Late in the run time of the surreally campy BDSM comedy R100, the film addresses the audience directly by suggesting that, “People won’t understand this film until they’re 100 years old.” Even that timeline may be a little too optimistic. Directed by Hitoshi Matsumoto, the juvenile prankster who brought the world the cartoonish excess of Big Man Japan & Symbol, R100 initially pretends to be something it most definitely is not: understated. The first forty minutes of the film are a visually muted, noir-like erotic thriller with a dully comic sadness to its protagonists’ depression & persecution. It’s around the halfway mark where the film goes entirely off the rails genre-wise, dabbling in tones that range from spy movies to mockumentaries to old-school ZAZ spoofs. It’s doubtful that even 100 years on Earth will give you enough information to make sense out of that mess.
Although the first half of R100 is more toned down than the second, it’s still off to a fairly bizarre start. The film’s protagonist, a mild-mannered mattress salesman grieving over his comatose wife, seeks solace in an unusual BDSM club. Instead of subbing for a dominatrix on the club’s parameters, he signs a contract that allows its stable of dominant women to appear in his personal life, beating him mercilessly in public without warning. He initially gets off on the tension of not knowing when a dominatrix will appear to beat him, but as they begin to surface at his job, his home, and (worst of all) his wife’s hospital room, he attempts to desperately cancel the contract. Of course, the club is not interested in cancellations. This is a world without safe words, a world where a dominatrix believes, “When perverts beg for mercy that means they’re begging for more.” In other words, it initially plays like an erotic novel, not far from the plot machinations of Gary Marshall’s BDSM comedy Exit to Eden. It’s far more akin to fantasy than real life and the incongruity of the public beatings with the mundanity of the modern world is played for a subtly comic effect (and, eventually, for an effect that is anything but subtle).
There’s plenty of bizarre visual touches to this first half that suggest the weirdness that comes later: a carousel of dominatrix women floating in a void, brain wave halos of pleasure, leather clad doms galloping like gazelles, etc. There’s also the more surreal ways the protagonist submits, like when a dominatrix violently, repetitively smashes his sushi flat with her palm while he eats or when another covers him in gallons of saliva (which has got to be one of the most disgusting scenes I’ve ever encountered, or at least since Wetlands). At one point a character astutely compares the over-the-top theatricality of pro wrestling to kink play and in the ways kink is portrayed in R100 it feels more truthful than ever. However, even those cartoonish play sessions are ill preparation to the unhinged silliness that follows.
In some ways, the first half of R100 is an objectively better film, as it reins in its more absurd tendencies for the narrative’s benefit. Its premise would most likely fall flat as a straightforward film, though, so it’s not particularly a problem that it abandons its tone & genre for more outlandish territory. As long as you’re prepared to roll with the sharp left turn the film takes halfway through (especially if you’ve seen a Hitoshi Matsumoto film before), you’re likely to have fun with R100. It’s an oddball film that refuses to behave in a traditionally oddball way, seemingly shifting gears at a whim with no concern for the audience. When you sign up to watch R100, it’s like signing a contract that for the next two hours you’ll be in its capable, dominant hands, ready to submit to every command & goofy impulse it can muster before the contract runs out. As long as you don’t mind handing that freedom over and don’t become too attached to the early tone, you might experience some pleasure halos of your own.