EXPECTATIONS: Something funny, I guess. It’s a Hitoshi Matsumoto film so, who the hell knows?
REVIEW: Hitoshi Matsumoto is one hell of a talented man with an even bizarre sense of humour. Although I’ve seen little of his comedic work and shorts, I’ve seen all his films and they could not be any more different from each other, besides from the fact that they are Japanese comedies. One of them is a kaiju mockumentary, another is a Kubrickian surrealist tale, another one is a off-kilter Samurai tale and his latest film, R100 is a BDSM comedy that explores sexual fantasies and how destructive they can be when overindulged. Now you’re probably wondering, how is it that these films with such themes can get such comedic mileage? That’s where Matsumoto’s bizarre sense of humour come into play and it works wonders in his latest film.
Nao Omori (who plays the titular character in Ichi the Killer) plays Katayama, a lowly, ordinary salaryman whose life feels like an extended period of boredom, ennui and depression, since his wife (You) is now in the hospital and he has become a single dad to his son. During his day-to-day life, he encounters a woman who is dressed in a sexy, fashionable bondage garb and she beats him up in a profuse fashion to the point where Katayama becomes aroused. The next day, he is invited to a strange building which is revealed to be a BDSM club with many dominatrixes, each with their special talents. Impressed with what he sees, Katayama signs on for a one-year contract, which will involve him being humiliated and attacked in public, which will guarantee with full sexual arousal. At first, he is satisfied with the results, but when the dominatrixes interfere with his personal life, including his wife, Katayama decides he has to stop the contract to protect his family. But the dominatrixes have more than talents of humiliation and bondage up their panties to dish out on Katayama.
You think the story sounds weird from the synopsis, you’re in for a surprise because it gets much weirder. I wouldn’t want to spoil what happens but then again, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you. Let’s just say that just when you think the Japanese couldn’t get any crazier, out comes R100. I can tell you that director Matsumoto’s sense of humour definitely remains intact, and it pays off in wonderful ways. The jokes come in various types, whether its meta (a scene involving a test screening of the film itself is hilarious), deadpan (the first scene where Katayama meets one of the dominatrixes sets the tone of the movie really well), silent (a scene involving sushi will shock you into hysterics) or physical (many of the beatings Katayama goes through) as well as just plain weird (the climax must be seen to be believed), Matsumoto knows comedy and he accomplishes it in ways that it transcends genre conventions. Even the use of music in scenes adds to the surreal feel, like the use of Friday Night by Arabesque. You will never hear Beethoven’s Ode to Joy the same way again when you hear its use in R100.
It helps Matsumoto has an incredibly game cast to go along for the ride. Nao Omori can play the role of the timid salaryman in his sleep but the reactions to the weirdness around him pay off in amusing ways. But it is the dominatrixes that stand out. Ai Tominaga stood out brilliantly in her first scene that it would make you spit your drink. Eriko Sato plays out her role in one of the best scenes involving sushi. The scene plays out silently, but her facial expressions, as well as Omori’s, makes the scene that much funnier. Shinobu Terajima and Hairi Katagiri are good sports in their roles, especially Katagiri, who you can say is quite a mouthful. But Naomi Watanabe steals the show. An accomplished comedienne herself, she plays her role as the Saliva Queen without restraint and her physical comedic chops are a delight to see, even if it is revolting to experience.
As for the storytelling, the pacing can throw people off, especially those expecting for a wall-to-wall crazy experience a la Nobuhiko Obayashi’s cult horror classic, Hausu. The film unravels, for a lack of a better metaphor, like a handjob. The film starts off slow and seemingly uneventful and just when you think it goes off-track, it gets better and better to the point where just when you think it is all over, it shocks you into submission with its sublime climax. On a serious note, the pacing is similar to David Fincher’s The Game, which also involves a character getting out of a contract he signed up for.
The color scheme of the film is interesting as it is similar to the colours of the bondage costumed gear, implying that the film would be full of sex, but the colour scheme is also intentionally dull, playing off audience expectations. Speaking of audience expectations, the meta humour plays off of that to hilarious heights, especially when the film producers are asked questions about the various oddities and illogical circumstances in the film. But it is these oddities and circumstances that will definitely throw off people as well. Some will say the film is trash and it makes no sense at all. Some will say that it is a joke. It definitely is, but it might only be understood by Matsumoto himself. Funnily enough, that point is referenced in the ending of the film as a joke itself.
Now do I understand what the film is really about? Most of it, surprisingly. But the film implies that you have to be 100 years old to get the full experience. Or being in Matsumoto’s shoes. Who the hell knows? But what I do know that this was a hilarious, bizarre and hypnotic ride that I will never forget and I hope to pay for an experience just as good as this, if Matsumoto keeps showing us the goods. Okay, no more innuendos.
The cast give their absolute best (Nao Omori’s reactions to the world around him is spot-on, all the bondage queens are magnificently well realized, especially Naomi Watanabe and Shinobu Terajima)
Humour of all types (meta, satire, physical, raunchy, B-movie) are well-executed and hit hard (I absolutely loved the scene at the sushi bar)
The pacing is similar to a handjob (it starts off slow, then it progressively gets better and just when you think it goes off-track, it climaxes big time in the end)
So unpredictable that it is refreshing to see, even for a Japanese film (You will never feel the same way about Beethoven’s Ode to Joy ever again)
The pacing may throw people off (it is unlike prior Matsumoto films)
The humour and execution of the plot will not appeal to everyone
SCORE: 8/10 (The best film about S&M ever made. It’s like a comedic version of Eyes Wide Shut mixed with The Game, by David Fincher.)
Cast: Nao Omori, Mao Daichi, Shinobu Terajima, Eriko Sato, Ai Tominaga, Naomi Watanabe, Hairi Katagiri, You, Haruki Nishimura, Gin Maeda, Suzuki Matsuo, Atsuro Watabe, Lindsay Hayward
Director: Hitoshi Matsumoto
Screenwriter: Hitoshi Matsumoto