In comparison to other years, this year’s NYAFF seems to be packed with more films that have left me questioning my own sanity than others. I have walked out of three different movies wondering how the hell I might explain the film to someone without sounding like a severely disturbed individual. The first was 3D Naked Ambition, the second was Moebius and the third was Hitoshi Matsumoto’s (Big Man Japan) R100. While I’m still working on 3D Naked Ambition, I think I’ve finally digested everything and collected my thoughts for the wild Japanese comedy R100, a film title that makes no sense for a majority of Americans until you get about ¾ of the way through the film.
R100 follows a simple, ordinary man named Takafumi Katayama (Momori Nao) who lives a pretty bland life as a single father raising a son. In order to spice things up, he joins a secret S&M club that has only one rule, once you enter the contract you are locked into it for a year, no exceptions. You must always submit and never initiate contact with the “Queens,” for if you try to do either there will be serious consequences. The beauty of this club for the men that sign up is that the dominatrixes come to the client whenever they feel like showing up, the surprise and anticipation is part of the game and they will punish and beat you in public since the shame of it all is really part of the pleasure. Takafumi is loving it, as emphasized by the ripples of euphoria around his head, until one night a line is crossed and he tries to opt out. He soon realizes this is a mistake and things begin to rapidly escalate with his life eventually being put on the line.
I’ve seen a lot of wild movies in my day but R100 is certainly near the top when it comes to Japanese comedic pandemonium. You walk in thinking this is going to be a bondage film, watching a guy get humiliated in public via whips, chains, gags etc., but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. There are so many unexpected things that come out of left field that telling you about them would ruin the joy of the surprise. What may shock some is that there is no nudity in the film, though Matsumoto manages to find a way to distract us from the lack of it using other structural tricks that he has up his sleeve. As far as the ladies go there are a variety of Queens that approach our lead, each has their own talents, like a Queen of Voices can impersonate other people, and then there’s the Queen of Saliva and a Queen of Gobbling. One is deceptive, one may induce vomit as my friend could barely look at the screen, and one, well, it just has to be seen to be believed. The bondage organization is treated like a company, it has a CEO, its own logo, cars, and secret army. There are random scene stoppers where someone says “earthquake?” even though nothing has happened, the point being that we, the audience, are not the only ones seemingly going crazy with the narrative.
There are random cuts throughout R100 that are initially confusing, but you soon realize that the movie is going blatantly meta. These scenes involve the producers, writers and more discussing the scenes that they/we just watched, trying to understand what this 100 year old director is trying to make and figuring out how it makes any sense at all. They basically verbalize the very thoughts that the audience is having after finishing those scenes and it’s this self-aware nature that adds a lot more ridiculous humor into it. There’s actually one break that nearly made me keel over from laughter, which is also the scene where we finally understand the title, the “R” stands for the movie “rating” in Japan.
The only real issue I had with R100 is that it has an incredibly slow start and then there a small patches scattered throughout the rest of the film in which humor is completely absent despite the type of film it is. Shockingly, the lack of sanity and realism has no baring the quality, it’s something you simply accept once you experience Takafumi’s first display of post-S&M pleasure.
Despite its crazy and unorthodox approach, R100 is a smart play on films that attempt to push scenarios past conventional limits. Part of the cleverness of the story is to show how far people will go to receive pleasure while at the same time resisting the urge of actually delivering what the audience might want/expect from a film that’s Rated 100, it is all part of the joke. While the visuals in this film are legitimately insane, of the three head scratchers that I’ve seen at the NYAFF this year, this was actually the easiest to digest and put words to. It’s a ridiculously unique, hilarious and downright awesome film that fans of Japanese cinema have to see when they get the chance.
Rating: A clever S&M comedy that may end up being one of the wildest Japanese comedies you’ll ever see (7/10)