R100 (Japan, 2013) [NYAFF 2014]

R100 is the latest offering from Japanese cult fave director Hitoshi Matsumoto, who also co-wrote the screenplay. His previous works include Big Man Japan (2007) and Scabbard Samurai (2011), both of which played as co-presentations of the New York Asian Film Festival and Japan Cuts in 2008 and 2012 respectively. This time around he ventures into the world of S&M. The title is a play on the Japanese film rating system: it indicates that this is a film that should only be seen by viewers at least 100 years old!

The film centers on Takafumi Katayama (Nao Omori). He’s a salesman in a department store who has an eight-year-old son named Arashi. His wife Setsuko is in Japan University Hospital where she has been in a “persistent vegetative state” (that is, a coma) for three years.

Takafumi doesn’t have a lot of joy in his life, what with his bland job and non-present spouse. One day he goes to a club specializing in providing masochistic experiences doled out by a variety of dominatrices. By signing a contract, Takafumi is to receive one year of visits from different dominatrices who will appear at different times. (One just has to accept that he somehow has the money to do so, since this can’t come cheaply.) For his part, he must comply with the club’s three rules:

1. There is no cancellation in mid-contract
2. The customer must always be submissive
3. There is to be no touching, no violence, and no initiating of any activities by the customer

Initially he is pleased with the services he receives. Indeed, ripples of joy can actually be seen emanating from his face. But as the visits begin to intrude on his workplace and his home, he realizes that he’s gotten himself more than he bargained for. The club is quite serious about their “no-cancellation” rule and things get weirder-and-weirder for the increasingly desperate Takafumi.

Matsumoto likes to mix things up in this film. Instead of just a straight narrative, we also get two diversions. One is a number of quasi-documentary interviews with the club manger and several of the dominatrices.

The other is a self-referential look at the film in which five people periodically come out of the screening room where the film is being shown. The two who remain standing to the left of the image, one male, the other female, apparently are on the film crew, perhaps an assistant director and the script girl. The other three — all males — discuss the problems they have with the film. It wasn’t clear to me if they were censors or just involved with the production company, though I suspect the latter.

It really doesn’t matter just who they are; their discussion of the film, especially the absurdity of the director’s intention that it be shown only to people a hundred years old — is hilarious. These episodes include shots of the director seated in the screening room. Maybe it’s just me, but the actor playing him seemed to be made to look like venerable Japanese director Seijun Suzuki.

R100 is a crazy, kinky comedy, quite unique and very entertaining, assuming you’re not the type automatically offended by the subject matter.

R100 is showing on July 2 at the Walter Reade Theater. The full schedule for NYAFF 2014 can be found here.