R100 (Cert 15)
1 Disc DVD (Distributor: Yume Pictures) Running time: 100 minutes
Fans and connoisseurs of Japanese cinema will know that devious and obtusely experimental minds lie behind the polite and courteous manner our Asian friends display in public. Being so outwardly restrained they rely on their arts to express themselves or in the case of this particular film, to satirise the many preconceived ideas of their congenial society.
Representing the every man in R100 is timid department store worker Takafumi Katayama (Nao Ōmori), who is forced to raise his son Arashi (Haruki Nishimoto) alone as his wife Setsuko (You) is in a coma. One day Katayama joins an exclusive S&M club called Bondage to help alleviate some of the stress and pressures or his daily drudgery. The club manager (Suzuki Matsuo) has only a few strict conditions: the clients must be totally submissive, they must not touch the women or initiate anything and the one year contract cannot be broken before the expiry date.
In return, Katayama can look forward to unannounced visits from any one of the dominatrix to help him find his blissful place. At first this works for him but when the acts get too much and the women start arriving at his home and work place, Katayama tries to break the contract, causing the brown stuff to hit the fan in a big way.
Director Hitoshi Matsumoto – who also appears here as a policeman – has built his career on surreal and subversive comedy, starting out as a part of comedy duo Downtown before eventually branching into films. His debut was the esoteric Big Man Japan and the follow up Symbol was equally surreal so it shouldn’t be any surprise that R100 doesn’t quite follow a straight narrative either.
A disclaimer is required at this juncture for the benefit of anyone expecting this to be a sexy viewing experience with wall to wall kink and bare female flesh – sorry to disappoint you but there is no female nudity whatsoever or anything even remotely sexual besides the oxygen starving tight leather outfits the dominatrix wear. Of course if just the sight of a sexy sadist in stiletto boots is enough to float your boat then you are well catered for here.
It would appear that Matsumoto isn’t concerned with providing titillation for the audience, instead hoping to ridicule the S&M lifestyle with a caustic eye. Or maybe he is celebrating it? To be honest the intention for this film isn’t made clear, even on an inferred level, which is bolstered by the inclusion of a mid-film subplot which throws us all of course into the direction of a self referential meta satire.
This swerve revolves around explaining the film’s title to those of us outside of Japan. R100 is the film certification for something that is either so bad or contentious or even impenetrable that nobody under 100 years of age should be allowed to see it – the idea being that the few centenarians in existence wouldn’t be able to make it to the cinema anyway!
If this is lost on you then you may find that to be a regular feeling while watching this film as much of the satire is pretty subtle and may get lost in translation for international audiences. The broadest strokes of humour are reserved for the scenes of Katayama being humiliated and sadly prove to be rather thing and run out of steam fairly quickly before Matsumoto resorts to a more cruder direction as Katayama’s path to satisfaction requires a longer and more intense journey.
When Katayama starts out, his achieving sexual nirvana is brought about via simpler methods, such as being kicked about (courtesy of Ai Tominaga), having his food squished (by Eriko Sato) and whipped while having his family being vocally impersonated by the Queen of Voice (Mao Daichi). Those among you who find the use of bodily fluids on screen will find the arrival of the Queen of Saliva (Naomi Watanabe) an unpleasant presence, and while her act (which I am sure you can guess what it involves) isn’t necessarily graphic it is visual enough to make you turn your head away from the screen.
It is this session which proves the turning point for Katayama and kicks off the final act when the CEO of Bondage – played by the 6’ 9” ex-wrestler Lindsey Hayward (who was in the WWE for a whiff of coffee) – an angry foul mouthed American, arrives and wants vengeance. The tonal shift from simmering satire to madcap comic warfare underlines one of the key issues with this film, and that is the mileage of the subject isn’t as unlimited as one might think.
One might even suspect Matsumoto realised this too late into the writing process hence what feels like a tacked on ending that might have come from another film. It is not totally without its charm as a reference from the start of the film about Beethoven’s Ode To Joy is resurrected to great comic effect but it is unfortunately barely enough to rescue what is a baffling conclusion to an already baffling film.
Aside from Hayward who can’t act for toffees (don’t tell her I said that) everyone throws themselves into their roles with the abandon and awareness required of such a deviant project. Nao Ōmori pretty much has the downtrodden hen pecked Henry role nailed having played it before, and is the driving force behind the entire film. His glamorous co-stars often have little else to do outside of the specific assignments but those who get more are delightfully kitsch.
With the humour being very hit and miss just one issue, R100 can’t really be hailed as a success due to its over-reliance on being whacky and deliberately subversive when playing it straight might have been a more effective tact. Whatever grand ideas Matsumoto had they ran out of steam too soon, and what could have been an effective and pertinent sharp satire will merely be a quickly forgotten cult curiosity.
Rating – ** ½
Man In Black