Why Don’t You Play in Hell? The title alone is enough to turn off some viewers while simultaneously interesting others (in Japan, it’s 地獄でなぜ悪い Jigoku de naze warui, meaning literally Why is Hell (So) Bad?, but it doesn’t lighten the tension that much). The movie isn’t nearly as hellish as it sounds, but to my surprise, it’s an infectious blend of films such as Super 8, Stand by Me, Goodfellas, Kill Bill, and the documentary Side by Side. What an odd compilation of films to compare it to, but while watching this new slam-bang action bloodbath from Japan, I couldn’t stop thinking about them.
The script follows a group of film loving friends who call themselves the “Fuck Bombers” (I’m not making this up). They’ve been friends since high school, and if there’s one thing that they all aspire to equally, it’s making the greatest movie ever made. They’re serious, too. They get their chance later in life when they come into contact with a mobster whose daughter was made semi-famous by starring in a toothpaste commercial when she was a girl. If I’m losing you with this plot synopsis, please blame me and not the film. The truth is, this is a difficult movie to describe. At once, it’s a coming of age tale, but only slightly. Then there’s the cold gangster stuff that brings Goodfellas to mind. Throughout the entire movie, this group is dedicated to filming anything they can find that’s worth a shot, which is Super 8-ish. And then there’s the third act, a totally maniacal and blood-drenched Kill Bill-like finale that is close to being as perfect of an ending as an ending can be. And there are subtitles. If that sounds like your cup of tea, great. That’s the best I can do.
Throughout the entire movie, there is much talk of 35mm film, which is what makes it so much more than your typical action flick. You would never guess it from the title, the poster, or even a brief plot synopsis, but Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is, at its heart, a petition for the preservation of physical print film, an issue that has been brought to the public’s attention by prominent directors such as Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese, and others. As someone who supports the preservation of print film, I found more than one scene in this movie to be rewarding on that particular front, enough to feel like it was proclaiming its voice while also maintaining a comedic tone.
That’s another thing about it. It’s hilarious. These characters (and the actors that portray them, all fantastic) are great. They each bring the necessary oomph to make their individual characters feel important, distinct, and personable. The film ended with me actually believing in the Fuck Bombers, and again, I’m not making that up.
The funny characters, crazy character buildup, wacky action, and zany filmmaking techniques make the first two acts of the movie endless fun, but the finale is what you pay for. It delivers. Swords here, guns there, heads here, arms there. Bodies everywhere. And I would watch it again if only to see the unfathomably sexy Fumi Nikaidô wielding her blood-soaked sword a second time. Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is chaotically awesome.
Cast: Jun Kunimura, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Fumi Nikaido, Tomochika, Hiroki Hasegawa, Gen Hoshino
Written and directed by Sion Sono
Photo credits: RogerEbert.com, dinobone.wordpress.com, TheDissolve.com