Sometimes you see a movie that’s genuinely, well, f****d up. There’s a true darkness onscreen which is tucked in around grotesque humor as disgusting scenes smash together like sheep avoiding a slaughter. And when you see a movie like that, it provokes a reaction. Disgust. Uncomfortable laughter. Eyes closing but yet, you never leave the theater or stop the playback. There’s just some films that are so messed up that they gain cultish, legendary status and seeing them is like a rite of passage amongst film geeks. Unfortunately, “R100” is not that kind of film, although I think secretly director Hitoshi Matsumoto wishes it was, yet knows it isn’t.
The basic premise of “R100” is clever and unique as we meet mild-mannered sales clerk Takafumi (Omori) out on a date with an intense looking woman. As he meekly tries to engage her in a rather condescending conversation about Beethoven, she suddenly stands up and delivers a roundhouse kick to his face while wearing stiletto heels. We quickly discover that Takafumi has asked for this, literally, by joining a new and unique bondage/S&M service that will randomly beat the hell out of you and humiliate you when it’s least expected. As the man who sells Takafumi says (and I’m paraphrasing here) not knowing when and where the pain and humiliation will come is part of the pain and humiliation factor.
“R100” starts off strong and fairly humorously as Takafumi gets a beat down in interesting, funny and crazy ways. Each time the smackdown starts, it won’t end until he “gets off” which is shown through a kind of cheap CGI effect where his cheeks bulge up like a chipmunk’s and a kind of water-ripple serenely crosses his face. It’s also interesting that we get a glimpse into Takafumi’s life and see why he might be in such dire need of such extreme stimulation.
Technically he’s a single dad to a very young son, as his wife is in a vegetative state at the hospital. Although we never know why it soon becomes clear that she’s probably not coming out of it. Takafumi seemingly feels guilt for this and rather than talk to someone or like, take up cross fit to get his aggression out, he resorts to extreme measures. I’m no scholar on the repression of the Japanese people, but anyone who pays attention to the more extreme films and anime being produced in that country can tell something twisted is happening to these people’s psyche. And while “R100” never really “goes there,” I picked up the repression implication and was on board. But then writer/director Matsumoto just tries to hard to be perverse, gross and weird. The “trying” part is what was such a turn off for me.
And as I said, Matsumoto knows this isn’t a film to be taken seriously, and thumbs his nose at such ideas. He frequently brings viewers out of the Takafumi story and into a breaking of the fourth wall in which fictional (I think) producers of the film we’re watching argue with the director’s representatives over what they’re seeing, and being repulsed by onscreen. Even the name “R100” is a jab or provocation as it’s the Japanese rating equivalent of our “NC-17.” As a result, the film becomes almost as painful as the beatings and humiliations Takafumi endures throughout.
And look, I’m certainly no prude, I enjoy a twisted film as much as anyone. But when a film has a true darkness to it that somehow speaks to us as humans, it makes it that much more difficult to watch. We’re attracted yet repulsed and that’s intriguing and subconsciously exciting. But “R100” is just a guy messing with his audience saying “look at this! This is so messed up! Right? Am I right?!?” That’s not to say “R100” doesn’t have some great set pieces and, again, the initial plot is very clever. But by the end the film just feels like a big jerk-off session for the director and we all get to watch.