Japanese S&M on the Silver Screen - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Japanese S&M on the Silver Screen

Japanese S&M on the Silver Screen

By Michael Nordine

A scene from the movie R100.
SourceDrafthouse Films


Who wouldn’t want to see an S&M dramedy in which a dominatrix eats people whole?

By Michael Nordine

The title of Hitoshi Matsumoto’s S&M dramedy, R100, doesn’t appear on-screen until 45 minutes into the film, and by then the film’s comic absurdity has long since announced itself. The name plays on “R18,” which is Japan’s equivalent to an NC-17 rating: a warning to the young and the easily offended. Matsumoto stamps his lurid creation as inappropriate for all audiences under the age of 100 — which some will consider sound advice.

The action is preceded by a disclaimer that “the greatest respect was shown to all of God’s creatures” while making the film. This declaration is both a relief and a portent: What could possibly be about to happen that would make us think otherwise? For starters, a man whose wife is in a coma signs a one-year contract with a bondage agency that dispatches dominatrices to show up unannounced for impromptu sessions. The terms of the agreement are non-negotiable and cannot be canceled halfway through. “When pain exceeds a certain limit, it becomes joy,” Takafumi (Nao Ohmori) is assured. All well and good, but his experience soon surpasses even that level and becomes something else entirely.

Kinky and over-the-top-bizarre ladies interrupt the timid businessman while he carries home groceries or uses the bathroom at work. One ties him up and perfectly imitates his wife’s voice despite never having met her before; another gobbles up people whole. Takafumi is a meek man to all who know him, and if it seems odd that he would get his rocks off in such theatrical fashion, well, to each his own.

Few provocateurs have as mordant a sense of humor as Matsumoto.

It isn’t all fun and games. Events escalate between Takafumi and the domineering women, who further complicate his already troubled home life. His young son doesn’t understand where his mother is, while Takafumi’s father-in-law wants to take her off life support and ease her passing. The older man is given to asking “Is that an earthquake?” without provocation, and he isn’t the only one in R100 whose worldview has been utterly transformed by the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami.

“Ugly, brutal and painful as this brand of cinema tends to be,” offers Nate Bell, a cinema instructor at College of the Canyons, “it is often justified by an equally intense degree of social commentary, in which the bodies stand in for ideas embedded in a nation’s cultural memory.” R100 is more than just a romp. It’s a reflection. To further confound and amuse, Matsumoto weaves in a meta-narrative thread in which exasperated film executives emerge from a screening room like surrogates for the audience and ask what the hell is going on in the film.

This film opened in select U.S. theaters on Jan. 23, 2015.

Japanese cinema isn’t exactly known to shy away from controversial subject matter. But few provocateurs have as mordant a sense of humor as Matsumoto. He includes an on-screen avatar of his own: a 100-year-old director who can only smile as everyone else tries (and usually fails) to make sense of the unfolding chaos.

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