Japanese director Sion Sono has, with Why Don't You Play In Hell?, merged his distinctive cinematic style (sudden and shocking acts of violence, classical music, ultra-weird characters, an extremely off-kilter sense of humour) with his fondness for Japanese and Chinese cinema in this bloody, off-the-wall meta-joke. It's one of the most explicitly entertaining films he's made to date, and if it doesn't really make much sense at the end of it, that doesn't discount the two-hours-plus of gore and silliness that came before it. It's the sort of weird stuff that he excels at creating, and at least isn't as leaden as Himizu ended up being.
|Director: Sion Sono
Stars: Jun Kunimura, Hiroki Hasegawa, Gen Hoshino, Fumi Nikaid˘, Shin'ichi Tsutsumi
Writer: Sion Sono
The Fuck Bombers is a cinema club, made up of wannabe filmmakers including director Hirata (Hiroki Hasegawa), two camera operators (one "proper" and one handheld cinematographer) and lead actor Sasaki (Tak Sakaguchi) who does a decent Bruce Lee impression. Hirata always talks about making one truly great film, rather than a series of cash jobs like most other directors. He prays to the "God of Movies" that he makes the best film ever, even if he dies making it (yeah, you can see where this one is heading). But that's the problem: he's always talking about it rather than doing it.
His chance comes when a fortuitous and extremely convoluted series of events turn in his favour. Two yakuza clans have been at war with each other for at least ten years. Taizo Muto (Jun Kunimura) is the father of Mitsuko Muto (Fumi Nikaido) who found success with a toothpaste commercial when she was young, and now as an adult is looking to break into the film industry as a lead actress. Muto promises his wife Shizue (Tomochika), who is presently incarcerated, that Mitsuko will star in a movie. Taizo's yakuza rival Ikegami (Shin'ichi Tsutsumi) was (creepily) infatuated with Mitsuko from that toothpaste commercial, and is even more so now, ten years later - hey, at least she's of legal age now, right? Mitsuko escapes from her father under the pretense of falling in love with loser Koji (Gen Hoshino), but it turns out that Koji has been in love with Mitsuko ever since he saw that ad as a young boy (less creepy than Ikegami's infatuation, but still...).
Somehow Mitsuko and Koji work out a truce with Muto and Ikegami to film an imminent raid on Ikegami's compound, with Mitsuko as the lead, but they need a proper film crew to capture all the bloody carnage. Cue the Fuck Bombers.
As you might have figured, Why Don't You Play In Hell? (from now on referred to as WDYPIH?) is packed full of characters and a packed plotline, leading up to the inevitable bloodbath. It feels so convoluted, considering that at its core this is a fairly straightforward, if heartfelt, look at the Japanese filmmaking industry. There are a whole lot of inconsequential characters, some played by Sono regulars including Hiroyuki Onoue, Tetsu Watanabe and Megumi Kagurazaka, but at its core WDYPIH? is really the story of father and daughter reconciling in the middle of a clan war that just happens to be the basis of what is essentially a snuff film. It's an intriguing concept, one that would have worked better if Sono had cut some of the extraneous characters and scenes and kept things tight. But of course that's not his M.O.
The Fuck Bombers have a tremendous enthusiasm for film - particularly "proper" film shot on 35mm that is practically fetishised here - and that translates through in WDYPIH?, in the way Sono aggressively shoots his action scenes, makes liberal use of zooms, whips and freeze-frames, and the delirious and exaggerated use of comedy. He packs in some absurdly wonderful shots, including a floor that's completely covered in blood, and in Koji's cocaine-fueled rainbow dream of Mitsuko. Unfortunately, as is the case with a lot of Sono's films, WDYPIH? is overstuffed and overlong, robbing the film of its momentum at numerous turns.
At least the final battle is worth the wait. The practical effects are good, but are undermined by a reliance on CGI blood spray, fake bulletholes and smoke. We get it, it's much easier to film, but nothing beats practical effects and squibwork, which is why only The Raid and The Raid 2 (and, arguably, Born To Fight) have ever come close to matching the delirious and awesome tactile carnage of Hard-Boiled. Apparently inspired by Bruce Lee's unfortunate Game Of Death, more people will compare this sequence to the House of Blue Leaves battle in Kill Bill Vol. 1, particularly where it uses music that is highly reminiscent of "Battle Without Honor Or Humanity" and, with its abundant limb slicing swordplay, bears more resemblance to Tarantino's film than the dodgy cut'n'paste job that represented Lee's unfinished film. Of course, given that Tarantino was referencing bloodspurters like the Lone Wolf and Lady Snowblood series as well as various Shaw Brothers productions, it's fair to say the industry self-referencing has come full-circle, from East to West and back East again.
Performances are hard to gauge in a film of such extremes. Japanese film industry stalwart Jun Kunimura does his usual tough guy shtick, albeit infused with a tenderness for his daughter. Sakaguchi is fun as a Bruce Lee ripoff, but Hasegawa goes completely for broke as the Fuck Bomber director, dialling every scene up to eleven, and Gen Hoshino plays such an annoying sad-sack character that he almost immediately becomes tiresome. WDYPIH?'s best performances come from Nikaido as the aspiring but self-admittedly dumb actress and Tsutsumi's infatuated mob boss, who's so obsessed with Misuko that he has a massive picture of her on the wall and makes the most delightfully weird faces when she's around.
Though the plot is unnecessarily convoluted, Sono infuses Why Don't You Play In Hell? with so much genuine appreciation of filmmaking and affection for the people who make it all happen, that it's hard not to get swept up in the silliness. There is also enough blood and guts to satisfy the bloodthirsty, and it's shot well enough that it's easy to overlook the film's shortcomings. It's another typically weird Sono production, a vision that's uniquely and unmistakably his.