Wonderfully framed and insanely weird, Hitoshi Matsumoto’s latest feature R100 is a true modern midnight movie. The title, a reference to the Japanese classification system, infers that this film is not suitable for those under the age of 100 and, in a way, I’m inclined to agree – there’s nothing particularly explicit about the content however the way it is represented is often grotesque and consistently depraved, and that’s what makes the whole thing so damn entertaining. The film never lets on the direction it’s heading in, and manages to consistently ramp up the pace until we reach the spectacular and off-beat conclusive sequences that are both completely unexpected and rewarding. Just a word of warning before getting into the guts of the film, this recommendation should be taken with a grain of salt – R100 is definitely NOT for everyone and should only be sought out if you’re fairly sure you can stomach it. If you can, you’re in for a crazy ride.
On a base level, R100 follows Takafumi, a man who is dominated by all aspects of life: his wife has been in a persistent vegetative state for three years, he works as a sales assistant at a bedding store for thankless customers yet doesn’t even own a mattress, and he has to rely on his wife’s father to help him raise his son. Takafumi’s daily life is structured, even down to the breakfasts he has pre-prepared by his father-in-law. Seeking to break from structure Takafumi registers for S&M club “Bondage” to be dominated at random times in random locations for the period of a year (without option to cancel under any circumstances).
R100 progresses far beyond this basic set-up; fantastic meta-scenes that see the film’s financial backers engaged in analysis of the content are dispersed throughout the narrative and often see his producers justifying Matsumoto’s actions their investors. Matsumoto seems to satirise whatever he can whenever possible in a refreshing style that sits completely removed from the over-saturation of parody films that coloured the mid-to-late ’00s.
Matsumoto obviously knows the BDSM craft; the film seems to be well researched, with a number of references to external sources. I saw a lot of Nick Broomfield’s documentary Fetishes here, and the club seems to be modeled after services offered by organisations like Ultime Réalité, that offer kidnapping-for-hire and morgue-simulations to extreme fetishists looking for a thrill.
R100, while shocking, was also regularly hilarious. The Queen of Saliva section had me both nauseated and in stitches – this is the films most testing sequence and will disgust most yet there’s some sort of perverse joy in watching the way it plays out, and there’s humour to be derived from the extremity of the grossness. While the satire in the film is far reaching (without giving anything away, the final third turns into a sort of mock James Bond parody, a fitting conclusion to the zaniness that comes before it), not being an expert on Japanese culture myself I did feel as though I was missing out on some of the subtleties of Matsumoto’s satire (I have a feeling there was some commentary on the more fringe aspects of sexual identity ingrained in Japanese culture but most of this went over my head). This did not prevent me from getting a kick out of the final product which stands strong on its own. My other criticism of the film lies in the fact that it is a bit too random – in going for every possible target Matsumoto unfortunately breaks off a bit more that he can chew, often leading the film to seem directionless and tonally inconsistent. It’s also, of course, a pretty hard film to recommend given it’s off-colour content.
While I think the final scenes do have a clear point, I doubt the film itself will deliver a clear, universal message to all viewers but frankly I don’t think this detracts from the final product. I had a great time entering the world of R100, and I hope it finds a Western audience in the cult and gore-hounds on the fringes of modern cinema – it definitely deserves a place alongside Bad Taste, Frankenhooker, and The Re-animator in the collections of all lovers of the weird and grotesque. As a final note, Matsumoto somehow managed to secure Japanese distribution from Warner Brothers; it’d be great to see some more Western studios taking risks on films like these in a more local context.