Cult Classics: R100

r100 index

Japanese director Hitoshi Matsumoto made one of the most unique films ever created (which I don’t say lightly at all) with 2009’s Symbol, as it’s a film where a man wakes up in a white room with no windows and doors and has no idea where he is or why, but when he pushes certain phallic shaped levers various unusual events take place. Meanwhile in a dusty Mexican village a wrestler prepares for a fight, with his family greatly concerned over what may be about to take place, and eventually the two plot lines kind of link up. It’s a surreal masterpiece, funny but deeply strange, and due to it I sought out the director’s other work as soon as I could.

I thought the events of Symbol had prepared me for all manner of weirdness as well, but it turns out I was ridiculously wrong. The movie starts out vaguely normally, at least considering the insanity of Symbol, but quickly becomes more and more unusual as we follow the life of Takafumi Katayama (Nao Ōmori), a lonely businessman who’s wife has been in a coma for three years, who then signs a contract with a business which leads to his being attacked by a selection of dominatrixes completely at random, with him never knowing when and where one will pop up and slap him about.

It’s a fairly odd kink but nothing that strange you may well think and you’d probably be right, but this is only the initial set up for the film as soon everything gets out of hand. He’s unable to cancel the contract until a full year is up but when a dominatrix turns up at his workplace, and then at his home in front of his son, he starts to panic that his life could be ruined. What happens next is something no one could have predicted however as he meets a variety of different dominatrixes including The Saliva Queen (Naomi Watanabe) and The Gobble Queen (Katagiri Hairi), whose talent isn’t what you’re probably thinking it might be, and in the final half hour everything becomes bizarrely absurd in a very, very different way.

Because Hitoshi Matsumoto likes to be ridiculously unpredictable there’s also occasionally breaks in the film where we get to see the Japanese ratings board try to understand what the hell is going on in the film, and how to rate it, which is why it has the title it does. Apparently in interviews at the time he expressed a wish to make a truly genre defying film, one which takes on a manner of different ideas and themes, and he has succeeded in doing so, though it definitely leans in to being a comedy with the way the dominatrixes interact with Takafumi and the truly mental way the film ends.

Impressively it’s nudity free and so anyone looking for cheap thrills will come away disappointed, yes we see the dominatrixes in their underwear but it never feels like it’s done simply for titillation. Instead it’s just a device to explore the world of a man struggling to exist, and the other elements of the film also allow the audience to consider various different ideas, some of which are about the nature of filmmaking, some of which are relating to how to find joy in the world. It’s without doubt a perverse work, and occasionally uncomfortable in places, but if you like your comedy to be outlandish but thought provoking it’ll be something you’ll never forget.

Alex Finch.
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