Why Don’t You Play in Hell?

Sion Sono really doesn’t get the love his films deserve on this blog.  He really is one of the most interesting Japanese directors, and his movies always are interesting to talk about, however I feel about the content.  There aren’t many filmmakers I would happily sit through a 4 hour opus about religion via guerrilla panty shot photography (the still not reviewed “Love Exposure”), so when I got my hands on his latest pair of offerings, reviewing them was a certainty.  Might be a couple of weeks before I get to the second film, but today we shall have a look at his 2013 release “Why Don’t You Play in Hell?“.

Amateur film-making troupe, “The Fuck Bombers”, led by director Hirata (Hiroki Hasegawa) have spent 10 years waiting to make their film, with their boundless enthusiasm not backed up with any luck or success.  Events from a decade ago however have set a course for their dreams to be fulfilled… somewhat.  A war between Yakuza gangs led to a number of things happening.  Gang leader Muto (Jun Kunimora) lost his wife Shizue (Tomochika) to a prison sentence when she single handedly foiled an assassination attempt.  His daughter Mitsuko (Nanoko Hara initially, later played by Fumi Nikaido) lost her much loved role on a toothpaste commercial.  Rival leader Ikegami (Shinichi Tsutsumi) on the other hand actually rose to be the leader of the other gang, although he may have lost his sanity in the process, and gained a rather unhealthy crush on Mitsuko.  Muto may be a womanising Lothario, but he does love his wife, and he has been attempting to get Mitsuko to finish making her first feature film, which needs to be ready by the time Shizue is released from prison.  One problem.  Mitsuko has grown into a very bratty young lady, and has walked off the set, and frankly the film-makers want nothing to do with her.  After running away from her father to deal with an unfaithful boyfriend, she co-opts Koji (Gen Hoshino) into helping her.  Now Koji is smitten, but when the Yakuza catch up with them and threaten to kill him for sleeping with the bosses daughter (which the poor lad hasn’t done), he somehow gets out of it by promising to make the film.  Of course, he hasn’t the slightest idea what to do, but not to worry, because co-incidence brings “The Fuck Bombers” to his rescue.  And so begins the filming of a most unlikely movie-within-a-movie, with two Yakuza gangs having their final showdown in from of the cameras.  Things get bloody and fatal!

Silly, loud, garish, gory and fun.  I think that pretty much sums this film up.  Basically a 15+ year old script that has been dusted off, updated a little, and given life.  And this means both good things and bad things.  It does mean this is a lot lighter than much of Sono’s work, and cannot be accused of being overly pretentious.  On the other hand, one can’t help being a little disappointed once you are finished having fun with it.

Many reviewers have compared this to Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” movies, and to some extent there is some truth in the comparison.  It is a love letter to a certain sort of Japanese exploitation cinema, albeit with an irreverence that sometimes QT fails to deliver on.  On the other hand, I am fairly sure some of these commentators just saw the “Game of Death” Yellow tracksuit on one of the characters and allowed their reviews to write themselves, because in terms of story/plot, these films have nothing on common.  Those involved are having a huge amount of fun here, although whether you find the over the top mugging of some of the actors (I am mainly talking about you Mr Tsutsumi!) bearable really depends on your mood.  No-one is playing it entirely with a straight face, and it is hard not to get caught up in this infectious mess.

However, whilst the film has been helped undoubtedly by the revisiting by it’s creator (the addition of the subtext about the death of 35mm film, and the quality of the CGI and SFX), it still feels like it is some homework by someone of promise that has been handed in some decade or more too late.  Not only is the film clearly 30 minutes too long, but there’s a bunch of story work that could have done with a lot of sorting out.  After the initial setup, we jump forward 10 years in time, and the fate of a character is hardly mentioned.  The backstory of Koji is hardly even set up, which makes his character actually rather pointless (he could easily have been combined into Hirata’s role).  The whole idea that there’s a film that has to be made before Shizue is released from prison is never given a chance to come to any kind of fruition.  It just feels a little thrown together, and maybe a little too anarchic.  If it wasn’t Sono behind the lens, one wonders if I would be more a little harsher on the final product.

Which is a shame, because there is so much to love about the film.  It is funny, and it does feel genuine.  Fumi Nikaido is just utterly fantastic (although in terms of on-screen minutes, feels criminally underused).  I wish we had seen more of Tomochika too.  The film uses sound and vision so well, even managing to make the most annoying (albeit catchy) toothpaste advertising song an integral part of the piece.  It’s total nonsense, but boy it is a fun way to lose 2 hours.  It won’t appeal to everyone, but if you are a fan of daft Japanese exploitation films I think you’ll have a good time with this.  I am going to grant it a Recommended rating, but one tinged with some frustration, because I know with a little bit more care, this could have been a really special film, rather than a minor movie in the director’s CV.

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