Sundance Review: 'R100' Directed by Hitoshi Matsumoto

There's simply no easy way to describe Japanese funnyman Hitoshi Matsumoto's surreal, deliriously incomprehensible R100. This satirical oddity begins with a deceptively brilliant premise; lonely and grieving salesman Takafumi Katayama (Nao Omori) agrees to a very special S&M club's terms that their army of sexy dominatrixes can pay him a visit any time, any place. And they do...quite often in fact, such as in the opening scene where a leather-clad vixen roundhouse kicks him right in the middle of a restaurant. It's so off-the-wall that you wonder how far the idea can be pushed, and if it's just a one-note joke that would have been better off as a skit. And just as you're starting to consider those things, Matsumoto goes off on a twisted new path that is hilarious, disgusting, and maddening all at the same time.

I freely admit that my knee-jerk reaction was that I had just witnessed a beautiful disaster, a terrible film with a few moments of comedic genius. But upon reflection it's obvious there's a method to Matsumoto's madness, one that gets off on doing what nobody in their right mind could ever expect. Takafumi's boring daily life, that includes taking care of his son alone while his wife lies in a coma, is given a jolt when he visits an S&M club pointedly called "Bondage". One of the few ways Takafumi can shake free of his depression is by being physically and sexually dominated by women, and so he agrees to a unique contract allowing any of the club's dominatrixes to mede out punishment or humiliation anywhere they choose. Whatever it takes to get Takafumi to reach his climax, they'll do and relish it with gusto. Sometimes that means delivering a brutal ass-whoopin' in public; other times it means popping up at a sushi restaurant and squashing every piece of food that hits his plate, much to the chagrin of the chef and patrons. When Takafumi reaches orgasmic euphoria, his face stretches and he gets a goofy grin that should land him on MAD Magazine covers. But before long, Takafumi starts to regret his decision when it becomes clear that "Bondage" has no rules, and that everyone and everything in his life is fair game. They attack him at work, at home, and soon Takafumi's son and father-in-law are in danger.

The opening thirty minutes require a great deal of patience as Matsumoto sets up the ground rules then squashes them like sushi underneath a dominatrix's fist. Just as Takafumi gets off on humiliating punishment, Matsumoto is getting off on our extreme confusion as the already-weird film devolves into sheer insanity involving super-powered ninja biker vixens, hip government agents, secret societies, 7-foot-tall Amazonians and did I mention the super-powered ninja biker vixens? It turns on such a dime that you're left wondering whether you went crazy and wandered into a different movie, but nope, you've just been taken on an acid trip of Matsumoto's design. The entire purpose is to shock and awe as any sense of conventionality ceases. An overweight dominatrix known as the Queen of Saliva dances seductively while she repeatedly spits foul loogies all over a ball-gagged Takafumi. Another dominatrix has somehow gained the power to swallow people whole. The "Bondage" club suddenly has a cool HQ with a swimming pool where the dominatrixes frolick like something out of the Playboy Mansion. If all of this sounds too weird, then know that it's barely scratching the surface, and in one of the laugh-out-loud funniest scenes I've ever witnessed Matsumoto lets you know that he's in on the joke, too. It's too good to be spoiled here, but a clue is right there in the film's title which cleverly mocks the Japanese rating system. If R18 is their equivalent to our NC-17 then you have a pretty good idea of what R100 has in store.

There does come a point where enough is enough and the gags, which rely a great deal on repetition, start to get...well, repetitive. Once the shock-factor wears off it loses a great deal of punch, and as funny as the film is early on it starts to resemble bad satire in the end. Wrapped in B-movie genre elements and a bizarre hook only the most demented could love, R100 will have some in tears of laughter, while others will probably flee for the exits.