Cult Cinema: Why Don't You Play In Hell?

Why Don't You Play In Hell? was released on blu-ray last week. Check out Michelle's review. 

"Care to dance?"
Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is the newest over-the-top film from cult favorite Japanese director Sion Sono. He is best known for his shocking film Suicide Club, but Sono has made over thirty films in his career—most of which can be considered outlandish and creative. While much of Japanese film can fit into this category, Sono’s films have an exuberant and feverish quality that makes them fun and compelling to watch. This latest movie can be sloppy at times, and occasionally loses its way, but it completely makes up for it with enthralling characters and one of the most insane climaxes I have ever seen.

There is a dual narrative going on with this film, with each of them starting separately and then later converging into a single cohesive storyline. On one side, we have a group of young aspiring filmmakers known as ”The Fuck Bombers” (Japan, you so silly) who’s only goal in life is to make one perfect film. They are led by Hirata (Hiroki Hasegawa), an impractical and charismatic amateur director with dreams of making an epic 35mm movie. On the other side, you have two Yakuza clans on the brink of a bloody gang war, with tensions at an all-time high. Crazy circumstances allow these two groups to come together and that’s where things get ridiculous.

Sono doesn’t adhere to normal movie conventions and he changes his style up mid-film to suit his needs. There are moments that are completely surreal but somehow it works within the context of the scene. It will go from reality to the fantastic at the drop of a hat and it’s always when it’s least expected. The look of the film is hyper colorful and high-contrast, almost like it was filmed in a souped-up Technicolor. To be honest, the atmosphere reminded me quite a bit of Quentin Tarantino’s revenge film Kill Bill and the faux-seventies score makes the similarities even more apparent. However, this may be because Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is essentially a love letter to older style filmmaking—which is the case with Kill Bill as well.

"I just can't wait for the
American remake. It has to
be good, right?" 
Because Sono doesn’t like to be confined to one genre with his films, there is a major tone shift in the third act. It transitions from a coming-of-age story to hard-boiled Yakuza action, and ends up as an all-out gore fest. I’m talking geysers of blood, severed limbs flying every which way, and brutal killings. As a side note, this film uses digital blood extensively and it never looks quite right. To be fair, I have never seen it look realistic in any film it is used in, and I hope it dies out as a special effects technique. Just use fake blood—it looks way better and it’s cheaper too! 

What does stay consistent is the humor and good-natured goofiness. Even at the darkest moments, the characters still remain witty and charming. The pervasive humor in the film grounds the audience to the story, even when everything has broken down and deconstructed itself to complete mayhem. This is the underlying basis to what makes someone enjoy a movie and have it resonate with them on a personal level.  It does help to appreciate Japanese cinema in general, however, because sometimes the silliness might be too much to bear at times.

Fans of Tarantino’s filmography will most likely love Why Don’t You Play in Hell? In some sort of weird recursive irony, this Japanese film is an homage to a Western film that is an homage to Japanese films.  If that description doesn’t make your head explode, then this movie might be right up your alley.

-Michelle Kisner