the Distant Past - 205, 216
stop-motion - 40
Story of the Eye - 167
Stranger from Afar, The - 194, 219
Stroller in the Attic - 16
Sugiyama, Toshi - 132
Sullivan, Anne - 42
Sundance Film Festival - 119
Sunday Drive - 204, 218
Sunday's Dream - 217
Suo, Masayuki - 60
Surrealism - 18, 78, 82
Suzuki, Ichiro - 228
Suzuki, Ikko - 214
Suzuki, Koji - 227
Suzuki, Kyoka - 133, 205, 213
Suzuki, Takuji - 204, 214
Swallowtail Butterly - 228
Taguchi, Tomorowo - 33. 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 45, 50, 50,
51, 51, 52, 53, 57, 61, 61, 62, 64, 65, 67, 82, 83, 84, 86,
89, 134, 154, 208
Takahashi, Junichiro - 209, 210
Takahashi, Yoichiro - 217
Takenaka, Naoto - 72, 76, 116, 119, 127, 133, 153, 154,
157, 187, 205, 212, 213, 214, 216, 217, 218
Takeuchi, Nobuo - 212
Tama Arts University - 46
Tamamushi - 196, 215
Tamamushi, Sadao - 24, 26, 209, 210
Tanaka, Kenji - 219
Tanaka, Noboru - 225
236 IRON MAN - T he Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
Taneda, Yohei - 154, 165, 228
Tange, Kenzo - 15
Tanikawa, Kensaku - 215
Tarantino, Quentin - 92, 207, 208, 227, 228
Taxi Driver - 24, 140
TBS - 226
Teamers-1 51
Tengoku t o Jigoku see High and Low
Tenjo Sajiki - 31
Terada, Hiro - 153
Terajima, Susumu - 214
Terayama, ShOji - 27, 27, 28, 31, 32, 33, 46, 225
Terebi Deizu see TV Days
Terminator, The - 59
Tetsujin 28-Go see Gigantor
Tetsuo II: The Body Hammer- l 0, 11, 33, 34, 61, 64, 66,
69, 71, 72, 81-96, 97, 100, 102, 103, 118, 121, 124, 126,
127, 129, 133, 137, 138, 140, 143, 147, 151, 167, 177,
192, 195, 204, 207, 212, 216, 221, 222, 223
Tetsuo II: The Body Hammer Super Remix Version - 86
Tetsuo 11/ (see also Tetsuo in America) - 91, 92, 207, 208
Tetsuo in America (see also Tetsuo II� - 22, 207, 208
Tetsuo: The Irn Man - 10, 25, 33, 35, 36, 40, 41, 43, 46,
47, 49-67, 72, 74, 76, 77, 79, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 89,
90, 91, 93, 94, 95, 96, 115, 116, 120, 132, 134, 135, 138,
147, 154, 165, 167, 172, 177, 187, 190, 197, 203, 205,
207, 208, 211, 216, 221, 222, 223, 226, 229
Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The - 67, 77
Tezuka, Hideaki - 212
There's Enterprise - 227
Thing, The - 77
Thrw Away the Books, Let's Go into the Streets - 225
Tigers, The - 72
Toei - 23, 50, 72, 226, 229
Toho- 23, 71, 154, 159, 160, 188, 214
Tokage - 215, 228
Tokiwaso no Seishun see Tokiwa: The Manga Apartment
Tokiwa: The Manga Apartment - 153
Tokugawa Irezumishi Seme Jigoku see Hell's Tattooers
Tokugawa Onna Keibatsushi see Shogun's Joy of Torture
TOkyo: A View of the City - 225
Tokyo Biyori - 205, 217
Tokyo Fist- 8, 20, 21, 34, 42, 61, 63, 64, 66, 83, 92, 95,
104, 105, 112, 113-129, 131, 132m 133m 134m 137,
147, 148, 161, 163, 167, 170, 177, 178, 179, 182, 195,
203, 204, 205, 207, 213, 216, 221, 223, 224, 227
Tokyo Fisuto see Tokyo Fist
Tokyo Olympics ( 1964) - 15, 16
Tomato Ketchappu Kotei see Emperr Tomato Ketchup
Tomioka, Keinosuke - 212
Tomorrw's Joe - 18
Top of the Hour - 90
Torabaiyu see Woman's Work, A
Torigorasu - 69, 71
Toshiba EMI-84, 85, 86, 212
Tracing Jake - 205, 219
Trap, The - 205
Triton of the Sea - 18
Troma - 57
Tsubaki Sanjur6 see Sanjuro
Tsubasa - 23, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 46, 209
Tsuburaya, Eiji - 17, 21, 37
Tsuda, Tetsuya - 135
Tsuge, Isao - 154, 165, 228
Tsuge, Yoshiharu - 229
Tsui Hark - 86
Tsujioka, Masato - 213
Tsukahara, Yasuaki - 212
Tsukamoto, Kazuo - 18, 19, 19, 20, 21, 34, 35, 37, 49
Tsukamoto, K6ji - 8, 9, 16, 16, 17, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 25,
26, 33, 35, 37, 113, 114, 116, 117, 118, 119, 120, 129,
133, 135, 154, 209, 210, 213, 214, 228
Tsukamoto, Mieko - 17, 17, 19, 19, 20, 25, 37, 113, 183
Tsukamoto, Nami - 1 87, 187, 215
Tsukamoto Shinya 10000 Channel- 46
Tsuki no Yoru wa - 212
T suki wa Dotchi ni Deteiru see All Under the Moon
Tsushima, Kunimi - 29, 210
Tsutsui, Yasutaka - 154, 214
Tsutsumi, K6ji - 70
Turin Film Festival - 119, 143
TV Days - 205, 217
Twilight Zone, The - 17
Uchida, Shungiku - 154, 214
Ueda, Makoto - 215
Ueno, K6shi - 228
Ueno, Megumi - 212
Ultra 0- 17, 18, 64, 82
Umegaki, Tatsushi - 212
Umi no Toriton see Triton of the Sea
Ushiro Atama - 115
Utazawa, Toraemon - 212
Venice tilm festival - 10, 140, 143, 145, 160, 172, 173,
174, 175, 194, 195, 221, 223
Videodrme - 59, 60, 63
Violent Cop - 60
Vital - 1 08, l i D, I I I , 185-201, 204, 207, 215, 223
Vitaru see Vital
von Trier, Lars - 54
Wada, Ben - 205, 217
Waga Jinsei Saiaku no Toki see Most Terrible Tme in My
Life, The
Wait and See - 205, 217
Wajima, K6ichi - 117, 124, 213
Wana see Trap, The
Watcher in the Attic, The - 225
Weber, Bruce - 167
what ever - 204, 217
Wild Bunch - 160
Wind-Up Type - 229
Woman's Work, A - 205, 218, 229
World of Geisha, The - 174
Yamagami, Tatsuhiko - 25
Yamamoto, Masashi - 205, 217
Yamashita, Daisuke - 212
Yanagimachi, Mitsuo - 170
Yaneura no Sanposha see Stroller in the Attic
Yo, Kimiko - 212
yoj6han - 207, 229
Yoj6han Fusuma no Urabari see World of Geisha, The
Y6kai Hanta - 69, 222
Yokohama Film Festival - 205
Yomota, Inuhiko - 31
Yoshida, Akio - 217
Yoshida, Ken - 217
Yoshida, Yoshishige (KijO) - 58
Yoshimoto, Banana - 215, 228
Yoshizumi, Masayuki - 217
Yotsuya Kaidan see Ghost of Yotsuya, The
YO, Eri - 214
YObari Fantastic Film Festival - 86
Yukisada, Isao - 205
Yumemaru - 32, 32, 33, 34, 36, 219
Yumemaru - 32, 219
Zatoichi - 26
Zazie - 60
Zeitlich Verge Iter - 55
Zensen-za - 25
Zeze, Takahisa - 60
Zipang - 70
"An essential purchase for anyone wanting to know
where cinema is heading in the 21 st century."
- Pete Tombs (Mondo Macabr)
"A passionately argued, jargon-free overview of all of
Miike's work . . . Highly recommended."
- Film Comment (USA)
"A thorough, passionate and expert analysis."
- Empire (UK)
"An impeccably researched and exhaustively thorough
look at one of the single most vital forces in
international cinema right now!'
- Ain't It Cool News (USA)
"Essential reading for those already interested in Miike and
those who wish to learn more about him."
- Mad Movies (France)
"Agitator sets an amazingly high standard."
- The Alien Online (UK)
"An extensively researched, cinematically literate,
highly welcome addition to the slim shelf of books
on contemporary Japanese films."
- Cinemaya (India)
''Tom Mes has done more than just written a book about
Miike, he's created the very Bible of Miike's life."
- KFCCinema. com (Canada/USA)
"Bloody good."
- The New York Post (USA)
"The first book to be published about Japan's bad-boy
helmer is a delight."
- Total Film (UK)
"Mes' work commands respect."
- De Filmkrant (Hal/and)
"A truly exhaustive guide."
- Jonathan Clements (Co-author of The Anime
Encyclopedia and The Dorama Encyclopedia)
Agi tator.
The Ci nema of Takas hi Mi i ke
Also by Iron Man author Tom Mes,
and publ i shed by FAB Press
At 408 pages, including 8 pages in full
colour, Agitator - The Ci nema of Takashi
Mi i ke is an exhaustive, richly detailed and
impeccably researched look at the work of
one of the world's most talked-about
filmmakers. It includes:
• In-depth analyses of every Miike film.
• Miike's own diary of the making of the
controversial Ichi the Killer.
• A career-spanning interview.
• Miike's work as actor and producer.
• A complete fi lmography.
• Detailed information on DVD availability.
• Foreword by Makoto Shinozaki.
• Afterword by Shinya Tsukamoto.
• Photos from Takashi Miike's private
collection, and brand new photographs of
the director taken exclusively for this book.
More essenti al ci nema books are avai l abl e from FAB Press
For f urther detai l s, and to order onl i ne, pl ease VI Si t our webSi te:
www.fabpress. com

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