Batman and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade were blockbusters that entertained moviegoers across the globe in 1989. But that same year, Japan's Tetsuo sent a sensational shockwave around the world. Twenty-one years later, Shinya Tsukamoto, director of the iconic 1989 film, is back with Tetsuo: The Bullet Man, again telling the story of a man transforming into an iron creature, but with a fresh angle.
"Although the movies, (including 1992's Tetsuo II: Body Hammer,) in the series explore the same concept of a man turning into iron, each film is an individual production with different designs, making them vary quite a bit from one film to the next. I want audiences to see this iron man in a different way," Tsukamoto said in a recent interview with The Daily Yomiuri.
The latest movie, starring American actor Eric Bossick [pictured at left], was shot entirely in English.
The film, which Tsukamoto refers to as an "American movie," is about a man named Anthony who lives and works in Tokyo. Following the death of his beloved young son in a car accident, iron begins to grow on his body as his anger grows and inner conflict swells.
Tsukamoto's latest production makes more use of dialogue to tell the story than did the 1989 movie, which is widely known as one of Japan's premier films in the cyberpunk genre and told its story through strong, fast-moving imagery.
The new film uses Anthony's relationships with his wife and parents to explore the theme of familial ties, a topic not dealt with in the first film, which contained extremely violent scenes that were possibly disturbing and shocking to many viewers.
"[Since Tetsuo was released,] I got married and had a child. Whenever I see news about children put in awful situations like war, it disturbs me. In Japan, we don't have a real sense of war--it's something we just see virtually on TV. The more I think about it, the scarier it gets," the 50-year-old said in a calm, polite manner--far from the impression one might get from his films.
"Initially I didn't intend to change the plot, but it naturally changed due to the time and experiences I've had over the past 17 years. Eventually, I got a better sense of the story, and began to feel, 'Yes, this is the story I can work on now,'" he said.
"I kind of expected something would change inside me by having a child," said the director, whose child is now in primary school. "But it wasn't a subtle change at all--it was rather dramatic."
Since the first Tetsuo movie established Tsukamoto's core international fan base, some renowned directors have raised his name as a filmmaker who influenced them. One of them, Quentin Tarantino, approached Tsukamoto about working together on a new Tetsuo movie in 1993.
"I thought it seemed like a realistic idea to work with him...but it takes time to make the Tetsuo character into what I want him to be. So it would have been impossible to complete it, say, only within three weeks," Tsukamoto said, referring to problems brought about by insufficient funding during discussions over filming for Hollywood. For these types of reasons, he decided to opt out of such productions.
Tsukamoto instead enlisted Bossick--a contemporary dancer, model, photographer and actor based in Tokyo--describing him as the "perfect fit for the role."
"It was almost inevitable [to have met Eric]," the director said, looking at the actor seated next to him at the interview.
But it wasn't just Tsukamoto feeling lucky.
"I think that it's impossible to imagine that. It's like winning the lottery. Like a many many millions against one sort of chance," Bossick recalled of being offered the main role as his very first movie job.
The 37-year-old American actor also admitted that at the first audition, he had no idea about the size of the role he was auditioning for, or that the movie titled The Bullet Man was anything to do with the iconic film that shocked him as a teenager far away from Japan.
"At that time, I watched Pink Floyd The Wall, A Clockwork Orange. That was the first time to see Tetsuo as well. When I was 17, it was a big impact, also not really knowing what's going on, it's just like random craziness and I don't know what the meaning of it [was], but it was like a big shocking thing," Bossick recalled.
Bossick has lived in Japan for a decade and speaks the language. And it is for this reason that he believes that if the role of Anthony had been portrayed by an actor who had just arrived here, the performance would have been based on a completely different point of view.
"I also have an understanding of Japanese culture. The character was born in Tokyo--he's half Japanese, so I can examine what all of those things mean in terms of the psychology of the character [and] what type of person he would be," he said.
The Bullet Man shows a young family's middle-class lifestyle in a cold metropolitan Tokyo--different to the single guy living in a small shabby flat of tatami mats in the 1989 film, providing contrasting images of Japanese cities in the 1980s and 2010s.
"I never intended to create the Tetsuo series as Japanese movies to be exported to the United States and overseas...I rather thought the stories I created were more universal, so that I could make American movies with my themes," Tsukamoto said.
"But when I took my productions abroad, people said they were very Japanese, saying they could get a sense of contemporary Japan from my films. Those kinds of reactions were very fresh to me, and made me realize, 'This is Japan,'" he added.
Tsukamoto also was pleasantly surprised to hear an objective interpretation of The Bullet Man--from an on-hands non-Japanese perspective.
This is how Bossick sees it: "A lot of what it is about is [Anthony] facing his demons and the choices that [individuals] make when they face their own internal demons. I think that is something that is essentially Eastern in its thought and philosophy...So it's a kind of human alchemy of harmonizing with your dark things, things from your shadow."
"In the West, it's very much separated, where you have demons and you have angels, and it's completely different," the actor said.
Tsukamoto revealed that the movie's last scene--which keeps Anthony's face hidden--could be interpreted in two different ways regarding his anger induced by tragedy.
"I hope people understand that the scene shows a sublime Anthony, who controlled his hidden power [as an iron man] and resolved not to use it," Tsukamoto said.
Over the past 20 years, there have been great changes in people's lifestyles and values. The director--who was 29 years old back in 1989--now applies layers of meaning to the acts of the iron man; there is love in that hatred.
"Tetsuo: The Bullet Man" opens Saturday.