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Monday, February 2, 2015

Review: R100

When I review a movie, there are a few things I am consistently keeping an eye out for. Does the film have interesting, well-drawn characters? Solid arcs? A coherent narrative? A strong point of view? Powerful themes? Beautiful cinematography? There are a thousand little things that go into making a good movie. But a movie is not a checklist; no art is. There's a certain, subtle alchemy, a way to combine (or dismiss!) these disparate elements to create a coherent whole, a way to go from 'good' to 'great'. Sometimes, the individual pieces may look like a mess, but in the right hands, they can create something wonderful. But what do you do with a movie that is seemingly all alchemy, something that's joyously, fervently, sometimes hilariously willing to throw everything away just to surprise you? What do you do with R100? You sit back and you enjoy, goddammit.

R100 is the latest film from Japanese comedy director Hitoshi Matsumoto (Big Man Japan), made in 2013 but only now being released in America. In it, Nao Ōmori plays the kind of dejected, lonely man who frequently stars in noir films - his wife is in a coma, his job offers him little respect, his son doesn't understand where his mother's gone - he wanders a colorless world aimlessly. But when he finds a club called Bondage, he's made an offer that lights up his life: For the next year, beautiful, leather-clad women will jump him completely randomly in public, beating or humiliating him. He can't touch them. He can't dictate terms. He doesn't get to say no.

He accepts, and his face distorts, waves of pleasure emanating from him while his eyes turn jet black. He has found his passion.

If this was all R100 was, it'd make a killer short film and a duller-than-dirt feature. And, indeed, the middle - where the movie has to transition from bondage sex dramedy to something decidedly more surreal - lags considerably. As the film takes on more meta elements, there's a transitional period of the film that simply doesn't work, and there's a sizable degree to which Mastumoto never recaptures the understated charms of the film's wonderful opening few minutes. There is absolutely nothing understated about the last half of the movie, when Matsumoto shrugs off all restraints and the sexuality and comedy develops a manic edge. By the time 6'8" Lindsay Kay Howard shows up as the CEO of an international cabal of bondage superwarriors, you'll either be in love or wonder why you wasted your 90 minutes.

Because make no mistake: R100 is very much a love it or hate it movie. As the film climactically explodes into a paean of joy, an ode to those select few who find pleasure in the oddest places, I was willing to forgive quite a considerable amount. It's a beautiful sequence, and not the only one R100 manages to find, though its peaks never quite erase the memory of its valleys - nor, of course, do its valleys detract from the magic of its best moments. R100 remains a deeply flawed movie, and the meta-elements strip something important away from the film's heart, but I was, in the end, charmed by Matsumoto's dedication to doing what he wanted to do, damn our expectations.

R100 is out not in limited theaters across the country and is available on various VOD services. It is directed by Hitoshi Matsumoto and stars Nao Ōmori and Lindsay Kay Howard.
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