Indiewire‘s Nigel M. Smith reports that Drafthouse Films has picked up North American rights to Hitoshi Matsumoto‘s R100, which has just seen its world premiere in Toronto and its U.S. premiere at Fantastic Fest in Austin. As half of the comedy duo Downtown (with Masatoshi Hamada), Matsumoto was already, well, big in Japan when he made his feature debut in 2007, Big Man Japan, “a zany take on the superhero genre,” as Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn puts it. “The unlikely combination of surrealism and pathos would continue to define Matsumoto’s astonishingly unique oeuvre with ensuing projects Symbol (about a man trapped in a room with cherub penises that unlock the meaning of life) and Scabbard Samurai (in which an imprisoned samurai must perform gags to make his captor laugh in order evade a death sentence). With his fourth feature, R100, Matsumoto merges his outlandish wit with a satiric take on the Japanese ratings system and disorienting tangents that’s second only to the impermeable Symbol in its riotous absurdity.”
“Once again the hero is an ordinary fellow leading a life of quiet desperation,” writes Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter. “Takafumi Katayama (played by Nao Omori, Sweet Little Lies [and Ichi the Killer]), the regimented salesman in the mattress department of a big store, is secretly into bondage. He gets more than he bargains for when he signs a contract to be beaten by beautiful dominatrices for a year. Adding another level to the film’s surreal comedy is the idea that Takafumi and his fetish obsession are part of a wacky movie directed by a wizened old man of 100, which is being screened by an official censorship committee. Not only do they not understand the film (and their perplexity is hilariously justified by all the inconsistencies in the plot), but the parade of whip-wielding ladies in black leather is too much for them to bear. Hence the title R100: they propose to rate the film as suitable for audiences of 100 and up.”
For Michael Sicinski, writing in Cinema Scope, “what’s most surprising about [R100] is the fact that [Matsumoto] has chosen to take an ostensibly outré subject (sadomasochism) and turn it into a bland mainstream adventure-comedy. To be sure, there are dollops of off-the-wall humor and genre-bending surrealism in R100… but here, all the delightful bits of business—the self-reflexivity, the bone-dry salaryman foibles, the sudden appearance of Office-style interviews among the assorted dominatrices—are attenuated by a hopelessly tedious A-plot.”
The Austin Chronicle‘s Richard Whittaker disagrees. “Matsumoto isn’t just endlessly, willfully, bizarrely funny. He’s also capable of surprising tenderness… Much like Big Man Japan, R100 builds up the insanity until a third act turn into the gloriously perverse. Arguably, it’s a little more controlled than his kaiju spoof, which becomes positively headscratching. Or maybe that it’s writ so large, in such a ridiculous and pleasingly tortured stretching of the idea, that it gets away with it. Either way, it’s genuinely and perversely hilarious.”
“Drug fueled hallucinations, secret clubs and leather harnessed vixens abound, but this is more Rihanna’s style of S&M, teasingly vague rather than titillating or sinister,” finds Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema. “Fans of Matsumoto are likely to be reeled in, but inexplicable twists and turns aggravate its intermittent flashes of interest.”
“While Matsumoto’s work is often funny, it is hard to even refer to him as a comedian at this point,” argues Todd Brown at Twitch, where Jason Gorber interviews Matsumoto. “He is a world builder of the highest order, a man who sees thing through a perplexing, often confounding, always left of center and surprising lens…. What Matsumoto has done here is essentially take the premise of David Fincher’s The Game and applied it to S&M with some very odd and frequently perplexing results…. On the relative scale of his work, R100 stands a significant step behind Symbol—which is still comfortably Matsumoto’s strongest film—while still being very, very good and demonstrating once again that Matsumoto is one of the most ferociously unique filmmakers on the face of the planet.”
Update, 10/5: For Mark Schilling, writing in the Japan Times, R100 “plays like a confused erotic nightmare, with fun moments scattered and few. Matsumoto, however, should not be accused of false advertising, since he said from the start that this project, announced in March 2012 at a Cinematheque Francaise retrospective of his films, would be ‘stupid in the extreme’ and no laugh riot…. I just hope that, having made this in-joke of a movie, he dreams up one for the rest of us, including this fan from the start, the next time around.”
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