by Michael Treveloni
There is a moment in Hitoshi Matsumoto’s R100 that is easily one of the funniest things to grace a screen in years. It is such an amazingly bonkers setup and payoff that to deny its charm is to admit to owning one of the worst senses of humor around. The very concept of the gag is such a layered screamer that it takes a few minutes to fully digest. That it happens about two thirds of the way into the film makes it all the more special. It completely alters the tone of the film, a film that already changes its colors like a drugged out chameleon. But that’s moving ahead to fast, in order to properly review the film we have to start at the beginning.
The focus is Takafumi (Nao Ohmori), a monotone man who fills his lonely days selling furniture . When he’s not doing that he’s at home taking care of his son. When he’s not doing that he’s being surprise attacked by dominatrixes of all shapes and sizes. It’s okay though, with his wife in a coma and the spark missing from his life, he went ahead and signed a year long contract with an S&M boutique in the hope that he can rekindle the magic that has eluded his being. It’s pretty standard fare really. Except it isn’t. R100 is a rare journey, and to watch it unfold is like seeing a flower that blooms once every twenty years. It’s a rare treat, and if there were more films like it, the world would be one super weird place.
Takafumi’s daily grind is a boring affair. His sadness shines like a dying sun, defeated energy bathing his presence as he shuffles through his routine. His gloomy half smile is barely a mask to the depression lurking beneath. It is no wonder he wanted a hard kick in the balls to wake him up. The sadistic ladies of leisure (that pop up like patent-leather clad ninjas) are his own personal, emotional task force; beating, humiliating and generally messing with his life at random and inopportune times. They are the jumper-cables to his stunted soul, giving him a jolt and inflating his defeated core (to illustrate this, hypnotizing concentric circles radiate from his head and his face swells like it’s in need of an a handful of EpiPens) . It actually gets a lot stranger than this, but those discoveries are best left to the viewer.
Grounded in exceptional, off-key performances, the meat of the film is played out seriously despite its restlessness to be something else. By the time it sets its barbs, and huge barbs they are, the audience has come too far to not be intrigued. It’s a testament to Ohmori’s acting chops and his willingness to be the straight man to a film so absurd that it should have Quentin Dupieux cursing the heavens, angry he didn’t make it first. A scene with a sloppy, salivating dominatrix is one such highlight in a string of many to cause a mighty head scratch, only to deliver its payload to splendid effect. Everything builds to a crescendo so wobbly and out there yet so appropriate that by the time the end credits arrive, what should seem out of the ordinary is just another day in the film’s universe. The fact the world makes sense is especially amazing.
Big Man Japan, one of Matsumoto’s previous films, is a wickedly odd slice of cinema, so it should come as no surprise that lightning would strike twice. To say he repeated the feat is incorrect though. With R100 he completely destroys previous notions of what he was capable of. The farcical cocktail served up is a tall glass of absolute delirium. It plays with an air of supreme confidence, shifting genres and defying expectations the entire way through. Matsumoto has crafted a tale so excellent and bizarre that at this point in time it is incomparable. It’s like nothing else around, and that is fantastic.
The Upside: An oddity that does not disappoint; the Gobbling Queen
The Downside: Bit of a slow starter
On the Side: Director Matsumoto also co-wrote and acted in the film.