Mutant Offspring of Mutant Culture
catalogue essay for Japanese theatrical
release of TETSUO II, 1993
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
film like TETSUO II could only have been made by the East.
And the West needs to make more films like TETSUO II.