Why Don't You Play In Hell? Sion Sono
Published Jan 22, 2015In this zany, blood-soaked ode to the lunatic allure of cinema, Sion Sono creates macabre comedy gold by dropping an amateur film troupe into the middle of a Yakuza clan feud. Beginning to crumble after a largely fruitless decade together, "the Fuck Bombers," as they call themselves, seize the bizarre opportunity to make the one great action movie they've always dreamed of. But that's getting ahead of things.
By virtue of its myriad idiosyncrasies and interweaving plot threads far more interested in playing with magnified archetypical characters than achieving straightforward narrative momentum, the wild appeal of Why Don't You Play In Hell? is difficult to reduce to a synopsis.
Starting ten years prior to the confluence of events that gives a bunch of maniacs the chance to realize their guiding fantasies, Sono carefully plants the seeds of what's to come in the opening act. First, we see the formal formation of the Fuck Bombers. Originally a trio of A/V club geeks, led by fanatical aspiring action movie auteur Hirata (a brilliantly manic Hiroki Hasegawa), the ramshackle crew discover their Bruce Lee-obsessed leading man (Tak Sakaguchi) while filming a street brawl.
While they're gleefully practicing their craft, Sono introduces the opposing Yakuza clans by way of boss Muto's child actress daughter, Michiko. The jingle of her famous toothpaste commercial becomes a sort of perverse earworm mantra throughout. Her promising career is derailed by scandal when a hit on her mother by a rival Yakuza boss results in the excessively brutal deaths of all the assassins, save one. The future leader of his clan, the survivor becomes obsessed with young Michiko after she finds him sitting in a pool of blood in her home and lets him escape.
Back to the present, Muto's wife is about to be released from prison and she expects her precious Michiko to have become a movie star, thus negating her guilt over what she perceives as ruining her offspring's life. Unable to control his rebellious, sociopath daughter, Muto is forced to scramble for alternatives when Michiko blows off the starring role in a legitimate film. Since even a Yakuza boss can't simply kill or buy his way into a professional production, "the movie gods," to borrow phrasing from Hirata, intervene, bringing everyone together to make their "masterpiece," whatever the cost.
A literalization of the ethos of being willing to die for your art, Sion's studiously detailed black comedy pulls off the tricky balancing act of being extremely personal while not taking itself seriously in the least. Every component of the production — from the performances to the insistent western-meets-spy-jazz score to the restless yet precise cinematography — bristles with perfectly orchestrated intensity.
Over-the-top and around-the-bend every step of the way, Why Don't You Play In Hell? doesn't lag for a second, playing fast and loose with reality while lampooning the way a camera lens acts as an irresistible ego-enlarger for people on both sides of it with a ferocious mania that's absolutely infectious.
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