Japanese Title: 地獄でなぜ悪い Why Don’t You Play in Hell?
Romaji: Jigoku de Naze Warui Why Don’t You Play in Hell?
Release Date: September 28th, 2013 (Japan)
Running Time: 119 mins.
Director: Sion Sono
Writer: Sion Sono (Screenplay),
Starring: Jun Kunimura, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Fumi Nikaido, Tomochika, Hiroki Hasegawa, Kotou Lorena, Gen Hoshino, Tak Sakaguchi
This has been a long time coming. I saw Why Don’t You Play in Hell? at last year’s BFI London Film Festival and I had huge expectations. In the months leading up to the screening I had posted trailers and made posts full of Gifs. It was my final festival film of the year and walking into the cinema I was tingling with excitement. Why? Because Sono is one of my two favourite Japanese directors and this looked awesome. I can confirm that it was God-tier awesome.
The film opens on a teenage director named Hirata who, along with his amateur film crew The F*ck Bombers, is busy shooting a gang fight between some Yankees. The main ambition of The F*ck Bombers is to make the most miraculous movie ever with realistic action! These guys will come into play later as the film switches to Muto (Kunimura), a yakuza crime boss who is the top target of a rival gang.
A hit-squad from the rival gang head to Muto’s home. Except he’s not there. His wife Shizue (Tomochika) is. What results is a bloodbath as Shizue defends her home from the gangsters…
Meanwhile, as mother dearest is chasing one of the few survivors of her rage, Muto’s daughter, the angelic child actress Mitsuko, arrives home to find herself wading in a sea of blood. Lying on the kitchen floor and bleeding out is lone survivor Ikegami (Tsutsumi) who is charmed by Mitsuko so much that he develops a bit of an obsession. He stumbles out of the crime scene where he runs into Hirata and The F*ck Bombers who realise he is an honest to God blood-covered yakuza and begin to film him.
Cut to a timid schoolboy named Koji across town. He is watching Mitsuko on television in an advert for toothpaste and falls in love with her.
With this ad she’s going to make it big… Except the scandal of the yakuza assault on her parents derails her career.
10 years later
Shizue is in prison, the rival gangsters still despise and battle each other and Ikegami is still in love with Muto’s actress daughter Mitsuko (Nikaido) who is a rebel…
That’s an understatement. She is a deadly kick-ass girl who thinks nothing of beating the crap out of men and is frustrated that her acting career has been derailed.
Muto is desperate to get Mitsuko into a film as a reward for his wife’s loyalty. Shizue still desperately wants Mitsuko to be a star but the girl is constantly escaping her controlling father’s grasp and causing trouble which she does during a gang battle.
In order to evade her father’s gangsters she hooks up with Koji (Hoshino), the timid schoolboy we saw earlier who has grown up to be a timid normal person. He is still massively in love with Mitsuko and so hangs around with her even when it means that he gets kidnapped and his life is threatened.
The only way he will keep breathing is to pretend to be a film director and promise to make Mitsuko a star. When dealing with gangsters you don’t mess around but Koji is in over his head until he contacts a cinephile named Hirata (Hasegawa) who is waiting for a chance to exercise his skills (and madness). His last film, The Blood of the Wolves, has yet to find a distributor and this is his big chance. He prays, “Movie god, if I can make one hell of a movie, then I won’t mind dying.”
He may just get his prayer answered as the gangster start working for him…
Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is great. Do not let others persuade you that it is not. Some critics have wrongly dismissed this crazy crime comedy probably because of a misplaced sense of humour or misplaced expectations. Sion Sono’s last two films, Himizu and The Land of Hope, were earnest and intense issue dramas about the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami and perhaps critics expected him to continue in this vein, to mature as they see it, but Sono is the wild man of Japanese cinema who defies expectations and conventions. With Why Don’t You Play in Hell? Sono promised us an “Entertainment Film” and he delivers entertainment in spades.
The script was written 17 years ago in a pre-digital era. In the process of dusting it off and reinterpreting it for a new age Sono has included bits about the death of 35mm with scenes of nostalgia such as the F*ck Bombers crashing with a projectionist (played by the venerable Mickey Curtis) in a community cinema and luxuriating in celluloid dreams, references to past directors, sly nods over the links between the yakuza and films and amusing passages criticising the current state of a Japanese movie industry choking on commercialism, idols and low-merit cash-ins of books and whatnot. More importantly the script is the firm and funny basis for a film that has all of the energy and fervour for spectacle that Sono is known for.
The film is high energy sugar-filled chaos from start to finish. The plot synopsis may suggest that the narrative is pretty complicated but it really isn’t. It is easy to follow and as the different characters race towards each other it is much like watching a picture flip book breeze by as the narrative hurtles towards an elaborate and gory final image dedicated to celebrating exploitation cinema.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of ‘Why Don’t You Play in Hell?’ is the way it is packed full of incident and detail but it flows effortlessly and has the smooth and quick pacing of a gag anime. The script helps in this in the way it spends a little time with a lot of people in lots of different settings. Rapid transitions between scenes and sequences are used for the narrative to corral the many characters zooming about and colliding together into a coherent story where nary a detail is wasted. This sense of speed and action is achieved visually by using every tool in the editing armoury and marshalling the camera with ninja-like precision. Everything from smash cuts, cross cuts and zooms transport us through time and space and into hilarity and the film never drags, it just keeps on becoming funnier and funnier until its bloody extended climax. Couple the fast pace with cute jingles and cool music, the excellent set and costume design, intense use of bright colours and an overall mise-en-scene that is like cinema’s visual equivalent of a sugar rush, it so good-natured and you will want to run with it to the end.
The acting from everybody is designed to milk the most entertainment from the characters but the film is not missing dramatic weight in some of the relationships. Amidst some of the mugging and through a lot of the gags is some great acting. Japanese film fans will know of Tak Sakaguchi as an action star and fight choreographer but he has a stellar scene with Hasegawa when his character Sasaki decides to quite the F*ck Bombers. The drama rippled off the screen as we saw a man, body hunched with barely contained aggression and brows knit with frustration and disappointment, fighting with the realisation that his dreams of stardom may be dashed and he needs to grow up. Fumi Nikaido is cool and sexy as Mitsuko but beneath the exterior is a girl frustrated by her circumstances and those around her as evidenced by her sullen countenance which is on display just as much as her fierce and fiery visage when she gets to run around with a swords and look positively deadly. Hasegawa, who plays the mad cinephile, delirious with the power he wields and the vision he has nurtured, is another favourite, an example of the dedication cinephiles have for their love. He, like all of the cast, give excellent and committed performances!
Much like 13 Assassins, Sono uses the beginning as a build up to a climatic ending and the main point of the film is that it is entertaining and Sono achieves it with the extended bloodbath where things get even more extreme and absurd. Gangsters and filmmakers are caught up in waves of blood carrying severed limbs which are tossed around with abandon. I have not seen so much gore since Cold Fish and the opening for Suicide Club and it is all played for laughs.
The entire film is amusing, from the insanely cute and catchy toothpaste ad (which is my phone’s ringtone) that is a sustained joke throughout the film (and a joke that actually works every time) all the way to the bloodbath at the end, the film is a hilarious experience that had me and the audience I was with laughing regularly and with more intensity as the situations became more chaotic and insane.
When the film ended I was happy. After the applause, I said out loud, “This is the best film since Citizen Kane. Better actually.” I was half serious. The film contains everything that makes cinema unique and fun. It is stuffed full of comedy and carnage, the actors and the staff are having fun and so should the audience. It’s a love-letter to films a generation of adventurous cinephiles grew up on. It uses every editing technique and channels all of Sono’s directorial skill and his penchant for the absurd as well as excellent performances to make a demented film that is beautifully insane and energetic and yet cosy and familiar. Sono aimed to make an entertainment film and he succeeds.
There was no proper place for this in the review but I love it. Ladies and gentlemen,<quietvoice>Bloodslide</quietvoice>