R100 (Japan, 2013)
The joke of R100 is clear from the very first scene. Katayama (Noa Omuri) is a salaryman who meets a sultry woman for an illicit liaison in a café. He fails at making small talk, but is then assaulted by the woman. This is a lengthy attack, which takes the couple from the café to some nearby steps. Her long raincoat is then abandoned, revealing a tight-fitting bondage outfit. Katayama stares up at this image with a look of ecstasy.
The film’s title – a reference to Japan’s age-guided film ratings system – and the self-reflexive cutaway scenes to producers and marketing experts who are previewing it, only serve to further emphasise the single joke that writer-director Hitoshi Matsumoto has to offer. Japan is a conservative Asian country, yet is also known to producing media that contains explicit content. The country exports hundreds of anime, manga and film titles each year, and a lot of them contain scenes of excessive violence and sex. Surely the nation is populated by a significant number of repressed perverts?
This joke has potential. There is even a casting masterstroke to enhance the film’s international prospects in the choice of Omuri to undertake the lead role of Katayama as Omuri played the titular hentai (pervert) in Takahsi Miike’s Ichi The Killer (2001). However, perhaps more effective would have been an outsider’s view on this aspect of the nation’s culture as Japan’s explicit media are notoriously popular abroad, and not just in the country itself. Instead, the only foreigner seen is a towering blonde model, who is cast as the fearsome head of the S&M organization that Katayama becomes a client of.
As it stands, the film becomes repetitive rather quickly. Katayama is bizarrely introduced to an S&M company that will surprise him through encounters with sexy but violent women at any point in his daily routine – whether at home, work, or at a place of leisure. Katayama also has to stay signed up to this programme for a year. Eventually, the assaults and elaborate tortures become more extreme, especially when his son is tied up so he can witness his father being spat on by one particular dominatrix. Katayama is eventually forced to fight back against hordes of S&M madams, when they refuse escape from the annual subscription. All this is punctuated by brief scenes of the bemused film studio staff, who are trying to fathom why the aged director has made this incoherent film.
R100 also frequently includes shots of Katayama’s face, distended by CGI, in order to show his initial ecstasy at the hands of the dominatrices. This does not really help the film’s comic tone, as is the case with the scenes involving Katayama’s son and his comatose wife. When the S&M women start intruding into these scenes and relationships, a viewer can never be sure if the director is trying to subvert a dramatic moment, and turn it into black comedy or farce. The result is that the scenes come across as neither.
For a farcical sex comedy, R100 makes Takeshi Kitano’s Getting Any? (1995) look like a masterpiece. However, the film may please those who like the sound of the basic premise of a man being assaulted by an army of dominatrices. As for black comedy – R100 comes nowhere near the dark delights of Ichi The Killer. For a film about the extremes of sex and violence, there is little blood and no nudity. It seems, as Kitano has recently suggested, that the Japanese film industry is consciously steering away from the riskier ventures it was known for at the turn of the century.