If a dominatrix is one who takes total control of her passive partner, then “R100” is the cinematic equivalent of a kinky femme fatale in black leather and stiletto heels, cracking a whip and a smile. At least for the film’s first half, Japanese writer-director Hitoshi Matsumoto gets a kick out of tantalizing and torturing the viewer with his tale of a meek department store salesman whose bondage-club contract for a year’s worth of sexual masochism proves unbreakable — and painful to boot. Albeit more wacky than provocative in the end, the Drafthouse Films pickup could become a cult fetish on VOD.
Matsumoto’s gigantically funny “Big Man Japan” (2007) hardly prepares one for his stylistic sadism here. So bleached of color that it’s nearly black-and-white, “R100” begins in full-on noir mode, with Takafumi Katayama (Nao Ohmori) taking a beating from a cig-smoking, trenchcoat-clad bondage queen, his bruised body tumbling down a flight of stairs in a scene that playfully recalls the S&M-inflected classic “Kiss Me Deadly.” The gag’s visual punchline is a series of cheesy CGI ripples emanating from the head of the victim, signifying his dumbfounded ecstasy.
Soon signing on for a year of such blissful degradation, Takafumi is told he’ll never know when one of the wicked dominatrices of the Bondage gentlemen’s club will bring the pain. Thus the viewer is kept on edge during languorous interludes that would appear benign if not for the threat — or promise — of sudden attack. One hilarious early scene, a showcase for Matsumoto’s razor-sharp comic timing, has Takafumi suffering the humiliation of having his sushi rolls repeatedly squished by a femme’s fist.
When the Bondage boss asks an increasingly aggrieved Takafumi, “Isn’t this what you wanted?” the nerved-up fan of hardcore genre fare becomes mindful of the “contract” he signed upon entering the theater. Alas, Matsumoto ends up tipping the meta scale a touch too hard with intermittent scenes of censors screening a movie called “R100,” directed by a century-old man in a long white beard. Eventually the film runs out of satiric steam altogether, resorting to a lame war-movie climax with Bondage’s seven-foot tall CEO (Lindsay Hayward) as a cross between a distaff Bond villain and a Third Reich heavy.
Shifting from gentle piano music to jazzy pop and ’70s-style disco, the score by Shuichi Sakamoto and Shuichiro Toki mirrors the gamut-running pic itself. Sound work periodically breaks total silence with David Lynchian blasts of noise. Other tech credits are tops.