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|Iron Man: The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
By Tom Mes
Published by FAB Press, UK
Review By: chaos731
Proving once and for all that "Iron Man" ain't just an Ozzy song, avant garde Japanese director Shinya Tsukamoto helped to permanently redefine the way the Western World views Japanese cinema. With the release of the highly influential and singularly original Tetsuo: The Iron Man, the rest of the fuckin' world just felt that the Japanese had more on their minds than guys in big rubber monster suits...much more. Finally, someone has given the devil his due, shedding serious critical light on Tsukamoto's entire canon of films...and who better to do so than perennial favorite and respected scribe Tom Mes, whose earlier book "Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike" was one of the single best books on Asian film ever. As with "Agitator", Mes has written another masterpiece. It's suitably respectful, but never stoops to outright ass-kissing. As always, Mes recognizes that his subjects aren't gods...they aren't ubermensch...they're just filmmakers, albeit highly gifted and visionary filmmakers. So, the "nutshell" version of this review would be simply thus: Tom Mes has done it again. That's all that anyone who would care to read a book about a subversie Japanese filmmaker would ever need to hear to make them go out and buy this book, and then to fawn over it like a Japanese schoolgirl fawns over their brand spankin' new copy of a David Hasselhoff CD.
Structurally, "Iron Man: The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto" is quite similar to "Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike"...Tom Mes seems to have taken a well-advised stance of "if it ain't broke, don't try to fix it" with this latest book. The book starts with some perfunctory but quite interesting material concerning Tsukamoto's childhood and early involvement with a rogue theatre troupe, then neatly segues into his first feature film, the much-discussed Tetsuo: The Iron Man, and thence into each successive film. It's a fascinating study of not only the filmmaking process, but also of the mind of a truly visionary and creative man.
"Iron Man" is, like damn near every book I've ever seen from FAB Press, a quality affair. It's profusely illustrated, well organized, well edited, and solidly put together. Plus, it's an excellent treatise on one of my favorite Japanese directors by one of my favorite cinema experts...a great combo. Again, Mes doesn't canonize Tsukamoto, but he does show the man his due respect, and tends to focus on the variety of films that he has churned out as opposed to narrowing in too much on the Tetsuo films, as a lesser writer would tend to do. We're all aware of how important Testuo: The Iron Man was and is...we don't need to be flogged over the head with it. Besides, in the grand scheme of Tsukamoto's ouvre, films like A Snake of June and Bullet Ballet are more interesting and, well, cinematic. Plus, the book features a typically witty and unusual introduction by Tsukamoto's friend and colleague Takashi Miike (in whose film Ichi the Killer Tsukamoto played Jiiji, the de facto "bad guy").
So my total awe and adoration of FAB press continues unabated, I suppose. One of these days, they might produce a book with which I'm less than impressed, but I wouldn't bet on it. "Iron Man: The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto" is another bit of required reading for all you true cinemaphiles out there, and fans of Japanese genre movies in general. The book contains 237 pages...a bit thin compared to the weighty "Agitator", but only because Tsukamoto hasn't made the roughly six trillion movies that Miike has...and it retails for $24.95 USD.