At this point, whenever I watch any Japanese cinema, I’m expecting something “out there.” I won’t say weird or strange, because those terms are all relative, but I will say I’m used to Japanese directors taking me somewhere I never could have predicted. I really had to prepare myself for R100 though, because not only is it directed by Big Man Japan creator Hitoshi Matsumoto, but it’s also a part of this year’s Midnight Maddness program at the Toronto International Film Festival. So did it deliver the absurdly incomprehensible goods? Honestly, my head is still spinning from all the bondage and grenade throwing, so you can take that as a yes – with an asterisk.
Takafumi Katayama is a seemingly normal man, caring for his both his only son and comatose wife, but makes a questionable choice to involve himself in a world of sadism and unhealthy pleasures. Looking for satisfaction, Takafumi enrolls himself in a secret club that sends dominatrixes at random to inflict joyful punishment at any time, sparking excitement by the constant “fear” of being “attacked.” But what starts out as just some whippings and beatings soon turns into much more intricate and dangerous activities, and Takafumi starts to fear for his family. Too bad you can’t terminate the services of Bondage though, because once you sign up for their exclusive deal, you’re stuck in the club for an entire year – with no backing out. Having enough, Takafumi has no choice but to fight back, but soon finds out taking on an entire organization of S&M trained females might be a larger task than previously expected. Yup.
Now, there’s a metaphysical joke in R100 that the fake director of the movie we’re watching (in the movie itself) says people won’t understand his film until they’re 100 years old, and that’s a pretty damn good summation for real audiences too. Matsumoto’s film is part fly-on-the-wall narrative, part mockumentary, part movie within a movie, and all parts batshit crazy. Hell, the title card isn’t even flashed until forty minutes into the movie, which makes us feel like the movie doesn’t actually start until that moment – almost a third of the way in. R100 cuts between domanatrix-run action, self-gratifiying pleasures, and a group of audience members (who I assumed were studio execs) watching and reacting to R100 in the same moments we are. Don’t worry, these worried screeners will share in the same confusion as you.
While I respect the outlandish nature of R100, following in the footsteps of so many dumbfounding Japanese films before it, there’s a little too much going on. Matsumoto’s indulgently ridiculous yet deceivingly intelligent script isn’t a failure, but an ambitious piece of artwork that isn’t happy with simplistic achievements. Much like Big Man Japan, Matsumoto injects humor and absurdity into a film that borders the line between serious and zany, as R100 deals with the sick natures of pleasure, masochism, and then the ultimate transformation into full sadism – all the while using Beethoven’s work to score Takafumi’s wild ride. But where Big Man Japan excelled in such dark/off-color comedy, R100 becomes muddled, tonally bizarre, and unbalanced, as the comedy doesn’t always shine through. I get the ecstasy that’s provided by the Bondage agency, but as we meet the “Queen of Saliva” and the “Queen of Gobbling,” providing borderline superheroes without explanation, it’s like diving off an 80 foot cliff after only attempting the 10 foot kiddie drop – what the hell are you supposed to suspect?
The explanations provided by our on-screen analysts don’t help in the least bit either, as most answers the executives receive reveal there’s no meaning or subplots to recurring “jokes,” such as the random lines suggesting earthquakes, and that understanding will simply come with age. The problem is, we don’t have 100 years to sit around and let R100 stew, and while living in the now, there isn’t much unforgettable B-Movie tomfoolery found with our crack team of ninja dominatrixes and food smashing abuse.
Nao Ohmori stars as Takafumi, turning in a role that promotes the sexy fun initially assumed, but still keeping Takafumi as the scared father/husband he really is. Ohmori’s character is a man looking for gratification in all the wrong places, but he obviously enjoys it because of the strange musical notes hit every time a Queen tickles his fancy. As an American, I’ve noticed the cultural obsession Japanese films have with such themes, as male characters are always looking to be dominated by female characters, and Ohmori’s depiction may be one of the most true and grounded, but as R100 spins wildly out of control, his wonderful role gets lost in the unusual shuffle.
R100 is supposed to reference the Japanese rating system, such as R-15 and R-18, with R-100 obviously suggesting Matsumoto is willing to push cinematic boundaries far enough where only the most mature and enlightened citizens should be able to watch it, but with that in mind, I actually think his film a bit tame. I’ve seen Japanese extremism before, and if you’re going to put such a hefty proclamation on your film, I expect a monumental follow through.
R100 is unfortunately not that grand of a spectacle suggested above, and only exists as a bizarre story about a man who must fight an underground S&M organization – oh yeah, and there’s the fake director behind this movie within a movie who seeks his own self gratification through his final cinematic work. I guess I’ll have to wait until I’m 100 before the brilliance staring at me becomes crystal clear, but until then, I’ll remain a fan of Matsumoto’s previous works over his most recent.
R100 is much tamer than the title suggests, but also is a little too ambitious for its own good - even for a midnight movie about a secret S&M club.