The film opens with a man (called only "the man" (Yatsu) in the credits, or the "Metal Fetishist" in English-language film criticism), cutting open a massive gash in his leg and then shoving a large threaded steel rod into the wound. Later, upon seeing maggots festering in the wound, he screams, runs out into the street, and is hit by a car. The driver of the car, a Japanese salaryman (Tomorowo Taguchi), and his girlfriend (Kei Fujiwara) try to cover up the mess by dumping the body into a ravine, but the dumped man gets revenge by forcing the salaryman's body to gradually metamorphose into a walking pile of scrap metal. This process starts when the salaryman finds a piece of metal stuck in his cheek while shaving. He tries to remove it, but realizes it is growing from the inside.
The scene cuts to the salaryman at his home having breakfast, with a bandage over his cheek. He receives a phone call, consisting of nothing but him and the other speaker (possibly his girlfriend) continuously saying "Hello?" to each other and flashing back to having sex after dumping the Metal Fetishist.
The first of several highly stylized chase scenes starts with the salaryman pursued through an underground train station by a woman whose body has been taken over by the Metal Fetishist as he is on his way to work. The salaryman seems to win this encounter by breaking the back of the radically transformed woman (she begins the sequence as a demure office worker and ends it as a wild metal-infected woman) after even more metal has erupted on his ankles and arm.
The next segment is a terrifying dream sequence where the salaryman's girlfriend, transformed into an exotic dancer with a snake-like metal probe, terrorizes and rapes the salaryman. After waking from this dream, the salaryman and his girlfriend have sex at his apartment and eat erotically. As she eats each bite given to her, he hears the sounds of metal scraping. The salaryman suddenly discovers his penis has mutated into a gargantuan power drill. A fight ensues where the salaryman terrorizes his girlfriend, and acquires more and more metal on his body. She fights back and in the end impales herself on his drill and dies.
Helpless to do anything, the salaryman, now the Iron Man, is visited by the Metal Fetishist, who emerges from the dead girlfriend's corpse to show him a vision of a "New World" of nothing but metal and turns his cats into grotesque metal creatures. This is where the film suggests a post-apocalyptic future. The Iron Man flees and is followed by the Metal Fetishist into an abandoned building. After the Metal Fetishist explains to the Iron Man how both of them became what they are, a final battle ensues. The Iron Man ends by attempting to rust/combine himself with the Fetishist and this merges both of them (in a hallucinatory rebirth sequence where the two are connected by a metal umbilical cord) into a two-headed metal monster. The two agree to turn the whole world into metal and rust it, scattering it into the dust of the universe by claiming "Our love can put an end to this fucking world. Let's Go!" The duo charges through the streets of Japan in a horrific fusion of the two men and the accumulated metal, in a largely phallic form. The film ends with the words "GAME OVER" as opposed to "The End" after the closing credits.Tomorowo Taguchi as Man (or Salaryman)
Kei Fujiwara as Woman (or Girlfriend)
Nobu Kanaoka as Woman in Glasses
Shinya Tsukamoto as Guy (Yatsu) (in English-language discussions he is referred to as the Metal Fetishist)
Naomasa Musaka as Doctor
Renji Ishibashi as Tramp
This was Tsukamoto's first movie to be shot on 16mm, all of his previous work being done with Super 8 cameras. The camera work was split between himself and Kei Fujiwara both of whom also play the roles of major characters. (Fujiwara has since directed several of her own films.) Filmed over 18 months primarily in Fujiwara's apartment, by the end of the production most of the crew broke with Tsukamoto because the filming conditions were so difficult.
In Tom Mes' discussion of the film he interviewed Tomorowo Taguchi, the actor who plays the salaryman (who was the only member of cast and crew who didn't constantly live on set) who noted, "It was very tough so I quickly sensed that if you would stay with them all the time, you would inevitably get the urge to escape. So I figured that if I could keep some distance, I would be able to last much longer and keep a good relationship with them. It's true that almost every day I went there another crew member would have left. One day I arrived and the house and the lighting crew had gone, so I had to do the lighting for Tsukamoto's scenes myself. Toward the end, only the actors were still around. Nearly the entire crew had given up and left by then."
The domestic film rights belong to Japan Home Video, and the film was given a limited release theatrically in Japan at the Nakano Musashino Hall in 1989.
It debuted to foreign audiences in 1989 as a submission to the horror film festival Fantafestival in Rome and received award for best film.
After this success it was given a limited release theatrically in the United States by Original Cinema in 1992. It was subsequently released on VHS by Fox Lorber.
The film was released twice on DVD in the United States; by Image Entertainment in 1998 and by Tartan Video in 2005. Both releases are currently out of print.
The film received mostly positive reviews from critics. It currently has a 77% "Fresh" rating on film review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes with an average rating of 7.2/10 based on 13 reviews.