Published Sep 04, 2013The royally weird purveyor of surreal and cheeky meta genre satire, Hitoshi Matsumoto (the wild mind behind Big Man Japan and Symbol) applies his delightfully mischievous reality filter to film noir meets Zen S&M flick R100.
Tossing a wink at viewers primed to attempt to interpret his latest impishly obtuse trash art puzzle, the desaturated, sepia picture opens with a woman in a trench coat smoking while gazing in a mirror. Her mouth opens: "Did you get the answer? Was the question hard?" and suddenly we're at a pub table and the woman is sitting across from a man. He explains how "Ode to Joy" is all about pussy and then leaves the bar.
She follows, at a distance initially, and then attacks him in a public square, ripping off her trench coat to reveal bondage gear underneath as she throttles him. Obviously there must be some sort of explanation. A perfectly timed flashback — the visual indicator of which also serves as a clue to the greater meaning behind it all — clues the audience in on the details of an arrangement our apparent victim made with a special agency.
Bored of the rut routine carved into his life's path, the man signs up for an uncancellable contract, under which he requests to be assaulted by six uniquely talented dominatrixes randomly over the course of a year. The only rules he must follow: always be submissive and no touching. This "masochism manifesto" promises to lead to a "revelation of self."
While how viewers respond to Matsumoto's vision will likely tell you something about themselves, what this bizarre journey definitely does lead to is hilarity and a strange sort of poignancy. Demonstrating a rare gift for the absurd, the film is edited together with the broad physical flare of silent film slapstick, mixed with the zaniness of cartoon anarchy. Furthermore, each music cue is impeccably selected to enhance whatever kinky distortion of reality is occurring on-screen.
Between bizarre sessions of having his ass kicked and sushi smashed in public, to name a few of the tamer confrontations, our protagonist spends time in a humble home with his son and father. Note the lack of a matriarch. Important, yes, but it's not as simple as that. Like all of Matsumoto's movies, the plot just scratches the surface of what he's really getting at. There's a great deal of warmth to go with the weirdness and smirking, symbolic decoys, both in the main story and… well, that would be telling.
R100 is such a special and unusual piece of cinema that it's the type of art enhanced by the element of surprise. Try not to learn too much about it before catching it, but be assured that if the idea of a combination of the sensibilities of John Waters and David Lynch is appealing, then this is an eccentric ode to bliss that should easily scratch that strange, little itch.