From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Tsukamoto's early films, Futsu saizu no kaijin (A Phantom of Regular Size) and Denchu Kozo no boken (The Adventures Of Electric Rod Boy) made in 1986/87, were short subject science fiction films shot on colour 8 mm film. In both films he made aggressive use of jarring editing, stop-motion animation, bizarre sound effects, and grotesque or outlandish subject matter. Denchu Kozo concerned itself with an unhappy young boy with an electricity pylon growing out of his back, who is transported into the future and must do battle with cyborg vampires trying to destroy sunlight.
His black & white 16 mm feature Tetsuo: The Iron Man, made in 1988 and shot in the same low-budget, underground film-production style as his previous films, established him internationally and created his worldwide cult. This extremely graphic but also strikingly-filmed fantasy deals with a guilt-consumed man whose body begins turning gradually into metal, and includes an iconic scene in which the protagonist's penis is revealed to have turned into an electric drill. The movie is an allegory about the destruction of nature by man. Tsukamoto has stated he has a love-hate relationship with Tokyo, and in the end the characters of this film set out to destroy it.
Tsukamoto's next film, Hiruko the Goblin, was a more conventional horror film, about demons being unleashed from the gates of hell. He then created a sequel to Tetsuo: The Iron Man, named Tetsuo II: Body Hammer, which revisited many of the same ideas as the first movie but with a bigger budget and shot in color on 35 mm film. In Body Hammer, a salaryman's son is kidnapped by a group of thugs, who then force the man's nascent rage to make him mutate into a gigantic human weapon. The film diverges from the original in a number of ways, not the least of which being that it tries to supply understandable motives for everyone involved. Many critics cited this as a weakness, since the nightmarish, transiently surreal feel of the first film, aided by accident or design by a lack of effort at coherence, proved one of its strongest assets.
Tokyo Fist (1995) again dealt with the idea of rage as a transformative force (similar to David Cronenberg's The Brood). Here, a meek insurance salesman discovers that an old friend of his, now a semi-professional boxer, may be having an affair with his fiancée. The salesman then enters into a rigorous and self-destructive boxing training program to get even. Here, Tsukamoto showed he was not simply interested in wild, outlandish fantasy, but in blunt realism as well. However, he does not completely abandon the fantasy that has become his trademark - unnatural amounts of blood are depicted as issuing from the actors.
Bullet Ballet (1998) drifted even further from fantasy and science fiction, and more into a sort of film noir territory. A man (played by Tsukamoto) discovers that his longtime girlfriend committed suicide with a gun, and becomes obsessed with getting a gun just like that one. His single minded behavior causes him to run afoul of a gang of thugs, especially when he shows interest in the young girl who is one of their compatriots. Many critics complained the second half of the film lost the direction and momentum of the first half, but it was clear that Tsukamoto was trying to take more risks with his ideas than before.
Gemini (1999) was a lush and disturbing adaptation of an Edogawa Rampo story, in which a country doctor with pretensions of superiority has his life torn apart when another man who appears to be his exact duplicate enters his life. Things are complicated further by the twin taking control of his wife, an amnesiac with a criminal background. Many hailed it as being Tsukamoto's best film ever and it certainly compares favorably to Tetsuo in terms of both story, visuals and execution.
A Snake of June (2002) once again found Tsukamoto employing the formula of two men in competition for one woman, as a young lady is blackmailed into perverse sexual behavior against her husband's will -- until her husband finds that he enjoys the blackmail more than the blackmailer does.
Vital (2004) continues Tsukamoto's move towards a more organic theme in his work, again featuring a love triangle, this time consisting of two women and one man. The story concerns a young man whose girlfriend is killed in a car crash whilst being driven by him. He is a medical student and is given her body to dissect in class (whether by coincidence or intentionally is not clear).
Tsukamoto also acted in and directed the short film Haze in 2005.
In 2006, Tsukamoto directed the horror thriller Nightmare Detective (Akumu Tantei). The film centres around a vagrant with the supernatural ability to enter the dreams of others and a police officer who pleads with him to help her solve a series of bizarre murders committed by a serial killer with a similar ability, played by Tsukamoto himself. While Nightmare Detective is in some ways an un-Tsukamoto film, Tsukamoto has stated that he is satisfied with the movie, and travelled to South Korea to promote the film. Recently it was announced that there is going to be a sequel to the film, with Tsukamoto wanting to make it into a trilogy.
It's worth noting that Tsukamoto acts in nearly all of his films, with the exception of those that he worked on as a 'director for hire' (namely Hiruko the Goblin and Gemini) and Vital. Tsukamoto has appeared in many other director's films as well, such as Takashi Miike's Ichi the Killer and Dead or Alive 2: Birds, and Teruo Ishii's Blind Beast Vs the Dwarf (2002). He is also a successful voiceover artist for TV advertising in Japan. He performs a voiceover for one of the main characters in PlayStation 3 game Metal Gear Solid 4 that will be released in early 2008.