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Tetsuo: The Iron Man (Tetsuo)

Director – Shinya Tsukamoto – 1989 – Japan – Cert. 18 – 67m

*****

Now on BFI Player as part of Japan 2020.

This review originally appeared in Manga Mania.

A metals fetishist (played by director Shinya Tsukamoto) inserts a metal tube into his leg and the resultant infection causes him to run through the streets where he’s run over by a car. A jazz sax score and the words “new world” accompany his passage into to what appears to be another dimension, from which he proceeds to terrorise an unfortunate woman on a subway platform, possessing her hand by metallicising it with spare parts.

The car’s driver, sitting next to her on the platform – who has already discovered a miniscule electronic component on his face while shaving – is pursued by the possessed woman. Later, the driver is sodomised by his girlfriend’s mechanical penis before his own penis develops into a lethal drill.

Flashbacks reveals the pair copulating in the park just after the hit and run accident. As he becomes more and more metallicised, he finds himself locked in combat with his crash victim, and the two eventually become fused into one, accompanying their birth into the New World.… Read the rest

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A Snake Of June (Rokugatsu No Hebi, 六月の蛇)

Director – Shinya Tsukamoto – 2002 – Japan – Cert. 18 – 77m

*****

Unlike any terrorised female narrative you’ve ever seen, at once bizarre and hugely rewarding – currently streaming on BFI Player as part of the BFI Japan 2021 programme

This review originally appeared in What’s On In London, June 2003.

In an unnamed (but suspiciously Tokyo-like) Japanese city where it’s constantly raining, a mysterious phone caller blackmails repressed housewife Rinko (Asuka Kurosawa). If that sounds clichéd, set your prejudices aside because Shinya Tsukamoto’s unique, new film is unlike any terrorised female narrative you’ve ever seen. The motives of the caller (director Tsukamoto himself) are scarcely what you might expect.

From the moment Rinko opens a postal package labelled “Your Husband’s Secrets” to find photographs of herself masturbating (which she flicks into life like a series of animated stills) via her subsequent following orders involving short skirts and vibrators through to the extraordinary finale, the piece walks a difficult path between humiliating and liberating women.

With the year’s most arresting opening – a stripping model reduced to orgasmic ecstasy in serial, rapid-fire static images to the flashing of a stills camera – it’s likely to engross some viewers while offending others.… Read the rest

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Possessor

Director – Brandon Cronenberg – 2020 – Canada – Cert. 18 – 103m

*****

A woman possesses other people’s bodies via technology to assassinate selected targets – on Shudder from Thursday, June 10th, as well Digital HD or BFI Player rental

Anyone who’s seen Brandon Cronenberg’s earlier Antiviral (2012) will know that he is a force to be reckoned with, operating in much the same area as his father David (whose Crash, 1996, is currently out on VoD and is released on UHD and BD on December 14th) but with his own, highly individual slant. And equally impressive.

His protagonist here is assassin Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) whose boss Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) inserts Vos’ consciousness into others so she can carry out hits on designated targets while occupying their bodies and consciousnesses. Lately, though, things haven’t been going quite to plan. In the body of Holly (Gabrielle Graham), Vos picks up a cutlery knife then repeatedly and bloodily stabs her target with it rather than simply shooting him with the supplied gun. Although Vos gives all the right answers in the psychological evaluation tests following her return, Girder is concerned.

He fears are raised further when Vos asks for time off with her partner Michael (Rossif Sutherland) and young son Ira (Gage Graham-Arbuthnot).… Read the rest

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Possessor

The irredeemable flesh

Possessor
Directed by Brandon Cronenberg
Certificate 18, 103 minutes
Released 27 November

The controversial director David Cronenberg has long been an exponent of something he calls ‘the new flesh’, ways that humanity might transcend its bodies. His son Brandon is the same, his new film Possessor concerning the world of cybernetic industrial espionage. Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is an assassin working for a company run by Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh), which injects her consciousness into other people as host personalities so that, wearing the clothing of their minds and bodies, she can kill designated targets before being extracted…

His father’s notorious Crash (1996) was restored for reissue in November… [Read more]

Read the full review in Reform.

Read my alternative review here.

Trailer:

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Secretary

Secretary

Director – Steven Shainberg – 2002 – US – Cert. 18 – 106m

*****

A Snake Of June (Rokugatsu No Hebi, 六月の蛇)

Director – Shinya Tsukamoto – 2002 – Japan – Cert. 18 – 77m

*****

Double DVD review originally published in Third Way, February 2004.

The cover image (rear view of a female figure in tight, short skirt and stockinged legs, bent down, hands grasping ankles) suggests titillation, but the American production Secretary is actually a serious drama – albeit one laced with a healthy dose of black humour – about a sadomasochistic relationship. But beneath its fetishistic surface, it is something else – an exploration into why two specific people (and why they in particular rather than any others) make one flesh. And how that works for them if the two people are initially in some way damaged (as we all are).

Although from a very different culture, its Japanese counterpart A Snake Of June – made by the experimental cyberpunk auteur Tsukamoto (of Tetsuo: The Iron Man fame) – explores much the same territory. Being small, low budget productions frees both films from mass, multiplex mainstream audience demands, allowing their directors to instead tackle (inter)personal relationship issues in depth.… Read the rest

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Videodrome

Director – David Cronenberg – 1983 – Canada – Cert. 18 – 87m

*****

This review originally appeared in What’s On In London during the film’s revival at the ICA. See also my review for London Calling Internet.

In a career-defining performance from 1983, the young James Woods is Max Renn, glutted on the diet of video porn he watches as buyer for a Cable TV station. Everything he sees is “too soft”. “I’m looking for something tough,” he proclaims, “something to break through the market.”

In the station’s basement, his technician assistant Harlan (Peter Dvorsky) finds the very thing. Videodrome. Women strung up and beaten to death. No cuts. One locked off camera. Nil production values. Here, indeed, is something tough.

Welcome to a world of media personalities like Brian O’Blivion (Jack Creley), a man who no longer exists as flesh but merely as viewable video images. Like Nikki Brand (Debbie Harry), who agrees with Renn on a TV chat show slot that her red dress is a come on, later vanishing after declaring she should audition for the Videodrome show.

A world where hands mutate into guns, men literally bury their heads in eroticised television screens and one person loads a videocassette into another’s stomach to programme him.… Read the rest

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Videodrome (Director’s Cut)

Director – David Cronenberg – 1983 – Canada – Cert. 18 – 85m

*****

UK PAL laserdisc review.

Originally appeared in London Calling Internet. See also my review for What’s On In London during the film’s revival at the ICA.

Distributor Pioneer LDCE

Cat No: PFLEB 36041

£19.99

BBFC Certificate 18

Director David Cronenberg (1982)

Starring James Woods, Sonja Smits, Debbie Harry

Running Time 85 min

Mono

Widescreen: 1.85:1

Chaptered? Yes

CLV (Side 1)/CAV (Side 2)

2 Sides

A decade and a half on and still retaining its incredible power to shock, this is the film in which David Cronenberg first coined his battle cry, “Long Live the New Flesh.” If a clear lineage can be traced in his films from Shivers’ aphrodisiac turds through to Crash‘s orgasmic collision of swingers and twisted metal, Videodrome remains unique in Cronenberg’s oeuvre – a black joke, a come on to the censor.

Just suppose, runs the pitch, violent porno (television signals) directly affected people causing them to hallucinate. This is the fate which befalls sleazoid Channel 83 cable television executive Max Renn (a young Woods in his best – and edgiest – role to date) who tells porno programme sales agents their merchandise is “too SOFT…I’m looking for something TOUGH.”… Read the rest

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Crash

Director – David Cronenberg – 1996 – Canada – Cert. 18 – 100m

*****

This review was originally published in the Arts Centre Group‘s member’s newsletter. See also my review for What DVD.

All stills from Crash apart from the one from Videodrome.

Canadian film director David Cronenberg has a reputation for filming the unfilmable. Formerly dubbed The King Of Venereal Horror (“a small kingdom but I’m happy with it”), his debut (commercial) feature Shivers / The Parasite Murders / They Came From Within (1977) is a low budget horror outing in which high rise tenants are invaded/possessed by little slug-like creatures resembling a bloody cross between phallus and faeces.

For renowned British producer Jeremy Thomas (Bad Timing, The Last Emperor, First Love) he has adapted and directed books considered impossible to turn into movies, notably William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch (in 1991) and J.G.Ballard’s Crash.

I was first drawn to Cronenberg’s work from the special effects angle, specifically an article on prosthetics expert Rick Baker which contained some amazing production stills (the shape of a hand-held gun pushing through the unbroken membrane of a television screen) from Videodrome (1983). An image suggesting television can kill?… Read the rest

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Crash

Director – David Cronenberg – 1996 – Canada – Cert. 18 – 100m

*****

This review of the UK DVD was originally published in What DVD. See also my review for the Arts Centre Group’s member’s newsletter.

Sold as a sex and car crash (and by implication action) movie, Crash is in reality something very different: intelligent, grown-up science fiction. The former description being an easy sell, especially with the added (ridiculous) controversy surrounding the film’s (eventual) UK release, the inevitable resultant popcorn sensation‑seeking mass audience was largely disappointed.

That said, for those viewers prepared to engage brain, deal with tough subject matter and go the distance, it’s a masterpiece. But if you’re someone to whom the concept of sex scene as narrative device sounds too much like hard work, you probably shouldn’t touch it.

On the other hand, admirers of director Cronenberg (The Brood, Scanners, Dead Ringers, eXistenZ) or novelist J.G.Ballard (Empire of the Sun) will appreciate the film’s uncompromising vision. Although Crash is not especially unnerving by Cronenberg standards, it’s extremely shocking by those of mainstream movies and has the potential to confuse or overwhelm an average audience.

While it brims with sex scenes, they’re not particularly arousing in tone being close to the emotionally cold experience of watching laboratory experiments.… Read the rest

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Dead Ringers

Director – David Cronenberg – 1988 – Canada – Cert. 18 – 116m

*****

Originally published in Samhain.

When David Cronenberg was in the UK to promote The Fly late in 1986, he talked about a project called Twins which concerned two identical twins who fall in love with the same woman. At the time, no-one thought he was serious.

Two years later, the film has appeared (under the appalling title Dead Ringers, since there was another Twins in production elsewhere). Cronenberg denies that the new film is science fiction or horror, or even fantasy. Yet (if one wants to play the auteur game) parallels can be drawn with certain of his earlier films.

Dead Ringers bears a great resemblance not so much to the commercial Cronenberg schlock oeuvre as to the art films of the late sixties from which he has in recent years dissociated himself on the grounds that they were not real movie movies; however, both Stereo (1969) and Crimes Of The Future (1970) were shot on University Campuses with bleak, modernist architecture – and the same setting forms the backdrop to several Cronenberg features, most notably Scanners. Such architecture is more prominent in Dead Ringers than in any previous Cronenberg commercial feature.… Read the rest