Tetsuo: The Bullet Man (Shinya Tsukamoto, 2009)
Shinya Tsukamoto, who was always a very good director, found himself a new level over the past decade, turning out phenomenal movie after phenomenal movie; he's the only director to have hit my list of the Best 100 Films of the Last Decade three times (2002's A Snake of June, 2004's Vital, and 2005's Haze). In fact, I love pretty much everything Tsukamoto has done, with two exceptions: the two sequels to Tetsuo: The Iron Man, both of which were, I assume, conceived, shot, and released for purely commercial reasons. First there was Bodyhammer, back in the mid-nineties, a murky, plotless mess that seemed far too focused on the special effects. Now we have The Bullet Man, the third film in the franchise, which if anything goes the opposite direction. Which would normally be great, except that the story is hackneyed and loose. This is exacerbated by the fact that Tsukamoto decided to shoot the entire thing in English, despite neither he nor co-screenwriter Hisakatsu Kuroki (assistant director on Bullet Ballet and currently writing the Gothic and Lolita live action adaptation--and if you're not hopping up and down at the prospect of that one you're either unaware of the source material or dead) has all that good a grasp of it.
Our iron man this time is Anthony (voice actor Eric Bossick), who kind of stumbles into the role after hit men start coming after him because of his tenuous (until they start hunting him, natch; it's there an Ebert Rule about that?) connection to a secret government project to create human weapons (which harks back to Bodyhammer). Needless to say, since they're threatening his family, he becomes said weapon, though he has some existential crises about losing his humanity. But not enough that it isn't really, really cool to be able to just keep going when the bad guys shoot you a couple hundred times.
The best thing about Tetsuo: The Bullet Man, as the best thing about all Tsukamoto films (and I say this as a huge fan of the filmmaker), is Chu Ishikawa's superlative soundtrack. Ishikawa's only equals on the soundtrack stage for the past twenty years have been Graeme Revell and Jeremy Soule, and once again Ishikawa, half of Tokyo industrial band Der Eisenrost, turns in a soundtrack that is both distinctively Ishikawa and perfect for the film. The second-best thing about Tetsuo: The Bullet Man is Tsukamoto's equally distinctive visual style (Tsukamoto not only directs, but does a great deal of the cinematography work; he's also listed as gaffer on this one), which over the past ten years has integrated traditional European thriller style (specifically giallo) into his trademark cyberpunk leanings. It's an effective technique, though probably more so on the sophisticated thrillers he's been doing more than a movie that goes back to Tsukamoto's heavily-cyberpunk roots.
Balancing out those two very strong points are a confused plot (one wonders how rushed this script was), some below-par acting (some? Pretty much everyone here), and a preponderance of the kind of Engrish that manages to be correct but oddly awkward.
I wanted to like it, I really did. But it's simply not up to the standard that Tsukamoto has set for himself over the past ten years. **