Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (2013)

Rating: B+

Dir: Sion Sono
Star: Jun Kunimura, Fumi Nikaidô, Gen Hoshino, Hiroki Hasegawa

Hoo-boy. I’m not sure where I can even start with this. Even by the standards of Sono, this is all over the place. Oh, make no mistake, it’s a joy to experience, and I was left with a big, goofy grin on my face. I’m just not sure I can explain why. At least, except in a way that will have readers reaching for the “close browser tab” button and calling in a wellness check on me. I guess it’s about a feud between two Yakuza clans. Except, the head of one, Boss Muto (Kunimura, whom you may recognize, from getting his head lopped off by Lucy Liu in Kill Bill, for questioning her parentage) has… other plans. 

Specifically, he wants a movie made, starring his daughter, Mitsuko (Nikaidô), as a present for his wife. She’s coming out of prison after ten years for killing three assassins sent after Muto by the other clan. The fourth survived, is now its leader, and is fixated on Mitsuko, so is willing to play along with the movie concept. To make it, Mitsuko’s boyfriend Koji (Hoshino), who has had a crush on her since seeing her in a toothpaste commercial, calls on Hirata (Hasegawa). He is the head of a small group of wannabe film-makers called the “Fuck Bombers”, who have been failing to make an actual feature for more than a decade. Oh, and the film Muto wants is going to climax in genuine, all-out war against his rivals.

I think that covers most of the plot, though there’s a lot going on. Despite running 129 minutes, it feels insanely busy, yet it’s an insanity which reels you in relentlessly. Things begin in almost grounded fashion, Hirata spotting low-level gang member, Sasaki, and promising to make him the Japanese Bruce Lee. Which is funny, because Sasaki is played by Tak Sakaguchi, who has as much right to that title as anyone. Then, by the end, you’re watching Mitsuko aquaplaning across the floor on a sea of blood, during a sequence which makes The Bride vs. The Crazy 88’s look like a Disney production. I mean, a guy gets a sword through the head, and keeps staggering around, like a wounded unicorn. 

It feels like a response to Kill Bill – partly affectionate, partly a scathing spoof of excess. For instance, Sasaki’s yellow jumpsuit is as much Tarantino as Lee, and the music definitely borrows from Santa Esmeralda. But it goes increasingly meta – the title of Hirata’s film being Why Don’t You Play in Hell – and I suspect was an inspiration for One Cut of the Dead. It’s not quite as elegantly well-structured, and there’s some room potentially to tighten things up. [The subplot about the rival clan renouncing foreign ways and returning to kimonos, goes nowhere] It’s still a glorious, excessive cinematic love-letter to cinema, and the joy to be found in making your own damn movie, purely for the fun of it.