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Quick TIFF Reviews: R100 (Dir. Hitoshi Matsumoto)

09/10/2013 12:09 EDT | Updated 11/10/2013 05:12 EST

Running as part of the Midnight Madness series at the Toronto International Film Festival (the wildly popular showcase of schlocky, violent, disgusting, and/or campy flicks), this film from Japanese comedian and general oddball Hitoshi Matsumoto is bound to delight viewers looking for something they've never seen before.

This completely deranged movie follows Takafumi Katayama, a middle-aged furniture salesman, as he struggles to come to terms with the loss of his wife (who is in a persistent vegetative state following an accident). Wandering through his days, Takafumi (played by Nao Ohmori, who looks for all the world like a Japanese Kevin Spacey) hopes to escape his depression by joining a secretive, mysterious S&M club. The club really has only two rules, he learns: He must be submissive at all times, and he can never leave the club.

A film about surrender, about the schizophrenic disorientation of grief, R100 is shot through with utterly surreal sequences, and rides a compelling (if absurd) conceit: Each member of the crew of dominatrixes (referred to as Queens) who appear at irregular intervals to humiliate and beat Takafumi has a particular skill. (But not the skills you're maybe imagining? One of them is referred to as the Queen of Gobbling, for instance. She, um, eats people whole.)

Like some psychedelic mash-up of Eyes Wide Shut, The Trial and Naked Lunch, R100 is by turns disgusting, hilarious, and tedious. Though it occasionally pulls back from its main narrative to reveal a broader framework (the secret behind which it would be unfair to give away, but know that the title is a play on the age-restrictive film ratings system in Japan), for the most part the audience must surrender to the demented flow of the thing in order to have any fun. There's not a lot here that makes any sense in a conventional way, so this is a film that will live or die based on the willingness of the audience to submit to its randomness, its imaginative lunacy.

Having pulled most of the colour out of the film, Matsumoto's vision here is grey and cold, austere and lonesome, with occasional splashes of vibrant colour appearing as messages, clues. A capable, if eccentric, director, Matsumoto is at his best when shooting the sly, clever S&M sequences. An early scene in which a Queen stands over Takafumi's shoulder in a sushi restaurant and smashes his dinner with her open palm, piece by piece, before forcing him eat the mush with his fingers, is sinister and powerful. And, in the most memorable scene in the film, the Queen of Saliva's punishment of Takafumi is basically bukkake performance art, a moment of amplified feminist power. It's also completely repulsive and gag-inducing.

But, hey: Midnight Madness, am I right?

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