Sex Comedy R100 Mixes Sadism and Satire

Takafumi Katayama (Nao Ōmori) is a man trapped in an abusive relationship with his own existence. He works as a mattress salesman in a dingy retail store where his chances of advancement are slim to nil. He watches helplessly as his comatose wife slowly wastes away in a hospital bed. He dotes on Arashi, his only son, even though the boy seems to prefer the company of his kindly old grandfather. But sweet, submissive Takafumi has a secret. He’s beginning to enjoy the abuse.

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Hitoshi Matsumoto’s sadomasochistic sex comedy – yes, another one of those – R100 is the story of a budding masochist whose mid-life sexual awakening sweeps him off into a shady netherworld of fetish gear, carnal carousels and international ninja-diva assassins. What starts off as a goofy, provocative adult fantasy gradually descends into grindhouse excess, but not before treating viewers to an absurdist carnival of characters and scenarios that will doubtlessly please fans of the comedian-turned-director’s previous films, particularly the giant monster spoof Big Man Japan – which competed at Cannes in 2007 – and his 2009 follow-up Symbol.

Desperate to find a safe, discrete outlet for his newfound kink, Takafumi signs up for a mandatory yearlong membership with the bluntly named Bondage Club, a service that offers its clients regularly scheduled beatings from a menagerie of high-end dominatrices who cater to every fetish imaginable.

During an interview with the club’s twitchy, Mephistophelian manager (Suzuki Matsuo), our hero makes the mistake of mentioning that being surprised turns him on. Soon he can’t go anywhere without a different leather-clad, riding crop-wielding “queen” abruptly materializing behind him, “punishing” him at work, at his favorite sushi bar, even in the coma ward where he goes to visit his dying wife. He never sees his stiletto-heeled stalkers coming and neither do we, resulting in scenes of public embarrassment that range from hilarious to genuinely terrifying.

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Realizing the situation has escalated beyond his control after fending off the murderous advances of an especially freaky duo known as The Queen of Voices (Mao Daichi) and The Queen of Saliva (comedienne Naomi Watanabe), Takafumi attempts to cancel his membership. This sets off a chain of events that leads to the arrival of the Bondage Club’s wrathful CEO, played with Vesuvian intensity by the American actress Lindsay Hayward, also known as the tallest female professional wrestler in the world. The scene where she expresses her rage by repeatedly belly-flopping into a swimming pool is enough to justify the price of admission.

The film, whose title satirizes the Japanese rating system by implying that its intended audience would need to be at least a century old, also contains an amusing running gag involving a movie within a movie. We eventually realize that the tale of Takafumi is actually unfolding in a screening room, where a desiccated 100-year-old filmmaker is showing his final “masterwork” to a dumbfounded censorship committee. At regular intervals, the action cuts out and we join the censors in the lobby, where they ruminate on what they’ve seen and curse the director for allowing so many tasteless puns and blatant continuity gaffes. This is actually pretty inspired stuff, a Cabin in the Woods- style meta-commentary on how viewers sometimes react to impenetrable surrealism, and R100 would have been better served if Matsumoto and his team of screenwriters had taken the time to push this idea even further.

While a few of its individual elements are brilliant, the film suffers from a weak third act and one extremely annoying CGI effect that’s meant to signify orgasms by making a character’s eyes go black and their faces ripple with seismic pleasure. It’s funny (and vaguely creepy) at first, but Matsumoto quickly runs it into the ground by using it to end nearly every scene in the first hour. Some of the supporting performances are also distractingly unpolished, and the movie has trouble settling on a tone, careening wildly from melodrama to erotic thriller to slapstick comedy and back again. Some extra time in the editing suite might have worked wonders.

Aside from Matsumoto’s deviant mind, the best thing R100 has going for it is Ōmori, who anchors the movie by refusing to turn Takafumi into a lustful cartoon. The same actor who salvaged the soul of a brainwashed serial murderer in Takashi Miike’s S&M yakuza flick Ichi the Killer uses his remarkably expressive features – especially that haunted, Peter Lorre-esque stare – to provide context and humanity to even the most pathetic of characters.

Despite its proudly degenerate subject matter, R100 is surprisingly tame. There’s no graphic nudity to speak of, and only a smattering of what could be considered gross-out gags. The shock value mainly comes from the sheer bizarro-world novelty of the premise, which in a way is rather refreshing. Cinema needs more visionary madmen, and as long as Matsumoto continues cranking out films with this level of innovation and freak flag charm, I’m sure the midnight movie crowd will gladly submit to more of his warped imaginings.

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