Director: Hitoshi Matsumoto
Producer: Keisuke Konishi, Natsue Takemoto
Cast: Nao Omori, Shinobu Terajima, Hitoshi Matsumoto, Ai Tominaga, Eriko Sato, Naomi Watanabe, You, Suzuki Matsuo, Atsuro Watabe, Gin Maeda, Katagiri Hairi, Lindsay Kay Hayward, Mao Daichi
Running Time: 94 min.
By Paul Bramhall
Any discussion on director Hitoshi Matsumoto inevitably brings up a comparison with Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano. Much like Kitano, Matsumoto is also a famous Japanese TV personality that started off as (and still is) a comedian in the 80’s, before making the transition to film. However aside from their similar trajectories into the world of movie making, it’s clear that the pair are two distinctly different creative forces, with little in common to keep the conversation going once any given title in their respective filmographies has been viewed. While Kitano’s cinematic universe has largely stayed away from his slapstick comedic beginnings, Matsumoto has used the broad cinematic canvas to create worlds that embrace the odd and the quirky, often wrapped up in such a way that laughs are simply a natural bi-product.
His 2007 directorial debut, Big Man Japan, centred on an unremarkable middle aged man, who just so happened to periodically transform into a 100 foot tall reluctant kaiju superhero, armed with a stick. The movie was a hit on the festival circuit, and the ridiculous concept of watching a 100 foot tall frizzy haired man go about his duty of defending Japan from invading monsters, with all the enthusiasm of a trip to the dentist, was pure comedy gold. Matsumoto would go on to direct Symbol and Saya-zamurai in 2009 and 2010 respectively, both of which inexplicably have yet to receive a release on western shores, however it was 2013’s R100 that would once again catch the attention of an international audience.
R100 is a cheeky reference to Japan’s movie rating system, which hits a ceiling at R18, meaning the movie in question is only suitable to be viewed by those who are 18 and over. So unless you’re expecting a letter from the Queen anytime soon, R100 should theoretically be viewed with caution. Just like his previous directorial efforts, it quickly becomes apparent that Matsumoto hasn’t lost his knack for creating unexpected stories out of unremarkable circumstances. For his latest, just like in Big Man Japan we follow the exploits of a nondescript middle aged man, played by Nao Ohmori (the titular Ichi, of Miike Takashi’s Ichi the Killer), a furniture salesman raising his young son while his wife lays in hospital in a vegetative state due to an accident.
Bored with the repetitive blandness of his day to day life, one evening Ohmori decides to visit a secretive BDSM club. However this is no ordinary club. Rather than a night of cheap thrills, here the deal is you sign up to a 1 year contract, and the various dominatrixes will show up at any given time day or night, with the only condition being that as the contract holder you have to submit. There’s a few other minor rules – no touching of the dominatrix is allowed, and above all, the contract must be seen through to completion. At first Ohmori finds a new lease of life through the random appearances of the dominatrixes, whether it be being suddenly kicked in the face while having a quiet cup of coffee, or almost drowned in a fountain. However when the dominatrixes begin to show up at his workplace and home, his decision to back out of the contract before the year is up soon leads to a series of escalating consequences.
It’s fair to say that I’m unlikely to be writing a plot description such as this one again anytime soon, and that’s part of the unique charm of Matsumoto’s work. Despite the above description though, R100 is far from being just a crude bondage comedy played for laughs, and like in his previous work the narrative often goes off on meta tangents. In fact the title R100 doesn’t even appear onscreen until the 40 minute mark, bringing to mind a similar trick that was used in 2006’s Diary, where the Pang Brothers directorial credit was suddenly dropped at 1 hour in. It’s fair to say that Matsumoto’s stamp is heavily imprinted on R100, and not everyone will be up for the ride. However unlike other black comedies, such as Visitor Q (one of the movies I really enjoyed, but could never in good conscience recommend to anyone), the auteurs latest is comparatively safe viewing.
Despite the title and subject matter, there is no nudity on display in the entire 100 minute runtime, and the more it progresses the more it becomes apparent that what we’re watching is in fact an incredibly witty study on human behaviour. When Ohmori first visits the BDSM club, the curator explains that once we pass a certain pain threshold, we’ll be overcome with a feeling of joyfulness, and this is precisely what he begins to experience. After the initial shock of his various encounters with the dominatrixes, and the humiliation that comes with it, Ohmori begins to enjoy the experience, which is visualised by him growing puffy cheeks and blackened eyes. Imagine a cross between Jo Shishido and Alex Krycek from the X-Files, and you’ll get the picture.
Each dominatrix is introduced as a Queen of whatever they specialise in, with each encounter becoming gradually more intense. Needless to say, by the time it gets around to the Queen of Saliva (played with gusto by Naomi Watanabe), you’ll either have succumbed to hysterical laughter, or be wondering what the hell it is you’re watching. It’s only when an accident leads to a fateful misunderstanding between Ohmori and the club, that R100 takes an unexpected tonal shift, and adopts the documentary style of Big Man Japan to transform into a full-fledged revenge flick. Events transpire to resemble what could best be described as a Russ Meyer movie on steroids, as the clubs CEO, played with an intimidating physicality by former WWE wrestler Lindsay Hayward, flies in to Tokyo in order to track Ohmori down and dish out some (presumably not so pleasurable) pain.
There’s a whole heap of other random plot threads that weave in and out of R100, from a government secret agent whose job is to make sure Japan stays morally clean, to the relationship between Ohmori and his father-in-law. It’s not even worth getting into the earthquakes and the Queen of Gobbling. Matsumoto films everything with a washed out palette, providing a visual reinforcement to the monotony that Ohmori feels in his life, and it complements the overall tone well. Like in Big Man Japan, R100 unexpectedly steers off into meta-territory at various points during the last half of the runtime.
Shortly after the title appears onscreen, the movie grinds to a halt all together, as in, we see the reel stop and what’s onscreen comes to an end. It then cuts to 4 film executives sitting in silence outside of a screening room, before one of them exclaims what on earth it is they’re watching, and proceeds to point out everything that doesn’t make sense. This variation on breaking the fourth wall only occurs a few times, but rather than intruding as might be expected, it serves to add an additional layer of food for thought, as the executives ponder the same questions we as the audience are thinking, and speculate on the answers. It’s unconventional, but then there’s not much of R100 which isn’t.
Quite how a movie starts off as a low key tale of a bored salary man seeking some excitement via S&M, and ends up as a homage to Night of the Living Dead, as he finds himself holed up in an isolated countryside house surrounded by a legion of latex ninjas, I don’t know. However it’s this talent for genre bending which makes Matsumoto such a treasure. I can’t think of another director out there who could go so seamlessly from quiet scenes of domestic melancholy, to having a suitcase full of grenades being thrown at an approaching army of ninja assassins, all in the short space of 100 minutes. However R100 achieves this, and does so via a whole lot of whipping, sushi stomping, and hot wax dripping. What the message is I confess to still being a question I haven’t figured out, however for a movie to make me think as much as it made me laugh is a rare phenomenon, and for that reason alone, R100 comes strongly recommended.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 8.5/10