“R100” (TIFF Movie Review)
A superstar in Japan barely known outside of his native country, Hitoshi Matsumoto has found an unexpected second home in Toronto’s Midnight Madness program. If his films can be classified as anything, they are comedies. However, that label doesn’t quite feel like it fully captures the strange, disturbed, and subversive tone the filmmaker whips up every time he steps behind a camera. They are very much midnight movies in the purest form and it’s a shame that red-eyed viewing experience rarely exists outside of the film festival circuit anymore, because he’d probably be a major cult figure if the market still existed. Instead, Matsumoto is one of TIFF’s best kept secrets and R100 certainly stands comfortably next two his previous late night film fest gems, the giant monster mockumentary BIG MAN JAPAN and the indescribable SYMBOL.
Watching R100 feels like finding Matsumoto’s diary on a subway and reading a passage about his most embarrassing nightmare. It stars Nao Ohmori as a sad and repressed father, not too far removed from the protagonist of AUDITION. He’s been raising his son alone since his wife was lost in a coma and really has nothing going on beyond a dull Department Store job. So, he decides to do what any rational person would in that situation and signs up for a secret kinky sex service (hey, the film is from Japan, after all). There, he stumbles into a unique business that offers to sign him up for a lifelong pass with a team of leather clad bondage ladies. They’ll show up regularly in his life for the S&M fun that a man in his position deserves. The only catch is that Ohmori will never know precisely when the dominatrices will appear to deliver their sexy punishment. At first the surprise bondage dates occur in reasonable locations like restrooms, but soon they start popping up in the man’s office and home. The sanctity of his life starts being threatened and the company refuses to cancel his contract, only increasing the insanity of the service when he complains. So yeah, the whole thing is a bit of a nightmare. A sexy nightmare!
If nothing else, Hitoshi Matsumoto sure has one hell of a twisted imagination going for him. It’s hard to imagine anyone else coming up with this concept and even if they did, it’s guaranteed that no one else would take it to such bizarre places. The pacing is slow, but done with purpose. As silly as Matsumoto’s projects can get, he’s got to have the driest and most deadpan wit outside of Britain. The first encounter with a dominatrix takes place in a sushi bar with patrons too embarrassed to even acknowledge what’s happening. The scene is silent beyond a single smashing sound, but no theater showing the movie will be as it’s a work of comedic genius. As the film wears on, the dominatrices become increasingly specialized with one who enjoys blindfolded pain and can mimic any voice, and another offering a series of disgusting spitting skills. It starts out as good natured fun, but eventually becomes nightmarish and employs a creepy stretched CGI eye effect to visualize the main character’s sexual pleasure that is as disturbing as it is giggle-worthy. Eventually R100 turns into a conspiratorial horror flick, going batshit insane before settling down somewhat with a sequence to frame the film in a new context that’s rather brilliant. Some will call it a cheat and they might have a point, but at least the twist helps explain Matsumoto’s most outlandish impulses in the film.
To say R100 isn’t a movie for everyone is putting it mildly. This is a thoroughly fucked and perverse little film that only gets away with its most outlandish moments if you’re willing to disregard concepts like rationality and find nasty fetishism funny. These qualities seem to come rather easily to Japanese audiences (which is odd given the country’s culture of repression. Although I suppose that could also be the exact explanation for the appeal in a weird way.), but this flick is likely far outside the comfort zone of most folks in North America. However, for those who squeal in delight anytime they find a DVD with an “Asian Extreme” label, this is a must see. R100 is sheer perversity, paranoia, and insanity.