My review of Hitoshi Matsumoto’s “R100” at Fantastic Fest 2013

On Saturday, September 21, 2013 I attended the exciting US Premiere of R100 at Fantastic Fest 2013 in Austin, Texas. The sold out screening took place at the brand new Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline.

Award-winning actor Nao Ômori (Ichi the Killer) plays Takafumi Katayama, a bored husband and father who knocks on the door of an exclusive S&M club in search of a little shakeup to his humdrum days. What he gets is a lot more than he bargained for -- although he should have known, it was in the contract he signed. A dominatrix may show up, anywhere, anytime, and there’s no way out. Once you’re in, you’re committed. You’re locked in for one year. Like a cellphone contract from hell, but with much more pain. That said, if he didn’t want to be the object of bondage and discipline he wouldn’t have approached that mysterious door. But where does his pleasure end and pain begin? Does it at all? One thing is certain – the viewer doesn’t get a safe word.

If that sounds like the premise of an intriguing story, you’d be correct. But that’s not necessarily what we’re watching. The clever director has a lot more up his cinematic sleeve. Japanese comedy mega-icon Hitoshi Matsumoto’s R100 truly defies description. At the very least, it would spoil the surprise to spell out the secrets of the multi-layered narrative. As the meaning of the film’s enigmatic title becomes clear, so does the reality, or surreality, of what’s actually taking place onscreen.   

Director Hitoshi Matsumoto came to fame as half of the notorious comedy duo Dauntaun, with Masatoshi Hamada. The pair has been a staple of Japanese television for over 30 years, appearing in hundreds of shows as actors, writers, and directors. Matsumoto turned to the big screen in 2007 with the acclaimed Big Man Japan, followed by Symbol in 2009 and 2010’s Scabbard Samurai. R100 is his fourth feature. In addition to writing, directing and starring, his five-man screenwriting team also includes Mitsuyoshi Takasu, Tomoji Hasegawa, Kôji Ema, and Mitsuru Kuramoto. The entire group has worked on some or all of Matsumoto’s films and TV productions.

The movie's singular look owes itself to some bold choices made by Matsumoto and cinematographer Kazunari Tanaka on this, his 35th motion picture. R100 was shot in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio on 16mm film. It gives the movie a throwback, old school grainy appearance with a monochromatic, almost black and white image at times. It was edited by Yoshitaka Honda, who cut Matsumoto’s previous film Scabbard Samurai with the same writers. The unspoken language of a creative team that’s worked together for years is clearly evident throughout R100. The action, as extreme as it is, unfolds patiently throughout the early course of the narrative and accelerates hyperbolically into the third act. What starts out as a slow burn turns into an all-out assault on the senses that will leave audiences breathless. It’s all set to a classical score, providing a perfect orchestral counterpoint to the absurdly sadistic action taking place before our stunned eyes.   

Despite its grandeur and cast of 1000 dominatrices, this is virtually a one-man show. Nao Ômori is the heart and soul of R100. He’s onscreen virtually the entire 100 minutes and is magnificent. He’s supported by a superb ensemble cast featuring Mao Daichi, Shinobu Terajima, Matsuo Suzuki , Atsuro Watabe, and Lindsay Hayward in a star turn as "the CEO."

Fantastic Fest was chock full of titles from Japan this year, and I managed to catch six of them. I saw four terrific comedies during the festival, and it just happened that all came from that selection of Japanese titles. As I pointed out in my review of Why Don’t You Play in Hell? earlier, Japan seems to have cornered the market on horror comedy – not in the Scary Movie parody vein but in blood and guts with just the right touch of tongue-in-cheek. Unlike a lot of genre films coming from the Western world, the Japanese filmmakers know not to take themselves too seriously and the audience is too intelligent not too see through it if they did.

R100 debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival where, like Why Don't You Play in Hell?, it was one of the selections for the Midnight Madness lineup of genre films which I’d missed that week. The two were picked up by Drafthouse Films and would make a terrific pairing. Both pictures contain plenty of agonizingly gory material, but R100 has such a delicately balanced degree of madness and mirth. It’s like the video of a bullfighter having his clothing gored off, or a grieving wife stumbling into her husband’s grave at a funeral. It’s horrific but we aren’t quite sure whether to laugh or cry. Matsumoto pushes the envelope so severely, with action so over the top, that the humor and the horror trigger a level of morbid laughter that’s refreshing in its absurdity.

Part of Matsumoto’s genius is his understanding of Western audiences. R100 will be quite palatable to the US market in its avoidance of cultural references and inside jokes that are so prevalent in so many Asian films. R100 is a WTF and OMG-filled treasure trove of pleasure and pain that is as original as cinema gets.    

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NOTE: I selected R100 for my Fantastic Fest 2013 Top Picks. Warner Bros. released the film theatrically in Japan this past weekend. Drafthouse Films acquired North American distribution rights several days after the screening. They will distribute in theaters and VOD sometime in 2014.

The official trailer and a set of stills are below. There are no spoilers in the trailer. 


R100 Trailer | Festival 2013

A mild-mannered family man with a secret taste for S&M finds himself pursued by a gang of ruthless dominatrixes -- each…
  • Video Release: August 13, 2013
  • Length: 1.83 min
  • Views: 3208



Author

Larry Richman

Larry Richman

For 20 years I was a professional in the entertainment industry, from commercial broadcast radio in America's fourth largest market to band management to record production. But my passion is independent film, and I spend much of the year traveling to film festivals to see indies and meet the actors, directors, and others responsible for creating them. I'm a writer, photographer, and videographer, currently serving as Senior Vice President for Media & Technology and Public Relations at PROnetworks as well as Editor at Larry411.com

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  • Author: Larry Richman
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