What’s that you say? Are Japanese films still as bonkers as they used to be? Why yes, and here is the proof. In Hitoshi Matsumoto’s beguiling oddity a furniture salesman (Nao Ômori) attempts to escape the drudgery of his existence (wife in coma, young son to raise) by joining a sex club that sends leather-clad dominatrixes to brighten up his day by kicking him in the face at unexpected moments.
They prove to be increasingly inventive in their tortures – in one scene the hero goes to a restaurant and every time the chef sets an artfully-constructed sushi dish in front of him a dominatrix squashes it flat before he can eat it. But he does eat it, while other diners squirm in embarrassment. The scene is funny and relentless and full of stifled anguish. This isn’t horror – it’s something else, and whatever that is, it’s a good thing.
Every now and then we meet the film crew, who pick holes in the plot and grumble about the director, a hundred-year old man who claims that nobody younger than that can possibly understand this, his masterpiece. You could think of this as a cop-out – it certainly makes the film difficult to criticise seriously (were I so inclined) – but it doesn’t derail the film’s momentum as our hero’s increasing dissatisfaction with the sex club, whose interventions in his daily round are becoming less and less discreet, escalates into an all-out war.
In some ways this is reminiscent of that David Fincher film The Game but that doesn’t end with Michael Douglas blowing up an army of female ninjas and then getting pregnant – as I remember. This is therefore a great improvement. The only thing that takes the shine off my pleasure is that, having paid to see this at Frightfest I find that it is screening free of charge less than 48 hours later on Film4, who sponsor Frightfest. This feels a bit like Film4 is squashing my sushi. But it tastes just fine.