A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
When Shinya Tsukamoto was growing up in Tokyo, there were still green and open spaces in the city--but now he sees it transformed into a towering, compacted mass of steel and concrete.
This is not altogether a bad thing, he believes; both visions of the city attract him. But the inhabitants of the new Tokyo must adapt in order to survive--have to become steel and concrete themselves--and that is what happens in the gruesomely fascinating images of "Tetsuo II: Body Hammer.'' The movie has many points in common with the original "Tetsuo'' (1989), a black-and-white cult classic that became a fetish for some fans. The second film is not a sequel so much as another run at the same material, this time with more money, better special effects, and color (although the palate is mostly limited to dark grays and blues). Tsukamoto has an image in his mind, of a human terrifyingly morphed into a machine and a weapon, and he creates nightmarish visions from this idea with only the most casual attention to plot.
The story involves a salaryman named Tomoo (Tomorowo Taguchi), sort of a Clark Kent wearing horn-rim glasses and a neatly pressed shirt, whose child is kidnapped by skinhead cyborgs. Pursuing them, he mysteriously undergoes an experience in which his flesh mates with steel, and his body undergoes a transformation into a fearsome creature that looks like a dirty concrete block with arms and guns extruding from it, and exhaust pipes for ribs.
"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" (1982) and some of the Arnold Schwarzenegger films and the Japanese animated films like "Akira'' and extend them into grotesquerie. Japanese art has, since the earliest times, been fascinated by the possibilities in shape-changing, in creatures who take first one form and then another. Here we have the changes forced upon the ordinary hero by the very terms of his environment: Tokyo has reached some sort of critical mass in which flesh and steel combine, just as atomic reactions are created in the center of the sun.