Sunday, January 25, 2015

R100 (2013) Movie Review

Picture if you will, a reality-based game where you can experience the fantasy of being dominated by powerful women at odd hours of the day for a year. Who can appear anywhere, at any time, and can brighten your troubled soul with a hit or a lash. But what if this contract's rules only exacerbate over time, as those you love are destined to stumble upon this secret life of yours? Quietly suffering salesman, Takafumi Katayama(the ever guileless Nao Omori) is such a customer, and there isn't a safe word to be found. Upon first being reminded of Hitoshi Matsumoto's first film since his goofy, but admirable Big Man Japan, the ad campaign seemed hellbent on selling us something primed to shock & illuminate. What we get is R100, which sees the director as declarateur, extolling the virtues of perverse art and performance as a means of quelling the restless Japanese man's heart. And while it does offer up shades of the former, the latter finds itself more than a little parched.

Raising a young son, often with care from his kindhearted father, Katayama's entry into a world of unpredictable beatings and humiliations starts off with a tremendously amusing opening from the perspective of a statuesque beauty seemingly ending a date with a kick to the face. This scene alone establishes a potent mixture of black comedy in ways that is both familiar to those who are fans of Takashi Miike (of which Omori, is a seasoned veteran), and even to the films of David Fincher. It's an audacious start to a piece that doesn't want to play by any real rules, but never figures itself out. And despite the potential inherent in this opening moment, we are also introduced to one of the film's great weaknesses. We find that Katayama is in dire need, being a largely absent dad with a wife in a coma, lying to his little one about when she will be back home. But even so, what we do discover seems to be scant, and as the film skeeters toward the dramatic, gags come back to the fore, robbing us of any real tension. Sure, we get flashes of his normal life before black clad beauties burst onto the scene to terrorize him ad-infinitum, but the balance simply isn't there. There is a real need to get into the discomfort of the mundane before the outrageous will have its way with him, and it never really happens. There is an implication of the coming collision course, but being too caught up in visualizing Katayama's euphoric states (which is done in creepy CG-enhanced smiles) ends up creating a numbing effect of sorts.

And the license doesn't stop there. The film ultimately breaks into intendedly humorous non-sequitirs, portraying Omori as himself, trying to explain the film to censors about the story they are watching. A move that could easily have added dimension ends up floundering like a laundry list of justifications for the film's very existence. With Omori, head bowed down in embarrassment, hoping the company men would overlook these acts as the musings of a centenarian filmmaker. It's hard to imagine this sequence of scenes being in the script stage. There is a certain lack of confidence that laces the affair, as if it knows matters aren't working, and they do little to undo what's already a strange dance of tones. So perhaps only a one hundred year old Japanese man would understand, but what of everyone else? The rest of the film winds up feeling like a private joke, unwilling to let anyone else in who is not so nonplussed by so-called "extreme Japan" art.

And a large reason for this feeling of discontent, is the array of promise that Matsumoto and company dish out. From Omori's melancholic performance as a hapless salaryman, only wishing to do right, to great appearances by Gin Maeda, and a surprising Atsuro Watabe(of Love Exposure fame). The refreshingly old school feel of the film's color palette of decaying grays, greens, and ambers bring out a sad grain that evokes the most forbidden thoughts of a generation gone by the wayside. Even Matsumoto's appearance as a powerless, ignorant cop offers up brightness in a work so eager for even levity. And despite the film's inevitable descent into pure anarchistic weird, it's something that none of these shining lights can do to take it over the top. It perhaps doesn't help matters that so much Japanese media flirts with the inherently perverse, that a film like this needs a special touch to make it connect. So when a piece like this takes us through a rabbit hole of kink and circumstance, the discomfort levels need to be amped up significantly. There is something potentially profound to be examined within Matsumoto's thesis, but when the public beatings and encroaching doom gathers steam, there is an immense lack of milking the merge for all its worth that hinders everything. 

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