Joy Pain Club: Matsumoto’s Latest Insistent Weirdness Uneven
After his delightful if belabored 2007 debut Big Man Japan put him on the map, director Hitoshi Matsumoto returns with another slice of strangeness with R100, an S&M inspired fever dream of alternate realities that’s not quite as compelling as it is confounding. Drug fueled hallucinations, secret clubs and leather harnessed vixens abound, but this is more Rihanna’s style of S&M, teasingly vague rather than titillating or sinister. Fans of Matsumoto are likely to be reeled in, but inexplicable twists and turns aggravate its intermittent flashes of interest.
A beautiful woman, possibly a prostitute, applies make-up while she lazily smokes a cigarette as she readies herself for a meeting with Takafumi Katayma (Nao Ohmori), who we assume to be her potential client. A strange conversation devolves quickly into sudden violence, pushing the conflict into the streets. Soon after, we learn that Takafumi, a salesman, whose wife left him in the lurch with two kids, has joined a secret club where a strange man on a merry-go-round gives him a bottle of pills that will induce an alternate reality where a series of dominatrices will visit Takafumi and engage him in an S&M scenario dictated by whatever the woman’s particular talent happens to be. Beethoven’s Ode to Joy plays in the background, and we’re told that when pain exceeds a certain limit, it becomes joy.
As delighted as Takafumi seems to be by these unplanned encounters, they soon begin to take over his life, as the women begin interrupting his work routine. Then, we learn that Takafumi’s story is actually a film, a screening actually, being watched by an unknown group of people whose discussions yield that the 100 year-old director of the film means for this story to reflect the reality of modern day Japan, but that viewers will not understand the film until they are themselves 100 years of age. They’re as confused as we are, yet we follow them back into the screening room with a wizened director to continue Takafumi’s tale, who now is at odds with the secret club (operationally known as Bondage), and the big boned blonde CEO shows up in leather to rain on Takafumi’s rebellion. A final battle sees Takafumi coming full circle within himself, where “masochist turns to sadist,” and thus, opens a final door. Of course, the final door reveals a hilarious sequence that comes out of some zany left field.
Matsumoto’s most telling hint comes from the director of this film within a film, for, like the concept of the canine tooth in Dogtooth, there isn’t going to be a clear meaning to be derived from R100 and there won’t be many 100 year-old people to weigh in. It’s just too bad that Matsumoto’s film loses steam about halfway through the proceedings.
Audiences will recognize Nao Ohmori from Takashi Miike’s Ichi the Killer, and here his face gets unnervingly distorted each time he enters his alternate fantasy world. Sadly, we never really care about him. Beethoven’s glorious 9th should also bring A Clockwork Orange into the conversation and maybe there’s even a Kubrickian omnipotence to the malignant secrecy of Bondage, but the favorable comparisons end there, for there’s a repetitive blight to R100, even as it parades a host of grotesque and inventive dominatrices, the most intoxicatingly brilliant being the Queen of Gobbling, who exits the film all too quickly.
Takafumi’s reality is a dark, drab world where color seems to have seeped away from too many washings. But the energetic vibrancy of his pretend time loses steam just as quickly, unfolding with all the pizzazz of bizarre video game.
Reviewed on September 12 at 2013 Toronto Film Festival, Midnight Madness