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Tetsuo the Bullet Man

Contempo-set pic punches above its weight and musters a certain retro charm with its old-school effects.

With:
With: Erik Bossick, Akiko Monou, Shinya Tsukamoto, Stephen Sarrazin, Yuko Nakamura, Tiger Charlie Gerhardt. (English dialogue)

Twenty years after making his breakout cult hit, “Tetsuo,” and 17 years after its sequel, “Tetsuo II: Body Hammer,” multihyphenate filmmaker Shinya Tsukamoto busts out the big guns again with “Tetsuo the Bullet Man.” Contempo-set pic doesn’t bring much new to the half-man-half-machine concept, but with its delirious editing and eardrum-crunching soundtrack, it punches above its weight and musters a certain retro charm with its old-school effects, all done on about one-hundredth of the budget of a “Transformers” movie. Fans of the franchise will have this in their sights and show support, but crossover potential looks iffy.

Half-American, half-Japanese Anthony (Erik Bossick) has always strived to keep a tight rein on his anger by singing nursery rhyme “Hush, Little Baby” whenever he’s agitated, a trick his mother taught him before she died. Now a salaryman in Tokyo, he lives with his wife, Yuriko (Akiko Monou), and son, Tom (Tiger Charlie Gerhardt).

But when a mysterious driver (helmer Tsukamoto himself) deliberately murders Tom by running him over, Anthony starts to get in touch with his anger in a way most bereavement therapists wouldn’t approve of: His body begins to turn into black, living metal, sprouting weapons and all kinds of spiky bits. A huge Gatling gun, for instance, grows out of his chest, which comes in handy when a bunch of uniformed hitmen try to kill him.

Turns out Anthony’s father, Ride (Stephen Sarrazin), a former biochemist, is to blame, a fact Anthony uncovers by digging around in his dad’s basement, where he makes an even more alarming discovery about his late mom.

Thesps deliver their lines entirely in English, and often sound stilted in the quieter moments, but hey, that kind of goes with the machine-people theme. On the other hand, the script’s emphasis on familial, especially parental love makes for a gentler, kinder Tetsuo movie, entirely lacking in the creepy sexual dimension of the first two pics.

Co-editors Tsukamoto and Yuji Ambe show nimble, frenetic fingers in the editing suite as they slice and dice the action sequences and the pic’s frequent trippy interludes into thousands of cuts, all the better to distract from the lack of sets. Sound design pushes the dial well past 11, adding undeniable visceral impact.

Tetsuo the Bullet Man

Japan

Production: A Tetsuo Group presentation of a Kaijyu Theater, Asmik Ace Entertainment production. (International sales: the Coproduction Office, Paris.) Produced by Shinichi Kawahara, Masayuki Tanishima. Directed by Shinya Tsukamoto. Screenplay, Tsukamoto, Hisakatsu Kuroki.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Tsukamoto, Takayuki Shida; editors, Tsukamoto, Yuji Ambe; music, Chu Ishikawa; production designer, Tsukamoto; costume designer, Mari Sakura; sound (Dolby Digital), Hirokazu Kato. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Sept. 4, 2009. Running time: 79 MIN.

With: With: Erik Bossick, Akiko Monou, Shinya Tsukamoto, Stephen Sarrazin, Yuko Nakamura, Tiger Charlie Gerhardt. (English dialogue)

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