244. WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL? (2013)

Jigoku de naze warui

“We’re in reality, and they’re in the fantastic. Reality is going to lose!”–Ikegami, Why Don’t You Play in Hell?

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Hiroki Hasegawa, Fumi Nikaidou, Jun Kunimura, , Gen Hoshiro, , Tomochika

PLOT: Director Hirata leads a group of anarchic filmmakers who dub themselves “the Fuck Bombers”; he wants to make one great movie in his life, or die trying. Meanwhile, the Muto clan is at war with a rival bunch of yazkuza, and Boss Muto’s daughter, Mitsuko, is starting her career as a child actress with a popular toothpaste commercial. Ten years later these two plotlines collide when, through a string of coincidences, Boss Muto hires Hirata to film his raid on rival Ikegami’s headquarters, in hopes that the footage will be used in a movie that will make Mitsuko a star.

Still from Why Don't You Play in Hell? (2013)

BACKGROUND:

  • Shion Sono belonged to an amateur filmmaking group in high school and drew on those experiences for writing the script. (Future director was also a member of the group). The character of Hirata is based on an acquaintance, however, not on Sono himself. (Sono relates that he was cast in the “Bruce Lee” role in their amateur productions).
  • Sono wrote the script about fifteen years before it was produced.
  • Many viewers incorrectly assume that the yellow tracksuit Tak Sagaguchi wears is a reference to ‘s outfit in Kill Bill. In fact, both and Sono are referencing Bruce Lee’s costume from Game of Death. Sono was so irritated by the constant misidentification that he included an explicit reference to it in his next feature, Tokyo Tribe (2014).
  • Why Don’t You Play in Hell? was the winner of this site’s 6th Readers’ Choice poll.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: It’s a close call between the scene of a darling little Mitsuko singing a toothpaste commercial jingle while standing ankle deep in a pool of blood in her living room, or the rainbow-colored jets of blood that stream from yakuza hearts punctured by adult Mitsuko’s katana as she stabs her way through a field of flowers. Take your pick.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Singing in the blood, vomiting on a prayer, rainbow arterial spray

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Up until the final thirty minutes, Hell appears only mildly unusual; the characters and situations are exaggerated, but besides one bloody hallucinatory memory and a broken-bottle French kiss, not too much happens that you couldn’t see in a Japanese version of Get Shorty. When it comes time for the movie-within-a-movie to roll, things change: decapitated heads fly about like bats and stylish machismo flows as freely as blood as logic flees the scene in abject terror.


U.S. release trailer for Why Don’t You Play in Hell?

COMMENTS: Ambitious high-school director Hirata addresses the following plea to the “movie gods”: “someday I’ll make a movie that will be remembered forever. Or I’ll die trying.” That, dear readers, is what we call “foreshadowing.” After a sprawling setup that covers a decade’s worth of developments and a half-dozen major characters, Sono will execute almost his entire cast in a final, voluntary massacre. Why Don’t You Play in Hell is the ultimate pinnacle of death wish cinema, a loving, bloody tribute to the grand guignol species of filmmaking. Ultraviolence is an art form which appeals particularly to the young, and therefore Hirata’s prayer comes with a certain level of oxymoronic purity that, one predicts, will please the movies’ bloodthirsty deities. But it will take some time and sacrifice to earn Hell‘s place in cinema’s immortal heaven.

As in his four-hour epic, Love Exposure, Sono focuses extensively on plot and character in Hell‘s 130 minute running time. Hell‘s sprawling narrative is complex, but never convoluted. Every plot mechanism clicks into place with a pleasing causality, until the very end when the director lets loose the hounds of Hell. This patient procedure may frustrate some gorehounds eager to get to the “good stuff,” but it distinguishes Sono as a superior craftsman in a field that is usually left to hacks. We root for Hirati, the uncompromising, eternally childlike slacker whose enthusiasm for film far outstrips his business sense, to get his shot at immortality. Ditto for his crew—the camera girl on roller skates and her hefty boyfriend, master of the pan shot. We want Hirati to convince the reluctant Sasaki to don that yellow track suit and pick up those nunchaku one more time, and embrace his destiny as the next Bruce Lee. We even understand, if we don’t actually like, the yakuza. Boss Muto can be terrifying in his ruthlessness, but his motivation—he wants to make a film as a gift for his homicidal wife, imprisoned for defending him from would-be assassins—is absurdly honorable. His daughter, slaughtering starlet Mitsuko, is even scarier, her beauty masking a ruthlessness that is not bound by honor but by lust for fame. She’s a delightfully enticing femme fatale, born from a line of killers—as a child star, she even charmed rival boss Ikegawa. And speaking of Ikegawa, who isn’t charmed by his flattered smile when, limping down the street, bleeding and leaning against a wall, he receives the ultimate compliment from the high school kids filming his death march: “you rock!”? He, too, knows his role, and plays to the camera with panache.

So, by the time the katanas are unsheathed and buried in the bodies (and heads) of their enemies, we know these characters, and their sacrifices carry weight—the deaths, while bathed in absurdity, have meaning to us. They follow the logic of the characters, if not of reality. And from the moment the crew marches in to Ikegawa’s headquarters unannounced and sets up a camera on a tripod while the yakuza stare at them in disbelief, all the hours of character development will have been worth the wait for genre fans. Not that there haven’t been scattered shootouts and bloody set pieces up to this point—Mrs. Muto’s dispatch of the assassins using the same knife she had been using to dice carrots being just one example—but Sono proves that he knows how to set up the ultimate action climax with thirty minutes of brutal fun that never lets up (except when the director briefly yells “cut!”) A sword battle rages, combatants crashing through the shoji walls. Tak Sakaguchi roams through the melee in his yellow track suit, a free agent of destruction. Boss Muto’s immaculate white suit is unstained by digital blood as he waltzes through the carnage. Detached heads fly into the rafters. Featured players slice through extras at will and then pause to mug  for the camera, or to wrap up their individual subplots. We witness the rarely attempted nonuple decapitation. Somehow, the cameraman gets a machine gun for his dolly shot. The question quickly becomes not who will live and who will die, but who will kill whom, and whose corpse will have its head still attached.

I’ve branded some of Japan’s recent wave of ultraviolent comedic B-movies by auteurs like , , and as . Although Shion Sono’s work (and the violent comedies of his spiritual sibling ) are definitely “punk,” and certainly rely on “splatter,” they are distinct from that brand of filmmaking. The splatterpunk films rely on bodily violations but they are cartoonish, featuring the human corpus as something mechanical: breasts might be ripped from the body and launched as grenades, or a chainsaw might spout from a cheerleader’s rectum. Movies like Hell, although also featuring absurd violence as the main attraction, are far more carefully written and characterized. Sono even includes an element of satire about the Japanese film industry, with the and the yakuza representing the money guys who are romanced into financing a work of art, though that is flavoring, not the main course. The meat of the movie is, well, meat: to try to determine the number of startling ways the human body can be carved up and mutilated. But in true postmodern spirit, it’s not the characters’ suffering that’s the subject of the joke, but instead the “cinematicness” of the presentation. It is violence itself that is tweaked and deconstructed in movies of this subgenre. Despite the carnage, films like Hell are not pessimistic about human nature, not nihilistic enough to be called “black” comedies. Let’s call them “red comedies.”

Violence in the movies is rarely about suffering and cruelty and senseless hatred or other real human concerns. Instead, it’s usually a shorthand form of conflict resolution, a shameless catharsis, a way to allow good to definitively triumph over evil (or vice versa). But in Hell, neither side in the conflict are the “good guys.” The only good guys here are the filmmakers. The whole cast, therefore, is expendable as a sacrifice. Hell is a prayer, and the blood must run in order to win the blessing of the movie gods.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…for all his mixing and remixing of pop favorites, Sono doesn’t seem to take much delight in the process, and his boredom proves contagious; this is a perfunctory pastiche that crucially lacks the sense of delirium that would bring its artificial world to life.”–Guy Lodge, Variety (festival screening)

“A welcome return to the absolutely bonkers pacing and insanity of his four-hour opus Love Exposure, Sono’s not-at-all-aptly-titled Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is a film of rapturous mischief, but behind the fun dwell some sobering ideas about how we engage with movies and fetishize the medium.”–Adam Cook, Grolsch Canvas (festival screening)

“…a glorious grindhouse requiem for an entire mode of filmmaking, and perhaps also Japanese cinema’s formal response to ‘Holy Motors’… the ecstatic insanity of its final act rivals anything that the aging punk auteur has ever made…”–David Ehrlich, MTV

OFFICIAL SITE:

Play-in-Hell.com – The official site is mostly in Japanese, but if you poke around you will find plenty of stills, trailers and clips

Why Don’t You Play in Hell? – The website of Hell‘s American distributor, Drafthouse Films, has more stills, the trailer, and stuff to buy

IMDB LINK: Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (2013)

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

Why Don’t You Play in Hell? – Asian Wiki has more info, two trailers, and stills

Sono Sion announces his new movie ‘Jigoku de Naze Warui’ – Reactions from the cast about the opportunity to work with Sono

LIST CANDIDATE: WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL? (2013) –  Ryan Aarset‘s original review of the movie for this site

DVD INFO: The Drafthouse Films/Cinedigm DVD (buy) and Blu-ray (buy) include a couple of alternate trailers for Hell, trailers for other Drafthouse acquisitions, and an informative press conference with Shion Sono and an old friend from his amateur filmmaking days (now a publisher of movie-themed books in Japan).

The movie is also available for purchase or rental digitally on-demand (buy or rent on-demand).

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