Dir: Hitoshi Matsumoto
Written by: Hitoshi Matsumoto, Mitsuyoshi Takasu, Tomoji Hasegawa, Koji Ema, Mitsuru Kuramoto
Starring: Nao Omori, Lindsay Hayward, Mao Daichi, Hairi Katagiri, Gin Maeda
Running Time – 100 mins.
UK Première: Frightfest 2014
Average man, Takafumi ,(Omori) joins a mysterious society that consists entirely of women in bondage clothing who specialise in sexual humiliation. The society has a strict rule of a one year membership and no cancellations, under any circumstances.
Japanese cinema is often readily identified as being somewhat of an acquired taste. When they turn their hand to horror, often the gore is taken to beyond extreme levels. When they do comedy, a great deal of the humour runs the risk of being lost in translation due to their renowned eccentricities. Many Japanese films can be described more as mood pieces with less attention paid to a flowing narrative and a greater emphasis on total reckless abandon of throwing hundreds of ideas at the wall just to see if anything sticks. This brings things neatly to the absurdist majesty of R100.
Much like the classically demented Hausu, the film is a glorious mix of various film styles. A melting pot of horror, comedy, drama, erotica and war films are all shoved into a blender to produce something that is totally unique. It is of tremendous credit to director, Matsumoto, that he is able to balance all these wildly different elements and somehow, incredibly, the film never feels muddled or incoherent. With a wickedly sharp sense of humour, R100 is nothing short of a surrealist trip that is quite unlike anything else seen all year.
It’s a blessed breath of fresh air with so much of today’s films being tiresomely predictable that R100 is so perfectly perplexing. Just when it feels as though one could get a handle on what’s going on, the film violently and spectacularly veers off in a completely unforeseeable direction.
The film packs a tremendous curve-ball behind its back, which to spoil, would ruin the magic and sheer wonder of it. When it first appears in the film, it appears to make absolutely no sense whatsoever. As its relevance is slowly revealed, after completely throwing off the film’s rhythm, it is almost worthy of a standing ovation for its sheer bonkers audacity. Painfully funny and carrying a clear message, it’s an absolute piece of genius.
Stylistically, the film has a superb almost high-end VHS-like quality. It is fascinating to see that, predominantly, the film’s colour palate is restricted to the most neutral and dull colours. The lead characters mainly wear greys and whites whilst their surroundings are often a mixture of muted browns and pale cream. This is done not only to augment the idea of Takafumi’s dull life but to further make the PVC bondage outfits of the Goddesses strikingly stand out. Taking up the whole focus onscreen, Matsumoto succeeds in making the audience as in awe and as terrified of them as the characters are themselves.
The Goddesses are a fantastic creation, heavily eroticised to draw you in before suffering the stings of their speciality punishments. With infamous titles such as the Goddess of Gobbling or Saliva, it is not hard to imagine just what these particular ‘skills’ will be, the film taking maniacal delight in displaying them in full force. Brilliantly opting to use practical effects, the ‘gobbling’ itself sees the Goddess swallowing people whole, whilst the Goddess of Saliva steals the show for the film’s most stomach-churning scene. Armed with various foodstuffs, the Goddess liberally spits repeatedly all over a gagged and bound Takafumi until it almost becomes too hard and disgusting to watch.
Although the film is primarily comedic, the film earned its place at Frightfest with the mysterious, almost Hellraiser-like focus on pain and humiliation for pleasure. The punishments that Takafumi endures begin as simple things like having his sushi meal repeatedly smushed up, then slowly and menacingly, they progress to brutal assaults in the street and threats on the well-being of his family.
One element of the film that is intriguingly never explained is just why Takafumi joins the club. Many theories can be raised, including sexual frustration or his overwhelming burden of responsibility but ultimately, it is a savvy move on the part of Matsumoto to not spell it out. R100 is a film that delights in all of its mysteries and even if half of them were revealed, it still wonderfully wouldn’t make much more sense.
It has to be said that beneath all the madness is an incredibly moving and poignant story of the struggle of an effectively single parent. Whilst it is sure to be far from the film’s main talking points, it is absolutely vital that the pandemonium is weighed down so effectively by the central narrative. For the majority of the film, the fact that it is played completely straight elevates the humour even further, but on the few occasions it is serious, the performances are simply spectacular.
Seeing Takafumi wearily coping with his wife’s coma whilst trying to put on a brave face for his absolutely adorable son makes for an incredibly tender watch. There is one scene where his father in law breaks down at his daughter’s bedside that is legitimately heartbreaking. Having this thrown into the stew of saucy madness, it results in the film being surprisingly sweet, in an incredibly ‘out-there’ way.
With its completely off the wall style, R100 is a film that is certain to split opinion clean down the line. Many will be left completely exhausted and become irritably flummoxed at not being able to clearly decipher head nor tail of what is going on. For those who enjoy true originality and the glorious rush of the onslaught of bizarreness, R100 is an absolute gem sure to leave you with a giddy smile on your face.