Home Video Hovel: R100, by Aaron Pinkston
I have always deeply revered Japanese cinema. It is the cinema of Kurosawa, Ozu, Mizoguchi, Oshima, Imamura and countless other auteurs who told classic, vibrant stories. Each have different styles and voices but they collectively built the national cinema of Japan, from jidaigeki samurai to contemporary melodrama. And then there is the cinema of Miike, Sono, Fukasaku, filmmakers who push the boundaries of film stories through sex, violence, horror. I doubt anyone could honestly consider the older generation of Japanese filmmakers stodgy or old-fashioned, but the extreme cinema so prevalent today makes anything else tame by comparison. It takes a film like Hitoshi Matsumoto’s R100 to solidify the genre – a film in the extreme cinema camp that reveres its extreme cinema predecessors. The results are weird, funny and disturbing, just as they should be.
In R100, an unextraordinary single father joins a sex club catering to the submissive gentleman. There are only a few rules: the member must always be submissive, can never initiate contact, and, most importantly, cannot break the 1-year membership contract. What sets this particular establishment apart from your typical cinematic brothel, however, is that the female employees insert themselves into their clients’ lives, without warning and often without permission. For example, when R100‘s protagonist, Katayama, goes out for a nice and quiet dinner at a small sushi place, a leather-clad woman unexpectedly arrives to stare menacingly and smash every piece of sushi presented to him.
The arrangements Katayama has throughout the film are quirky and weird in a way one wouldn’t quite expect. Even as they become darker, there is always a bizarre piece that takes the tone over-the-top. R100 is a comedy (or perhaps a horror film) because of its opaqueness together with its bizarreness. We don’t know much about Katayama, especially at the beginning of the film, how he found this sex club and why he is even interested in it. Sure, people have all sorts of weird and specific things that get them going, but this club’s services seem oddly asexual. His random interactions often play more like a practical joke based game show than anything resembling fetishistic interplay.
The women at this club bring most of the life to the film. Each is known by a moniker based on a particular skill they bring to the table – “The Queen of Saliva” and “The Queen of Gobbling” are two fairly graphic examples. At times they have near-mythical powers but the film also shows them out of their element, lounging around with a much different personality. A few times R100 breaks its form by becoming something of a mockumentary that is capturing their space, unexpectedly posing questions to the women about their lives. Given all of the strange things these women do in the course of R100, these brief interludes are tame but feel just as radical.
From the beginning, R100 subverts the viewer’s expectations. At times, including these mockumentary sections, the film plays like a parody of a film that would have this same plot. There are direct homages to many films of its genre – there is a lot of Audition here in depictions of torture and I swear that Katayama lives in the exact same house as the rebounding widow Aoyama. This film couldn’t possibly have been made without the sources it pulls from and these same sources building a language with its audience. Like good parody, you don’t need to be an expert in Japanese extreme cinema to see the appeal in R100, but it does provide for a more interesting reading of the film.
By making itself silly so often, though, the film loses some value in comparison to the best of its genre. A film by Shion Sono, which is as clever and outrageous, can live in a “it is what it is” space that R100 simply can’t inhabit. Its tones are laid on a bit thickly, less naturally. But still, R100 is very, very weird, and enjoyably so. Now that it will be available on DVD and online for digital download (starting Tuesday), you can safely take in this strange world.