Coming from director-provocateur Sion Sono, who wrote the script 17 years prior to the film’s production, watching Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is akin to slamming a handful of uppers, chasing them down with a flaming shot of Sambuca, and diving, whilst laughing manically, into a samurai sword swinging mosh-pit. It’s a madcap orgy of violence, a blood soaked delight, and by the time the credits roll you won’t quite know what’s hit you.
Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is far from a perfect film. The set-up is exhaustingly long. It’s an hour before you get the meat of the film, quite literally, as arms, legs, and heads are loped off, and fountains of blood spurt out of severed arteries in a showdown that clearly nods, in a meta kind of way, to Tarantino’s equally protracted restaurant blood bath in Kill Bill Vol. I. But, this is easily forgiven, because the film is such a riot.
Drawing from the samurai and yakuza b-movies of Japan’s yesteryear, Sono injects his film with a frenzied mania that makes for a deliciously visceral experience. Weaving three stories that crash together in a climax that will be difficult to forget, Why Don’t You Play in Hell? spans the course of a decade, and follows a rag-tag group of adolescent, guerrilla filmmakers, who go by the name Fuck Bombers and are led by cinephile Hirata (Hiroki Hasegawa), whose dream is to make the greatest film of all time; preferably on 35mm.
Running parallel, and to the score of an infectious toothpaste advert, is the story of Muto (Jun Kunimura), head of a yakuza clan and father to Mitsuko (Fumi Nikaidô), child TV-ad star, whose wife, soon to be released after serving a ten year bid for gruesome murder of a bunch of Yakuza hit men, wants nothing more than to see her daughter on the silver screen. All the while tensions are rising between Muto and rival Yakuza gang, headed by Ikegami (Shin’ichi Tsutsumi), who holds a perverse adoration for his nemesis’s daughter.
It all comes to a head when fortune falls the way of the Fuck Bombers, and Muto employs them to make a film that features his daughter in the title role. When the young filmmakers learn of Muto’s plan to raid the Ikegami Yakuza clan, they seize the opportunity to blend fiction with reality, and capture the showdown in all its bloody authenticity… Violence ensues.
Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is lighter than many of Sion Sono’s other films. It jumps between quick fire and slow, drawn out editing. The comedy is loud and played in a near constant state of hysteria, and some of the set pieces are a marvel of gory action, entering it into cult fare territory. But, this isn’t to say that it lacks depth as the film broadly addresses Japan’s relationship with cinema, the movement away from film, and perhaps even the cultural clash between traditional & modern Japan, and the future of its youth. It’s barking mad, and clearly born from the mind of an eccentric and versatile filmmaker; everything you could want for a perfect Friday night film.