Media-Morphosis. Intermediality, (Re-)Animation and the Medial Uncanny in Tsukamoto Shinya’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

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Operating self-sufficiently on the fringes of the Japanese film industry for almost his entire career, the work of independent filmmaker Tsukamoto Shinya1 is perhaps best-known for its uncompromising, musical freneticism, as well as its corporeal spectacle. However, Tsukamoto’s dynamic clashing of visual media signifiers, such as those of theatre and television (industries within which he also operated prior to his film career during the 1980s), and how these impact upon his reflexive cinematic style, has yet to be fully considered. Drawing on Laura Mulvey’s conception of the ‘uncanny’ in response to cinema’s potential to confuse animate and inanimate, as well as Tsukamoto’s own under-discussed background in experimental street theatre and television advertising production, this essay seeks to examine Tsukamoto’s unique method of stop motion photography within his signature, self-produced feature Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989). The intention is to show that these hyperbolic sequences instil not only an uncanniness in their live-action subjects, who are rendered inanimate then reanimated to form staccato, cyborg characters, but also a ‘medial uncanny’ that simultaneously emulates and subverts the qualities of a vast range of visual media, particularly television and its associated post-medial peripherals and artefacts.

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