Tetsuo: The Iron Man - A Queer Marxist Reading

Tetsuo: The Iron Man - A Queer Marxist Reading

In her video essay, Amanda Barbour explores the queer Marxist possibilities opened up by Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)


This video essay brings Karl Marx and Lee Edelman into conversation with each another, as they’re both relevant to Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989), albeit in different ways.

If we read metal as residue from the industrial age, and its prevalence under the skin of in the salaryman as indicative of the new proletariat, we can parallel the film’s narrative progression to Marx’s theory of historical materialism. This is a historiography that theorises the processes that drive human history forward, with the principal factor being evolving economic processes that then changes the groundwork of society at large.

Marx argues that with class struggle this will lead us to communism; Tsukamoto’s film ends in a metal apocalypse, but I argue that the theoretical blind spots in Marx’s work facilitates the relevance of Edelman’s book Death Drive (2004)  in the apocalyptic landscape. This is a subversive idea, that argues that queerness is associated with death by definition. That we are anti-life, as we reject the binding reproductive logic of heteronormativity given that we cannot create nuclear families in conventional ways. Edelman boldly insists that the effectiveness of queerness lies in the very willingness to embrace this refusal of the socio-political order.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (Shinya Tsukamoto, 1989)

While I do not think that my reading aligns with the authorial intentions of Tsukamoto, this can be treated as an alternative way to consider his work. My thesis is anchored in social reality, as the film was released in 1989 and the Japanese asset price bubble would collapse two years later, leading to 10 years of economic misery and emasculated men. This supports my queered dystopic reading, as the traditionally machismo man would derive his power from heterosexual prowess and the capacity to be the primary income earner.

I’ve referenced some pretty dense academic ideas, so if you’re interested here is where to go for my source material:

  • On historical materialism: Karl Marx, “Preface.” A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Progress Publishers, 1859, pp 1 - 3.
  • On alienation: Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Progress Publishers, 1932.
  • On queer theory and the death drive: Lee Edelman, No FutureQueer Theory and the Death Drive. Duke University Press, 2004.


Tetsuo: The Iron Man plays on 12 August at The Astor Theatre as part of the Sci-Fi Marathon.

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