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How ‘Tetsuo: The Iron Man’ Embodies 1980s HIV/AIDS Anxieties

Another wonderful opportunity to remember the power drill dick scene.
Tetsuo
By  · Published on November 15th, 2022

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that looks at how the movie Tetsuo: The Iron Man captured the anxieties of the 1980s.


When you come across a list of “most f-ucked up movies” there are always going to be repeat offenders. And no “what the heck did I just watch” Letterboxd list is complete without Shinya Tsukamoto’s 1989 film Tetsuo: The Iron Man.

The first entry in what would ultimately become a trilogy, Tetsuo: The Iron Man tends to be one of those movies whose images precede it. By which I mean: in this age of internet screengrabs, you’re more likely to have your imagination captured by static glimpses of Tsukamoto’s masterpiece before you sit down to watch the actual film. (There’s nothing wrong with this method of discovery, by the way — and if anything, the magnetic energy that radiates off of these black-and-white visions of twisted metal are to Tsukamoto’s credit).

Tetsuo: The Iron Man begins with a metal fetishist who flees into the night when he is driven mad by a maggot-infested shrapnel wound. He is struck by a businessman and his girlfriend, who quietly dispose of the corpse. Soon, the businessman finds his own mind and flesh twisted with metallic aberrations …

Tsukamoto’s film is a rich text, and like most films, doesn’t just stand for one thing in particular: its depictions of spreading infections are as much a commentary on the unpredictable growth of the technological landscape as it is one of cinema’s greatest exercises in sensory overload.

And in that spirit, the following video essay tugs on yet another wire: the film’s not-so-subtle interrogation of one of the key anxieties of the 1980s: the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Watch “Tetsuo: The Iron Man – Capturing Anxieties Of The 1980s”


Who made this?

This video essay on the anxious 1980s themes of Tetsuo: The Iron Man is by You Have Been Watching Films. United Kingdom-based writer Oliver Bagshaw produces the channel, creating video essays on an assortment of movies, from cult to classic strains of cinema history. You can subscribe to their YouTube channel here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).