Monthly Must See: Sion Sono's Wacky 'Why Don't You Play in Hell?'
by Alex Billington
November 14, 2014
Just watch this film! If you love cinema, if you love filmmaking, if you love wacky Japanese cinema, if you love Tarantino, if you love supporting foreign films, if you love wacky, fun coming-of-age stories, if you love Japanese culture - don't walk, run to see this film (even if that means just running to your living room). Our latest Monthly Must See feature is one titled Why Don't You Play in Hell?, one of the recent films from Japanese auteur Sion Sono (he also recently made Tokyo Tribe which we flipped over at Fantastic Fest). The concept for this movie is basically: a young, renegade film crew becomes embroiled with a yakuza clan feud. Or: a bunch of wannabe filmmakers end up filming an actual yakuza war. It's crazy, but so much fun.
At age 52, Sion Sono is an accomplished Japanese filmmaker with over 20 films on his filmography. Some of his other breakouts include The Room, Cold Fish and Love Exposure - if you aren't familiar with his work yet, you might as well start now and watch any film you can find. If you're looking for a good way to get into Sono, just toss in Why Don't You Play in Hell?. The film first premiered at Fantastic Fest 2013 where it received rave reviews before being picked up by Drafthouse Films for US distribution this year. It's now playing in select theaters and is also available on VOD and needs all the support it can get. While critics and Japanese cinema fans love Sono, he's still not that well known over here but hopefully that will soon change.
Why watch this film? What makes it so good?
First things first, the name of the group of filmmakers is "Fuck Bombers". And the movie ends with "Fuck Bombers forever!" That alone should be enough to convince you that this film is totally badass and worth your time, but there's so much more to it. Sono's Why Don't You Play in Hell? is a wacky but heartfelt love letter to cinema mixed with a gory yakuza tale of honor, almost like a mash-up of Cinema Paradiso and Kill Bill. It even has a Tarantino vibe, in the way it's shot and in the way cinema is a part of every scene. The script isn't polished and the story can sometimes be a bit lackluster, but right when things seem to be getting dull it whips back around or something crazy goes down. It's hard not to smile every time it happens.
The film does get a bit wacky, wild and gory in the final act, before wrapping up on a nice note. If you can't handle gore, even though it's obviously fake, there are a few moments that may be tough to get past, but the heart of the story is what matters. My interpretation of this film is that Sono really wanted to reach deep into his heart and soul, and make a movie that represented his feelings towards cinema inspired by the way he was raised (to be a renegade filmmaker). Sono's sensibilities are still intact, however the film feels like something more profound, something that represents his entire career, everything he has believed in. And if anything, I hope this film inspires more filmmakers, more cinephiles, to be passionate and never give up.
I love the Cannes shirt that the main director wears (seen below), and the way the camera crew just pops up during all the best shots. There will be some badass yakuza action and all of a sudden the camera crew flies in from the side. It's almost an inside joke that they just put in the movie, but it actually works within the context. Plus the way everyone interacts together like it was all one big loving film set, there's something very smart and sweet about the characters and how they are handled. It's a film that reminds everyone why we love movies, but does so in a way that is earnest and heartwarming (even when using buckets of blood), reminding you that making movies is hard work but the payoff is always worth it. "Fuck Bombers forever!"
What are other critics saying about it?
Film critic Alonso Duralde for The Wrap raved in his review: "Sion Sono's Why Don't You Play in Hell? delivers adrenaline, chutzpah, and fake blood by the bucket-load, continually confounding audience expectations while offering up a twisted valentine to moviemaking in general and the disappearing medium of 35mm film in particular. It gushes with both viscera and manic energy, but fans of intensely outrageous movies shouldn't let the former scare them away from the latter."
Film critic Andrew O'Hehir for Salon.com also praises the wacky film: "Watch five minutes of Why Don’t You Play in Hell? and you’ll swear it’s the greatest thing you’ve ever seen. Over the course of two hours plus, it’s a bit much – or for some viewers, a whole lot too much, like an entire Japanese action movie made by Bugs Bunny. But Sono is so pure of heart, so full of enthusiasm and insane imagination and unwavering loyalty to the movie gods, long after the rest of us have stopped believing, that I forgive him everything."
Intriguing comparisons to the entire cinema industry from Nick Schager in his review on The A.V. Club: "From sudden zooms and abrupt freeze frames to lengthy tracking shots, slow-motion, and CG-enhanced fantasy interludes, Why Don’t You Play In Hell? boasts an aesthetic insanity to match its uninhibited narrative. That go-for-broke spirit enlivens Sono’s film, which, when not indulging in wild violence, also concerns itself with issues of cinematic representation, history, and preservation, the latter via repeated proclamations about celluloid’s superiority to video."
Friend of the site Vince Mancini in his Film Drunk review from Fantastic Fest: "Shion Sono’s Why Don’t You Play in Hell is basically the kind of midnight movie you expect to see at Fantastic Fest, a wacked out, over-the-top love letter to 35 mm film, about a filmmaking troupe called 'The F*ck Bombers' getting twisted up in a gang war between rival Yakuza clans over a little girl from a toothpaste commercial. The surprise of it is that it’s not just weird and goofy, it’s also really good. A wacky, slapstick parody that’s also a gangster caper and a romantic comedy, it’s like Mel Brooks meets Guy Ritchie, juggling genres like flaming chainsaws, and I’ve never seen anything quite like it."
Another unique comment from IMDb user "capo-365-829602" from his review: "The more movies of Sion Sono's that I see, the more I realize that he is one of the greatest artists working today. It's a big claim and I don't like to kiss ass, but the man is one of the few people working in entertainment and art that sees through the current state of the world and instead of criticizing it, he creates a stylish farce that inspires, entertains, and breaks our balls for believing in what we do, in the way we do. He challenges us in a playful way, that I believe is more compelling than the other artists that attempt to do the same thing through relating trauma in films that Hollywood seems to like concerning war, disease, rags to riches to rags, etc."
What should viewers look for to discuss about it?
The way it utilizes and embraces the art of filmmaking as the passion that drives the story in the movie. The film starts with a great scene introducing us to the two young heroes, and it establishes how important cinema is in their lives. From there the film continues on to tell a wacky story, but it's always re-energized by the love for cinema that permeates every frame: it drives the action, it inspires the characters, it pushes the story while we've got other ideas on our mind. I love the way the film blurs the lines between reality and cinema, as we watch someone get killed only to see them walk out from behind a corner a few scenes later.
Was it all just for cinematic effect? Or is there something else very mysterious about the way we interact with reality around us. Do you fantasize about your life being part of a movie? Is that good or bad? The film explores so many interesting sides of cinema, not only the passion behind the art, but the way it effects all of us. I admire the honesty of the script. Look closely at the inspirations, the ideas, and the culture that Sono is a part of to further understand why this is such a "unique vision completely unleashed." And also: have fun.
Monthly Must See: We follow up with this discussion next month and highlight another great underseen film to watch. Thank you for reading and we hope you enjoy Why Don't You Play in Hell?. Go tell others.
From Last Time: We hope you did your homework, movie fans! Following up our last Monthly Must See for John Currans's Tracks with Mia Wasikowska, so what did you think of it? Was it as beautiful as you were expecting? Were you bored or enchanted by her journey? Is it one of Wasikowska's best performances yet?