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Still from "Tetsuo: The Iron Man"via

The Japanese director Quentin Tarantino is obsessed with

Cult filmmaker Shinya Tsukamoto changed cinema forever with Tetsuo: The Iron Man – so Tarantino tried to bring him to America

Cult film legend Shinya Tsukamoto first burst onto the movie scene in the late 80s with his debut feature Tetsuo: The Iron Man – a blazing body horror so chaotic, shocking and violent it made an indelible impact on Japanese cinema, changing it forever. He’s been working steadily since, both as a director and occasionally as an actor, with a sequel to Tetsuo (a film Quentin Tarantino loved so much he tried to bring Tsukamoto to the States for a third instalment), hyper-bloody boxing drama Tokyo Fist, and surreal erotic-thriller A Snake Of June amongst the highlights. 

In London to promote the Blu-ray release of A Snake Of June, as well as his new film – intense war drama Fires On The Plain – I sat down with Tsukamoto to discuss his 25-year career, why he turned down Tarantino, and why he loves Lynch and Cronenberg…


Tsukamoto’s films are peppered with strong violence but, according to the director, his blood and gore scenes have an existential message. “In Tetsuo, I really wanted to show Tokyo as an urban jungle, and if you’re living in a concrete jungle, you forget about human instincts, that we are animals. By living in the city, your body’s existence is dying down. Self-harming, hitting something, bashing yourself, or boxing – knocking out other people, as in Tokyo Fist – it allows us to know we exist in this world. I used violence as an ironic depiction of how to live in the concrete jungle, and how to make a human connection. When I performed acts of violence myself instead of just directing them, in films like Bullet Ballet, I used my own body – I felt stronger, like I could do it harder.”


The representation of women has evolved over the course of Tsukamoto’s career, but from Tetsuo’s tech-possessed stalker, to the female guerrilla howling behind a gun in Fires On The Plain, strong female characters have been a key element of his work. “As I get older, the way I see female characters has changed. In my early movies, their existence is present, but not acute. In my 30s, I wanted to show the strong side of the female. When I got to 40, I thought of women as mother or wife figures, and I wanted to sympathise with that. Now, in my 50s, I see the world is not a safe place for women to live – there’s a lot of fears for women in this world, so I want to show that in my movies. The social climate is fearful in Japan, so when the world is more peaceful, I’ll make films with fantasy violence, or erotic movies again – but now I can’t do it.”


His attitude to violence has also shifted. His latest, a dark depiction of Japan’s contribution to World War II, has none of the fantasy grue of his early work – which isn’t to say it isn’t totally gross; faces explode, brains are mashed underfoot, and blood sprays every battlefield. But there’s a reason he’s gone more realistic for his new one…

“When I first started out, I was trying to represent the violence and erotic feelings that are always present in every human being. Morally, I didn’t think depicting violence was a bad thing. But these days, violence is no longer fantasy – it’s become a reality. Some people in Japan have a notion that we should go to war. People in Japan used to be anti-war, but now they’re thinking they don’t mind it. I thought this has to be stopped. People need to know that going to war is a horrible thing, which is why I made Fires On The Plain.”

“After Tetsuo II, Quentin Tarantino approached me because he want produce Tetsuo III. I started the script, but it took a very long time. Too long – so long that it died down and it didn’t happen. My process was too slow” – Shinya Tsukamoto


His debut movie, Tetsuo, was extremely influential in its native Japan, and a major cult obsession in the west, not least for Quentin Tarantino… “After Tetsuo II, Quentin Tarantino approached me because he want produce Tetsuo III, I thought yeah, I can do this. But I didn’t have a plot, or a story. I started thinking about it, I started the script, but it took a very long time. Too long – so long that it died down and it didn’t happen. My process was too slow. As a fan, I think he’s amazing. He’s very talented, and he shows that talent in every film he makes.”


Quentin enjoyed his debut, and Tsukamoto’s also a fan of Tarantino’s first film. “I don’t know if I should say this after talking about being against violence at the moment, but the Tarantino scene that stands-out most for me is in Reservoir Dogs. It’s when they’ve caught the policeman, and he gets his ear cut off – the scene takes a long time, but then with one pop of the gun, it’s over. He dies, just like that. It’s over so quickly. That really stuck in my head. That, and the scene where the gangsters talk about Madonna, those are my favourite scenes from Tarantino.”


When Tetsuo was first released in the UK, it was instantly compared to Lynch’s Eraserhead and Cronenberg’s The Fly, with its mixture of extreme/surreal black & white imagery, and its intense body horror plot, revolving around a man transforming himself via metal. And it turns out Tsukamoto is super-into both directors. “I’ve always looked up to David Lynch and David Cronenberg. Their work is very visual, they do whatever they want to do, and they get a good reception from audiences, so I admire that. I respect both of their work.”

A Snake Of June is out now from Third Window Films