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Shinya Tsukamoto

Shinya Tsukamoto

Tsukamoto Shinya is a Japanese film director and actor with a considerable cult following both inside and outside that country. He has been compared to David Lynch for his wild, sf-inflected imagination, his sense of the grotesque and absurd, and also for his striking images. Many of his movies also revolve around a common theme: two men in competition for a woman.

His first films, A Phantom of Regular Size / Futsu saizu no kaijin and The Adventures of Denchu Kozo / Denchu Kozo no boken made in 1986/87, were short subject fantasy films shot in 16mm black and white. In both films he made aggressive use of jarring editing, stop-motion animation, bizarre sound effects, and grotesque or outlandish subject matter. Denchu Kozo concerned itself with an unhappy young boy with an antenna growing out of his back, who is somehow sucked into a netherworld and must do battle with an enemy vampire trying to destroy sunlight.

His third film Tetsuo: The Ironman, made in 1988 and shot in the same low-budget, underground-production style as his previous films, established him internationally and created his worldwide cult. This extremely graphic but also strikingly-filmed fantasy opens with a man (called only the man, or sometimes the Metals Fetishist) tearing open a massive gash in his leg and shoving in a piece of scrap metal. Upon seeing maggots festering in the wound, he screams, runs out into the street, and is hit by a car. The driver of the car (cult actor Taguchi Tomoroh) tries to cover up the mess by dumping the body into a ravine, but the dead man comes back to haunt him -- by forcing his body to gradually metamorphose into a walking pile of scrap metal. In one of the film's most controversial sequences, the man discovers his penis has mutated into a gargantuan power drill, and winds up murdering his girlfriend with it.

Tsukamoto's next film, Hiruko the Goblin, was a more conventional horror film, about demons being unleashed from the gates of hell. He then created a sequel to Tetsuo, named Tetsuo 2: Body Hammer, which revisited many of the same ideas as the first movie but with a bigger budget and in 35mm wide-gauge color. In Body Hammer, a salaryman's son is kidnapped by a group of skinhead thugs, who then force the man's nascent rage to make him mutate into a gigantic human weapon. The film diverges from the original in a number of ways, not the least of which being that it tries to supply coherent motives for everyone involved. Many critics cited this as a weakness, since the dreamy incoherence of the first film was one of its strongest assets.

Tokyo Fist (1995) again dealt with the idea of rage as a transformative force (similar to David Cronenberg's The Brood). Here, a meek insurance salesman discovers that an old friend of his, now a semi-professional boxer, may be having an affair with his fiancée. The salesman then enters into a rigorous and self-destructive boxing training program to get even. Here, Tsukamoto showed he was not simply interested in wild, outlandish fantasy, but in blunt realism as well.

Bullet Ballet (1998) drifted even further from fantasy and science fiction, and more into a sort of film noir territory. A man (Tsukamoto himself) discovers that his longtime girlfriend committed suicide with a gun, and becomes obsessed with getting a gun just like that one. His singleminded behavior causes him to run afoul of a gang of thugs, especially when he evinces interest in the young girl who is one of their compatriots. Many critics complained the second half of the film lost the direction and momentum of the first half, but it was clear that Tsukamoto was trying to take more risks with his ideas than before.

Gemini (1999) was a lush and disturbing adaptation of an Edogawa Rampo story, in which a country doctor with pretensions of superiority has his life torn apart when another man who appears to be his exact duplicate enters his life. Things are complicated further by the twin taking control of his wife, an amnesiac with a criminal background. Many hailed it as being Tsukamoto's best film ever and it certainly compares favorably to Tetsuo in terms of both story, visuals and execution.

A Snake of June (2002) once again found Tsukamoto employing the formula of two men in competition for one woman, as a young lady is blackmailed into perverse sexual behavior against her husband's will -- until her husband finds that he enjoys the blackmail more than the blackmailer does.

Tsukamoto has appeared in many other director's films as well, such as Takashi Miike's Ichi the Killer and Dead or Alive 2.

Note: This profile was written in or before 2004.

Shinya Tsukamoto Facts

BirthdayJanuary 1, 1960 (62)
BirthplaceTokyo, Japan

Selected Filmography

Tetsuo: The Bullet Man
ASIA EXTREME Volume 2: Japanese Horror Films
A Snake of June
Nightmare Detective
Bullet Ballet
Tetsuo: The Iron Man
Japan Noir
Tetsuo 1 / Tetsuo 2 / Avventura Del Ragazzo Elettrico
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