Thursday, January 2, 2014

R100 (2013) Toronto 2013

I’m a huge fan of Hitoshi Matsumoto I’ve reviewed every film he’s made here at Unseen. He’s one of those truly gifted filmmakers who take things in unexpected directions and forces you to rethink how you approach films and storytelling. With that in mind you can imagine my excitement when I was given the chance to see his newest film R-100 weeks before it’s world premiere in Toronto. It was Christmas four months early.

Once more Matsumoto proves he's one of the best filmmakers working today, say what you will about the film, and I can say a great deal, no one is doing what he's doing. Others may try but god damn it no one can hit it out of the box like he can. R100 is as off the beaten track as you can imagine. Its film that plays with your expectations and shakes them up.(The title comes from the Japanese movie rating system meaning no one under 100 can see the film)

The premise of the film has a salary man trying to get by with his young son. His wife is in a vegetative state in a hospital. Looking for a little excitement he joins an exclusive club that send out dominatrix to dominate him. The ladies will appear periodically and somewhat unexpectedly and he will have to go with things. He also can not under any circumstances cancel the service until the yearlong contract is up. All is going along well until the sessions begin to get closer and closer to his home and professional life so he decides to cancel...

Let me get two things out of the way, first I think the film is a masterpiece of sorts. As I said above Matsumoto is once again playing with conventions and expectations and shaking them up in ways I don't think anyone has ever thought of.  Its something that he's done with every film he's made, BIG MAN JAPAN  turns the giant monster Ultraman genre on it's ear. SYMBOL is a long winded ultimately very funny cosmic joke (That funnier each time I see it and its damn funny even unsubtitled). SCABBARD SAMURAI turns the Samurai genre upside down and makes what seems like a one joke premise into one of the most moving films you'll ever see. R100 also twists expectations in ways you can't anticipate. It is, like his other films, a work of genius.

That brings me to my second point- I honestly don’t know what I think of the film. Its one of those films where I can recognize that I've seen something special but at the same time I know I have to see the film again to really form an opinion. Yes I know that's a weird thing to say but if you've ever seen a film by Matsumoto you'll understand what I mean.

And at this point I have to add that if you've ever seen  a film by Hiroshi Matsumoto you'll understand when I say there is a only so much I can talk about concerning the film with out ruining it. What I mean by this is that the way Matsumoto constructs his films is that he makes them as an ever building puzzle box.The plot moves along and we are taken through a series of doors that surprise us at each turn. Its like an ever building joke with a set up that leads to what we think is a punchline, but is just more set up, and then there is another and another. If I tell you too much you'll know the "punchline" of the movie or a great deal of the movie which will distract you from really watching what is happening. You have to watch the directors films the first time in not knowing anything because how you react depends on seeing everything in the proper order.

 The short version of my problem with the film is that after a moody, very funny but dry first half the film shifts gears in the second. There is a point where the film shifts gears and changes from a portrait of a salaryman into something else. It does follow logically, but the tonal shift and a much too long S&M sequence breaks the, up till then, carefully woven spell. Yes what happens is funny and a bit scary but I’m not sure that it adds up to much. With the spell broken, I’m left to ponder if it’s a great deal of work for what seems to be an okay punchline.

This is not in anyway meant to sound like I don't like the film, oh dear god no. Hell the first half of the film is quite simply one of the best first halfs I've seen all year. And even the second half is light years ahead of 99% of the other films I've seen this year. It's just that I think it’s more of a let down after the heights of SYMBOL and especially SCABBARD SAMURAI which were tightly wound and perfectly constructed films.. Trust me on this, even with my reservations it’s a film that is better than most films coming from anyone anywhere in the world. Hiroshi Matsumoto pushes the envelope in ways no one is attempting and even his missteps but him ahead of everyone else.

An absolute must see for anyone who loves films, especially ones that break the rules and defy expectations.

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