Tetsuo II

Mutant Offspring of Mutant Culture

catalogue essay for Japanese theatrical release of Tetsuo II, Kaiju Theatre, Tokyo

In the West, we have a term : "East meets West". Sometimes it is used to ridicule the wacky, out-of-synch world of Yoyogi Park rockers. Other times, it is employed to justify New Age muzak featuring synthesized koto sounds. But let us be frank : East and West do not 'meet' each other like polite diplomats. Far from it. They exploit, devour, invade, consume, terrorize, infect and annihilate each other - sometimes literally; sometimes metaphorically.

As we draw to the end of the 20th century, it should be clear that we have witnessed a postwar epoch of mutation : a dimension which houses no pure thoughts, no ideal models, no essential states. Only that which mutates survives. Many aspects of our cultures reflect this - but often in complex and confounding ways. In the cinema, mutative exchanges in genre, style and iconography between many cultures around the world have kept the medium alive.

In 1954, Akira Kurosawa fused elements of John Ford's mythical Westerns with Japanese feudal history to make SCHICHININ NO SAMURAI. In 1960 John Sturges took Kurosawa's SHICHININ NO SAMURAI and remade it back into the Western THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. In 1964, Italian director Sergio Leone photocopied Kurosawa's 1961 movie YOJIMBO and pasted it onto a Western landscape in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. By the mid 60s, Italian grand opera, Japanese samurai folklore and American western movies had all collapsed into one another. Glorious and undying confusion has reigned since, giving us the fantastic theatres of violence of kung fu mafia movies, alien psycho slasher movies and paramilitary sci fi movies.

In the midst of the terror that was the 50s, America's Universal Studios specialized in monster and sci-fi movies which were thinly veiled parables of Communists taking over the free world. In 1954, Toho Studios emulated the hysterical sci-fi of Universal Studios and made GOJIRA. The West laughed at this movie - little realizing that the monster Godzilla was the tacky, rubber-suited spirit of post atomic industrialization come back to haunt us with a nuclear legacy. Many thought the Toho style movies were simply failures at copying Western styles. Wrong. The Toho movies were a weird and wonderful mix of Mexican Wrestling, Shinto mysticism, English Mod teen crazes, American space exploration and Hollywood 'Hawaii Exotica' musicals. These were movies borne of a mutant culture. How fitting they should star mutant monsters.

Throughout the 80s, Hard SF was nurtured within the stylistic excesses of the technopolis of postwar Japan. Director Ridley Scott visualized Phillip K. Dick's seminal android novel DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP by setting it in a postmodern Tokyo for the undeniably influential film BLADERUNNER. The East has since become the model against which all futuristic post nuclear visions are measured. Just like Otomo Katsuhiro's invention of Neo-Tokyo for AKIRA, Japan is already a neo culture plugged into the trans national apocalyptic visions of H.R.Giger, Gary Panter, Phillip Stark and David Cronenberg. The point, though, is that such Western visions owe much to the accelerated inventions of postwar Japan - the technological phoenix that rose from the radioactive ashes of World War II.

More importantly, the arts at the end of the 20th century are signs of the times, wherein East and West have been molecularly fused and genetically combined. We are each other's mutants.

TETSUO II is not a work of art - because works of art are faded documents of the past, of pure things that have stood still in isolation. TETSUO II is a sign of the times - a living organism that is born into a current climate, under contemporary conditions. It carries the scars, wounds and stretch-marks of its mutative lineage - from kitsch men-in-rubber-monster-suits to hi-tech special effects make-up; from Osamu Tezuka to James Cameron. Like all fascinating movies, it is many movies mutated into one.

And like GOJIRA, the film itself lives a life similar to that of its lead character : a chameleon machine, governed by metaphysical mechanics and controlled by orgiastic violence. The character Tetsuo is flesh, metal - yet something greater than both. The film TETSUO II is Eastern, Western- yet it comes from somewhere beyond the conventional parameters of both cultures. It is as if Kurosawa and Leone combined Nietzsche and Mishima for a remake of VIDEODROME; it is as if a thousand video clips were sewn into your eyelids at night; it is as if Gojira and Tetsuwan Atomu mated and had a child a truly mutant offspring.

A film like TETSUO II could only have been made by the East. And the West needs to make more films like TETSUO II.

Text © Philip Brophy. Images © Kaiju Theatre.