by Andre Couture
Remember when Kill Bill: Volume 1 came out? If you saw it and liked or loved it, imagine a movie strikingly similar, leading up to the big battle at the Japanese nightclub. Except take out the compartmentalized storytelling format, make the impending Yakuza gang war a subplot, and introduce the daughter of one Yakuza clan leader as a successful child actress for a toothpaste commercial (with an infectiously catchy jingle). Let’s also drop a bunch of film nerd kids in as the main characters. They’re wild, crazy, and inspired, so they get to choose whatever name they want for their film club. Let’s call them the Fuck Bombers. They even have their own hangout spot: a Hall of Justice for recreation, centered around film of course, complete with pinball, arcade games, pool tables and spots to sit and eat or drink. The Fuck Bombers want to make their very own movie! An action movie, of course! They even found their own star, their Japanese Bruce Lee. In their fantasy, they have all they need to make their first action spectacular. Meanwhile…
Enter Mitsuko, a troubled girl raised with all the financial and influential benefits and all the personal and emotional problems associated with being daughter to a Yakuza crime lord. She runs away from her family, desiring something more resembling a normal life, so she kidnaps a random boy her age and makes him pretend to be her boyfriend, or else she’ll kill him. The two run from the Yakuza and go on a few romps together, and eventually run into the Fuck Bombers after their crazy adventures!
The Yakuza boss eventually catches up to Mitsuko and her new boyfriend, then proposes a deal to a supposed film director: he will be allowed to live if he directs a movie with his daughter starring in the lead role, and they will start shooting with a battle scene, between two warring Yakuza clans. The catch is that there is no trained movie crew, no trained actors or actresses, no trained filmmakers, no script, no stuntmen, and no time to prepare. Oh, and the raid to be filmed will be real, not choreographed or staged. If the director doesn’t deliver on his promise, he will be killed by the Yakuza leader himself. Isn’t the filmmaking process so mysterious and exciting?
Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is a film that is ultimately about filmmaking, and that sometimes means the process of making something is more exciting than the end product itself. It’s almost like a fantastically dramatized and over-the-top behind-the-scenes narrative to a movie that never happened. It certainly takes no issue with stringing you along, and very clearly takes a lot of joy in that fact. You really have no choice but to feel elated as well, since this movie takes you on a ride that not many other films can provide. It’s like a love letter to gonzo film, its fans, and filmmaking in general rolled up in one package. It’s got surprises for everyone, even those who have seen a Sion Sono film before (especially if you’ve seen Love Exposure, another film of his I HEAVILY recommend).
It’s like if you’ve ever seen a giant rollercoaster (that you would presumably want to go on) that other people and your friends say is so much crazy fun, and you can see it from the back of the line where the tracks lead for a little while, but it drops off into an area unknown to you, holding an unseen surprise. Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is that rollercoaster.
If you’re really looking for a treat, if even from a corner of the film world you wouldn’t normally look in otherwise, I would definitely suggest Why Don’t You Play in Hell? It’ll make you feel giddy, terrified, shocked, and gloriously happy all at the same time. What other movie can do that?
André Couture is a known nerd living in the great city of Seattle. He watches ungodly amounts of failed cinematic works, writes music, self-produces the terrible, terrible, TERRIBLE Hamburger Theatre podcast, volunteers at the great Scarecrow Video, eats occasionally, reads incessantly, edits video & audio, plays way too many tabletop games, and sometimes goes to work.