Tag Archives: Tak Sakaguchi

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

LIST CANDIDATE: WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL? (2013)

Jigoku de naze warui

DIRECTOR

FEATURING: Jun Kunimura, Fumi Nikaidô, , Hiroki Hasegawa, , Gen Hoshino

PLOT:  A renegade amateur filmmaking crew encounters Yakuza mayhem and exploits it for cinematic value.

Stil from Why Don't You Play in Hell? (2013)
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST:  There’s some veritable, unambiguous oddness here—a buffet of sorts. The absurdity, of the cartoonish, chaotic variety, comes in the form of sweeping gesticulations of jokey but sumptuous violence and sardonic romanticism.

COMMENTS:  Singing kids on television ads give us a chuckle, but maybe there are some creative minds in the world, busy talking about movies, possibly having a laugh from time to time. Introducing: “the Fuck Bombers,” a Cecil B. Demented-type of film crew hell bent on the art form as its own explicit end. They value DIY ethics, dedication, and sacrifice for the greater artistic good.  Just keep going and you will be cool, lead director Hirata (Hiroki Hasegawa) implies while shooting lifelong stunt actor and Bruce Lee aficionado Sasaki (Tak Sakaguchi) during an opening street fight sequence. Hirata says he’ll die for movies, but what if he was faced with that ultimate sacrifice in real life, cameras rolling?  Enter roller-skating Miki, king of dolly shots, and his partner in crime Tanigawa, a handheld camera expect, to accomplish Hirata’s filmic needs. After a prayer to the movie gods, it’s time for action.

Now there’s that asininely charming ad for teeth-brushing that keeps coming up; gnashing, gnarling, smiles wide. Everyone knows the song because it’s sung by little Mitsuko Muto, whose dad (Boss Muto) is now in a feud with Ikegami’s Yakuza over an attempted bloodletting, ending with a surprise retaliation from Muto’s crazed wife Shizue. Blood squirts in gallons onto the faces of onlookers.  Hirata looks through the camera:  “It’s just like a movie. Really? Is it cool?” Ikegami sees Mistuko in a living room full of blood, let by Shizue’s hand, and he asks for her autograph while wounded on the ground, but she has no sympathy. Meanwhile, Shizue yells at the presiding officer now holding her in custody over her murderous rampage, infuriated over the possibility that her daughter’s acting future might be halted.

Boss Muto’s plan for his wife’s release involves making the “greatest movie of all time,” starring his daughter Mistuko. It’s kimonos for all once Ikegami (Shin’ichi Tsutsumi) snaps to it and readies for the final blows coming from his nemesis Boss Muto. Meanwhile, the Bombers release “The Blood of the Wolves,” an amateur samurai movie, and are inspired by an aging 35mm projectionist. Muto, the pin-striped, gold chained Yakuza boss, is now at war with Ikegami, whose obsession with Mitsuko has now taken odd ends, as she’s on the run with naïve Koji as he pretends to be her boyfriend for the day. More strife with the Bombers comes when action stars clash with visionary directors, but Sasaki in his yellow jump suit finds redemption in his ultimate performance, a bloody Yakuza battle filmed by Hirata and Koji. The latter humorously projectile vomits (with excessive force, mind you). A script sent by the movie gods saves him from yakuza henchmen and their intensive beatings. “Make it 4 HMI screens,” says Koji to his new film crew, ordered by Muto himself to commemorate his history as a yakuza. The action is the real life battle between gangs, choreographed by Hirata, starring Mitsuko, Sasaki, and others.  “Life’s more fun on the shady side,” says Hirata.

There’s a bounty of violence and gore . Hirata insists to an excited Muto that, to honor Japanese culture, only swords should be used during fight scenes.  “Only swords?  How can I say no?” responds an eager Muto. The limitation is called off in the heat of battle when guns blaze– but why the hell not in this suggestively carnal environment? Just do it now, because there’s no time for a script.  And cut, reset, now action! At some point Koji is inebriated, and limbs are flying everywhere. Mitsuko whispers, in another line of what has become an ongoing series of tender moments during chaotic killings, “if I met someone I love, maybe acting wouldn’t be important to me.” The moments of gore-filled hilarity compare to an Evil Dead movie. Is this 13 Assassins with movie gods, yakuza, and meta-fanatical, filmic martyrdom?

The intimacy is broken up by cops, but there are some twists. Hirata ends up on the run, and in one of the most indelible scenes he melts into pure meta-fictional glory. With the eagerness of a young mind picking up a camera for the first time, Sono’s Hell is a fast-paced, bloody, and humorous romp through the deranged world of the filmmaker as an artist. Just pick up the camera and do it, seems to be the message.

CAPSULE: DEADBALL (2011)

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Mari Hoshino

PLOT: A boy with a (literally) killer fastball grows up to become a vigilante, is imprisoned, and is blackmailed into playing on the jailhouse baseball squad despite the fact that he has sworn never to use the fatal pitch again.

Still from Deadball (2011)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: strikes out with this charmless screwball baseball-gore comedy.

COMMENTS: Deadball lost me at the first special effect. Dared to throw some real heat, preteen pitching prodigy Jubeh jumps into a green screen stratosphere and launches his best ball from a mile up. The fatal results are expressed by an extremely fake CGI fireball laid over the film, followed by an extremely weak and thin CGI blood splatter from the victim, followed by a closeup of a subpar latex mask with a distorted eyeball lolling off to one side and stage blood bubbling up through a puncture wound in the forehead. Sure, we know the movie is cheap, but there is a real laziness in this scene, a rushed “that’s good enough” feeling. I got the sense that Deadball doesn’t think too highly of its target audience, especially since the rest of the movie—with its incoherent plot and jokes about puke-eating and body cavity searches—seems to have been written by a team of particularly immature twelve-year-old boys during breaks on the playground. Everything about the movie is cheap. Locations are minimal; the prison set Jubeh gets remanded to after he turns into a vigilante looks like a modified warehouse, and the warden’s office looks like a garage (there’s even a car parked in it). Costumes are also threadbare, although when it comes to the opposing team, a squad of female delinquents uniformed in black leather bikinis and ripped fishnet stockings, there might not be so many complaints. Nazis play a role in the plot (what, the Japanese can’t plunder their own fascist history for villains?), so swastika armbands offer more cost-conscious wardrobe choices, while a prop portrait of a vaguely Asian Hitler that looks like it came from a Yokohoma thrift shop is an unintentionally amusing lowlight. As we’ve already discussed, the special effects are bottom-of-the-barrel, even for splatterpunk (which usually prides itself on its crimson-tinged money shots, if nothing else). The digital blood here is just way too voluminous, and way too cartoonish: a geyser of a nosebleed, in particular, is simultaneously nauseating and risible. By the time they trotted out the giant robot in the ninth inning, I just didn’t care about the outcome anymore. Deadball‘s lone asset is Tak Sakaguchi, who somehow manages to convincingly play a teenager even in his thirties. For whatever reason, his character is modeled on Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name,” right down to the Navajo duster who wears slung across his shoulders. There’s a running joke about how he always manages to have a cigarette ready that’s one of the few gags that actually works (the other notable example being an extremely silly moment when he punches his dominatrix warden through the phone). Sakaguchi manages to keep some kind of dignity in the film, and considering the script requires him to fighting a transvestite using a salt-shaker full of MSG as a weapon, that’s a testament to the actor’s inherent heroic charisma. Sushi Typhoon keeps grinding out these DVDs, and they’re showing no signs of stopping. Deadball may suffer at my keyboard because it is the latest in a long line of these gory assembly line B-imports, but I can honestly say that this movie, in particular, annoyed the hell out of me. Hell, I’d rather watch an A-Rod at bat than see Deadball again; they both cheat the audience, but at least Rodriguez is trying.

Deaball is a reworking of an earlier Yamaguchi film entitled Battlefield Baseball (2003), that also starred Sakaguchi. That one reportedly had an even lower budget than Deadball.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Filmed in the bloody style of Battle Royale and fueled by a rowdy cast of hilariously psychotic characters, the film is nothing but splatter-action that at times literally sizzles with shamelessly low budget yet playful visual effects.”–Maggie Lee, Hollywood Reporter (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: MUTANT GIRLS SQUAD (2010)

DIRECTED BY: , Yoshihiro Nishimura,

FEATURING: Yumi Sugimoto, Suzuka Morita, Yuko Takayama,

PLOT: On her 16th birthday a bullied teenage girl discovers she’s really a half-breed mutant with

Still from Mutant Girls Squad (2010)

a claw for a hand; she joins up with others of her kind and must decide if she will help them destroy humanity and usher in an age of mutants.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: At least one of these new wave Japanese  movies will eventually make the List; it’s just a question of which one can raise its head (or more appropriately, spout its geyser of blood) above the mad crowd. This entry in the cycle has the advantage of being a collaboration between three of the top talents in the sleazy subgenre—Noboru (RoboGeisha) Iguchi, Yoshihiro (Tokyo Gore Police) Nishimura, and Tak (Yakuza Weapon) Sakaguchi—as well as being bat-guano insane in its own right.

COMMENTS: You’ll probably know whether you want to see Mutant Girls Squad or not on the basis of the still above. Three of Sushi Typhoon’s top directors each handle a thirty minute chapter of this thinly-plotted, tripped-out triptych, and each is intent on outdoing the other in outrageousness. It’s a testament to the anything-goes interchangeability of the mutant-bioweaponry genre that you probably wouldn’t realize three hands were in this pie without being told; each of the directors promiscuously mixes up styles within his own segment, from teeth-chattering action sequences to absurd organ-oriented comedy to a terrorist music video medley mixing “Ave Maria,” calypso dancing, and suicide bombings. This filmmaking procedure may result in a certain level of discontinuity (schoolgirl Rin discovers and activates her mutant claw in the first chapter, and then goes through the mutant awakening procedure all over again in the succeeding segment), but that’s not too much of an issue in a style that makes comic books look like hardcore realism by comparison. The loosely sketched storyline involving a war between humans and mutants is just a clothesline on which the filmmakers hang as many “WTF?” moments as they can. To wit, you get soldiers equipped with masks that fire bullets from their noses; a baker ironically carved up into a baguette; a mutant pop with deformed nipples and genitalia; a flashback to a decapitated head on a birthday cake; a final boss with two giant boobs on either side of his head that shoot acidic milk; and so on, and so on. All this craziness becomes so expected, in fact, that it’s the quieter touches that stand out: in context, it’s actually more bizarre that the mutant cheerleader girl wears a bright yellow sweater reading “I [heart] Texas” than that she can extrude a chainsaw from her rectum. Of course, if you’re familiar with these movies at all, you know they’re not intended for anyone squeamish around blood and guts. Squad lives up to its forebears with all the expected exploding heads, absurdly abundant fountains of blood jetting from decapitated necks, and other demonstrations of the infinitely malleable meatishness of our all-too-frail human forms. Mutant Girls Squad‘s only real ambition is to zip from one outlandish, grotesque image to the next, and to do so as fast as possible so its audience never has the slightest opportunity to get bored. It achieves that ambition, but the effect is like scarfing down a pile of candy on Halloween; it’s tasty while you’re guzzling it down, but you might feel a little sick and guilty when the feast’s over. You also might feel that you’ve been robbed of a proper nutritious meal.

Since Meatball Machine essentially founded the mutant splatterpunk genre in 2005, Japanese studios have been churning out these chaep, absurdly bloody vehicles at the rate of 3-4 videos per year. In 2010 Nikkatsu Studios (makers of yakuza potboilers and pink films, and the company that infamously fired for making movies that were too weird) spun off a sub-label called “Sushi Typhoon” to pump out these b-movies and market them to the lucrative Western market.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The insanity and inventiveness is absolutely over-the-top.”–Zev Toledano, The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre

LIST CANDIDATE: YAKUZA WEAPON (2011)

DIRECTED BY: ,

FEATURING: Tak Sakaguchi, Shingo Tsurumi, Mei Kurokawa, Jun Murakami

PLOT: One-man army Shozo is called back from mercenary work in South America after the Still from Yazkua Weapon (2011)

death of his father, a powerful yakuza boss. He sets out to reclaim control of his gang, eventually joining an experimental government program that implants robotic weapons into his body.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Combining elements of splatterpunk, gangster intrigue, and science-fiction, Yakuza Weapon is too insane to not at least consider for the List. In some ways, it’s only weird in that peculiarly “Japanese” way of other action films of its ilk, but at times it moves into its own truly bizarre territory that seems without precedent.

COMMENTS: With the belief that if he’s not afraid of death nothing can kill him, Shozo is a seemingly immortal killer who gave up his yakuza family in favor of mercenary work in South America (or something). He returns after hearing of his father’s death and seeks to wrest control of his territory back from Kurawaki, a sleazy business executive planning to unite all the gangs under his control. After various crazy battles and the kidnapping of his fiancee Nayoko (a strong fighter herself), Shozo is finally bested by a rocket launcher and helicopter minigun. He is re-built as a weaponized cyborg by secret government agents, who use him to take down Kurawaki and his army of drugged-out henchmen. Eventually he has to fight his long-lost blood brother, Testu, who has some unique robotic firearms of his own.

Replete with gravity-defying fight scenes, intense bouts of yelling, a host of kooky characters, and plenty of unreal splatterpunk action, Yakuza Weapon is entertaining through and through, in large part because of its weirdness. Everyone is operating at high volume and high energy levels, especially co-director/co-writer/stuntperson/star Tak Sakaguchi, who literally broke his back for this movie during a particularly impressive one-take group fight scene. The low-budget and rushed shooting time are sometimes apparent (though the CGI for the yakuza weapon-bits looks pretty good), but the filmmakers’ stunt experience leads to an array of fantastic and often hilarious action scenes.

The story is stock stuff for this genre, with revenge and gang rivalries and robotic appendages and ridiculous drama not surprising anyone. But, the script is definitely strong, producing interesting characters and tight pacing that elevates Yakuza Weapon above many other competitively crazy splatterpunk-type films. There are some truly oddball characters—notably Kurawaki’s giggly brother and Shozo’s adorably clueless sidekicks—and a couple of completely unexpected moments. Nayoko throws a boat, Shozo collapses an entire building because he doesn’t want to walk up stairs, and Tetsu battles using the weaponized (and naked) corpse of his dead sister while he’s hyped up on some neon blue wonder-drug. That last part is definitely the weirdest thing in the entire movie.

Whether or not it turns out to be Certifiably weird, this film is a helluva lot of fun, and definitely memorable. The filmmakers’ obvious enthusiasm for the project shines through, making the audience smile widely as grown men shout nonsense and digitally-added blood splatters against the walls. It’s a beautiful thing.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this is a film that constantly ignores Kurawaki’s injunction to ‘face reality’ (a principle that Kurawaki himself hardly upholds), instead preferring devil-may-care irrationality – and if its ambition far outpaces its budget, that only makes it resemble its hero, who is funny precisely for being dumb, hyperviolent, and far too big for his boots.”–Anton Bitel, Eye For Film (contemporaneous)