Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (Japan, 2013) [Japan Cuts/NYAFF 2014]

Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is based on a fifteen year old screenplay written by director Sion Sono that he reportedly didn’t make many changes to before shooting. He has described the film as being similar in style to Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill (2003/2004).

An amateur film crew calling themselves the F**k Bombers spends ten years doing almost nothing and their “action star” Sasaki (Tak Sakaguchi) decides to leave. By a weird twist of fate, Hirata (Hiroki Hasegawa) and his crew are asked to make a movie for yakuza boss Muto (Jun Kunimura) and his spoiled daughter Michiko (Fumi Mikaido). Muto wants to make a spectacular film for his wife Shizue (Tomochika) who is being released from prison after ten years and taking the fall for the gang in a war. When Michiko was little she made an unforgettable toothpaste commercial and Shizue has dreamed about her daughter becoming a famous actress.

The catch for the film crew is that the movie will include a real battle between the Muto clan and the Ikegami clan led by Ikegami (Shin’ichi Tsutsumi), who in the ten years since taking over has his men dressed in kimonos and operating in an old-style house similar to the samurai. Ikegami was involved on the attack on Muto’s home that led to Shizue going to prison and has a weird obsession with Michiko. Both Muto and Ikegami agree to some choreography prior to their very real battle that they agreed will involve only the use of katanas.

Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is a bloody bizarro/comedy that seems more suited to the old midnight grindhouse. It is similar to the Kill Bill films in its over the top violence, but lacking in their savvy. The story comes across a bit disjointed, with our film crew almost disappearing for a good chunk of the movie, and Sakaguchi spends most of his screen time in a yellow jumpsuit just like Bruce Lee’s and with a bad haircut, to boot. I found Hirata to be verging on psychotic, which actually was fantastic.

The yakuza storyline was a good one. While comical at times, they were still sinister enough to keep things interesting, even when gang members were operating cameras and sound equipment. I found Ikegami especially intriguing with his fixation on appearing as samurai, although I found his odd preoccupation with Michiko disturbing. At times it seemed sexual while at others it was paternal. I did appreciate this aspect, however, as it’s not a Sono film without something disturbing. As for the special effects, they were plentiful, though clearly CGI once the blood started to spray—and spray, it did.

Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is a fun film overall that I thoroughly enjoyed but there were some tedious spots that could have been left on the cutting room floor. One thing I walked away from this film with is Sono’s obvious love of 35mm film (which I share), as there was clearly a lament at the loss of actual film in favor of digital video. This is not one of Sono’s best efforts, but it is still worth viewing, especially for hardcore fans of his work.

Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is showing at Japan Society on July 10. This screening is a co-presentation of the New York Asian Film Festival and JAPAN CUTS. The full schedule for NYAFF 2014 can be found here; the JAPAN CUTS schedule can be found here.