Tetsuo II: Body Hammer is director Shinya Tsukamoto's sequelre-makecompanion piece to his cult, low-budget 1988 art-house shocker Tetsuo: The Iron Man; a striking piece of hyper-kinetic visual film-making, in which an anonymous Japanese business man finds his body inexplicably mutating into a mass of metal, wire and steal. This version of the story cleans up and clarifies some of the more indistinct and visually abstract points established in the original film, but also adds to it a greater psychological subtext and a broader dramatic scale.
The film begins in a more recognisable world than Tsukamoto's original, with the use of colour (albeit, heavily tinted to shades of blue, amber and grey) creating a more recognisable Tokyo that will later be juxtaposed against the hellish underworld depicted in the second half of the story. There's also more believable characterisation, a loose plot and some vague explanations for what is actually happening. Some fans of the original film consider this to be Body Hammer's major failing; with the clarification and characterisation detracting from the weird "wow-factor" of the original Iron Man film; which, as a work of great science-fiction cinema, really existed in its own world devoid of conservative narrative and cinematic convention. I like to appreciate the film from another perspective, however; with Tsukamoto simply fleshing out the themes of the original film a little further, in the same way that a song-writer might often perform a number of different songs about the same subject, but most often, with a different style and arrangement. Tsukamoto has always been more of an artist than a traditional filmmaker, which is why you can see the same themes resurfacing again and again in a different context throughout his work.
Tsukamoto's principal preoccupations as a filmmaker are often with alienation, claustrophobia, technology, and most importantly, the human body. Throughout his work, Tsukamoto has looked at the self-inflicted destruction of the body, via films such as Iron Man, Body Hammer and Tokyo Fist; through to the more traditional notions of natural decay and internal destruction with films like A Snake of June, Bullet Ballet and Vital. All of these characteristics are present here, with the film showing us how easily tragedy can strike (and go un-noticed) in a built up city, and how striving to become the ultimate human often involves a melding of man with machine (the natural with the synthetic).
The great thing about Tsukamoto's work is that it can often be enjoyed on a number of levels, so, with Body Hammer, we have something that could be viewed as a straight science-fiction film with elements of cyber-punk derived body horror, or instead we could look at some of the deeper, metaphorical interpretations pertaining to the loss of a child, parenthood, childhood trauma, guilt, and perhaps even notions more unsavoury than that! Without wanting to give away too much, there's an element of the plot here that involves the central character's infant son being kidnapped. What follows is quite shocking and heavily symbolic, but I personally like to think that this moment is actually the real impetuous for Body Hammer's plot. So, we have the idea of a character spiralling into a pit of despair, consumed by guilt and losing his mind and the trust of his wife in light of this tragic chain of events! Now, I'm not pretending I know all the answers here, but I like to theorise. Someone else might view the film and take from it an entirely different interpretation but could still find it enjoyable and entertaining. The fact remains that despite the layers of personal interpretation the one thing that will always stand out - regardless of whether or not you liked the film - is the unbridled imagination and visual flair that Tsukamoto brings to the project as it's writer, director, editor, art director, cinematographer, designer and supporting actor.
It certainly won't be to all tastes, as even committed admirers of the first Tetsuo film often write this one off as an interesting failure, but for me, this film offers an entirely new perspective on the territory of Iron Man and the usual preoccupations of Tsukamoto's later films, such as Tokyo Fist, A Snake of June and Vital. As Roger Ebert wrote in his review at the time, "Tetsuo II' doesn't rise (or stoop) to the level of conventional action or suspense; it's a design concept, a director's attempt to take some of the ideas in Blade Runner and some of the Arnold Schwarzenegger films and the Japanese animated films like Akira and extend them into grotesquery". It's perhaps not on a par with some of Tsukamoto's other works, chiefly Tetsuo, Tokyo Fist, Gemini and A Snake of June, but regardless, remains a unique viewing experience for those who are genuinely into through-provoking, visually arresting art-house shock cinema.
On a final note, I would perhaps suggest starting here and then progressing onto the first Tetsuo film, as this one is a little less challenging and easier to get through and thus acts as a nice little gateway into this particular filmmaker's warped and wonderful world.
Review by Graham Greene from the Internet Movie Database.