Take a Drink: for that damn toothpaste jingle
Take a Drink: when things go full cartoon
Take a Drink: whenever the Fuck Bombers film something
Take a Drink: for conversations about movie-making
Take a Drink: whenever Mitsuko does something cold-hearted
Do a Shot: for full metal bloodbaths
By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
The last couple of months have been brutal for fans of old-school Japanese crime dramas, as arguably both of the genre’s most legendary tough guys, Bunta Sugawara and Ken Takakura, passed away.
The face “hard-boiled” was coined to describe
Why Don’t You Play in Hell? namedrops both of them late in the film, but earns it by playing like the perfect subversion and celebration of their iconic Yakuza personas. The plot is pretty simple for a Sion Sono gangster flick- two Yakuza crimelords’ rivalry gains a new wrinkle when one is nearly slaughtered with his henchmen by the kitchen knife-wielding wife of the other, but is saved from bleeding out by their young daughter. Years later, he’s developed an unhealthy obsession with her, as her dad struggles to make her a movie star just like soon to be freed from prison mom always hoped. He needs to get her in a movie, and figures he’ll kill two birds with one stone by filming the final clash between the two gangs. Renegade filmmakers “The Fuck Bombers” are ready and willing to capture it all, and make their one “Great Film”?
Sion Sono is a director you can never accuse of lack of vision, and Why Don’t You Play in Hell? may be his most striking evidence of that. It may be uniquely twisted, and is definitely full of references to a dizzying amount of cinema greats, but it’s singularly his vision, a pastiche of 50 years of exploitation, grindhouse, and cult cinema that ultimately becomes more than a sum of its parts. Think Tarantino (also referenced) filtered through a madcap, deranged manga mindset.
The jumpsuit, though: not a Kill Bill reference, people.
The plot is relatively simple, but falls together in a clever, amusing way. Basically, everything builds to the deliriously insane, uber-violent, and over-the-top climactic battle scene/movie shoot. He manages a surprising, almost fairytale-like level of pathos in a few scenes (the blood-slick flashback meeting between the wounded ganglord and the little tooth commercial ditty-singing girl is a stunner), but this is unequivocally a comedy, and it’s a goddamn hilarious one. Everything’s heightened, comically exaggerated even, from the sound design to how bizarrely excited everyone is when a film camera shows up, no matter if they’re in the middle of a fight or bleeding out in the street. All of this violence and outlandish, bizarre comedy could so easily have produced something insufferable, but instead the effort is gut-bustingly transcendent.
A last shout-out to Fumi Nikaido, the toothpaste jingle singer turned sociopathic inspiring actress. For a cold-blooded, manipulative, and beautiful Helen of Troy character who basically causes all of the carnage that transpires, you can’t ask for more than Nikaido’s sexy and truly scary performance.
Run, if you can bring yourself to.
First off, every time I see it, I have to say it: CGI blood and gun flashes suck so, so much. There’s a nice mix of practical effects and CGI here, but still…
Also, your mileage on this one is going to depend somewhat on your tolerance levels of Japanese cartoonishness and screaming… so much screaming. Sono can’t let anything simply be badass, or sexy, or shocking: he’s gotta add goofiness to it all. It’s relentless. Trust me, it works overall, but if your tolerance level is zero… this is not for you.
Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is a crazy confection of blood, laughs, and pure chutzpah, a brilliantly mangled crime (and movie-making) tale that must be seen to be believed.