In what was amongst a dozen foreign films that I had been anticipating that came out last year, comes acclaimed Japanese director Sion Sono’s latest, whom I had really only been familiar with from his 2010 effort – “Cold Fish”, which basically encapsulated everything I loved and do love about Asian cinema. It was a warped and depraved look at one very weak man’s undeliberate affiliation with the Yakuza (Asian Mob). It resembled something akin to Takashi Miike’s “Ichi The Killer” (2001) (still considered in my opinion to be one of the best examples of what is true art house Asian cinema). That and it had some rather funny comedic undertones that aren’t usually found from films of this region of the world. At least from the genre in which it came from. Then came the release of Sono’s newest – the overtly titled “Why Don’t You Play In Hell?”. I had really wanted to see this film with an audience (“Cold Fish” was so bat shit crazy in its depiction of extreme violence and nihilism I could only imagine what it would have been like seeing with a large group of people) but since it had a very short one week engagement here in Portland I never got the opportunity to. That being said, I had this one queued up on my Netflix queue and had been highly looking forward to seeing it as soon as it came out on DVD.
Sion Sono’s newest (I just recently discovered this guy’s been around making films for 30 years) revolves around a rag-tag group of teenagers called the “Fuck Bombers” who go around town with their amateur video equipment trying to capture every crime, fight, or illegal activity that takes place (think J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8”). They’re just like any other novice film crew – their ambitions seem to be much higher than their actual talent. One day they catch a fight among the two Yakuza families in town. And in atypical fashion the families let the cameras roll allowing the kids unprecedented access to their first ringside seat in which they’re able to capture it all on film. Meanwhile another plot device pops up, one involving a flashback where the daughter of one of the heads of the two families, named Mitsuko, who is widely known not just because of her affiliation of being in a Mob family, but because as a toddler she was featured in a toothpaste commercial (the last part surprisingly important as it comes up multiple times throughout the course of the film). During one chance encounter the young Mitsuko comes home one day to find that her house has been infiltrated with the “Ikegami” Yakuza clan. Except her rival mob boss father, head of the “Muto” clan, doesn’t happen to be home, and her mother basically wipes out every member of the clan and leaves the boss of the Ikegami clan for dead. Except he lives. We then jump forward 10 years later…the Fuck Bombers are still trying to find their big break in moviemaking, Mitsuko is currently being held captive by the Ikegami clan as a truce between the two families has been broken, and Muto (Mitsuko’s mob boss father) is trying desperately to rescue his daughter so that she can play a big part in a movie which he thinks will be the ultimate gift to his wife, now serving 10 years in prison for wiping out the almost entire Ikegami clan. Mitsuko does escape and enlists the help of a random guy on the street named Jiro, who she buys out to be her boyfriend for the day in order to try to help ensure her escape. Once reunited with her father Muto who tries to kill Jiro in thinking that Jiro is part of the opposing clan, hoping to save his life she tells her father that the unsuspecting Jiro is actually a famous film director, and is ready to make his “masterpiece” with her as the star, in turn saving his life. Jiro enlists the help of the now twenty somethings Fuck Bombers to try to help him make the film Mitsuko’s father demand he makes or he dies. This is the central story and plot that makes for the rest of the film as Jiro masks as a director and with the help of the Fuck Bombers film crew he sets out to make an amateur film that promises Mitsuko’s mob boss father that this will be the dream role that he’s been waiting for his daughter.
“Why Don’t You Play in Hell?” winds up being a smorgasbord of different ideas all wrapped up into one. Never relenting in its execution or letting us forget that we’re at the hands of one of Asian cinema’s most unapologetic, creative, and original directors right alongside Takashi Miike, Chan-wook Park, Takashi “Beat” Kitano, Joon-Ho Bong, Kim Jee-woon, Yimou Zhang, and Stephen Chow, with a splash of Quentin Tarantino. At the heart it feels like the director’s homage to moviemaking, as once the Fuck Bombers are employed to film the two rival Yukuza clans, we’re thrown into every process of what it requires to make a film. It’s wild and unpredictable (trust me when I say nobody is making films like this guy) and goes beyond the borders of what we know to be even remotely conventional filmmaking. What we have here is essentially a film within a film. As along with the Fuck Bombers film crew the viewer is allowed access into DIY access into the proceedings. It’s a uproariously fun, violent, unrelenting, bizarre, deranged, utterly insane crazy universe that the director creates and stays prominent in feel and tone for its entire running time. My one complaint was where his last film felt more like a serious crime drama thriller, this lays the comedy pretty thick, at times reminiscent of a hyper violent Stephen Chow (“Kung Fu Hustle”) film. Its shift toward this about halfway in comes a little unexpected and in my opinion it could have been just a good of a film without all the underlying black comedy. The last thing I should point out is the entire last half hour of the film is so batshit crazy and excessively violent it makes the bar scene with Uma Thurman from “Kill Bill Vol. 1” (2003) or the ending battle in last year’s “Dead Snow 2” look restrained and tame. So if you’re the type of person like me that’s into this kind of material, especially fans of foreign and Asian cinema, you’ll have a rollicking good time. Everyone else might have a hard time getting into this sort of thing.