Blu-ray Review: Why Don’t You Play In Hell?

Why Don’t You Play in Hell? was my crash course introduction to writer/director Sion Sono (who, as I would learn, made the 2001 film Suicide Club). A lot of words come to mind that can be used as synonyms for each other. Berserk. Insanity. Craziness. The picture is all over the place, shifting between genres as if it were going through a turnstile. Comedy, action, and a little, sometimes perverse, romance all converge in a tale of revenge involving two Yakuza clans and a group of friends with the dream to make films.

Ten years ago, the Fuck Bombers (yes, you read that right) had major aspirations to become the biggest filmmakers in Japan. Hirata (Hiroki Hasegawa) calls the shots and the ragtag bunch also includes a pair camera operators that specializes in handheld and panning photography. The star actor is a local hooligan they saw one day fighting a rival gang, and the Bombers just happened to be there with cameras in hand rolling.

Ten years go by and the Bombers are nowhere close to being legit filmmakers as the tried and true method of shooting on film has been replaced with digital production. Meanwhile, Muto (Jun Kunimura) is a yakuza boss who avoided an attempt on his life, with his dear wife killing the home invaders and getting a ten-year prison sentence as a result (not bad considering it was a bloodbath involving four men and a sharp kitchen knife).

Feeling shameful for his wife’s current predicament, Muto becomes protective of his daughter, Michiko (Fumi Nikaido), a former toothpaste commercial star who’s been waiting for her big screen break. Hoping to celebrate his wife’s release with a movie, Muto attempts to create a starring vehicle for Michiko. But the daughter finds herself caught up in a mob war when Ikegami (Shin’ichi Tsutsumi), Muto’s longtime rival, plans to finish off his enemy. When lovesick Koji (Gen Hoshino) feels the impact of Cupid’s arrow upon meeting Michiko, as she makes a daring escape, it all adds up to the older and disillusioned Fuck Bombers finally getting their big break make their masterpiece.

With Why Don’t You Play in Hell? being released through the Drafthouse Films label, it continues the tradition of celebrating genre entertainment. The label might as well be called The Fantastic Collection as it, like the famed The Criterion Collection, is appreciative of distinct filmmakers and styles. As an introduction to Sion Sono the film feels like a greatest hits of his works as whole, judging from the advertisements I watched afterwards of his previous efforts. Sono takes audiences through a myriad of genres. It’s a saga, tragedy, adventure and romance. Better yet, it’s a chaotic smorgasbord with laughs, hyper-violent action, and blood-squirting gore. And the weirdos that inhabit this spectacle are in line with the world around them. A world that includes yakuza in kimonos, a love for Bruce Lee’s Game of Death yellow jumpsuit, a catchy jingle to make you want to brush your teeth and a little ’50s American pop in the form of Santo & Johnny’s “Sleepwalk.”

Taking its time to set up the characters and their motivations, the fun comes when the worlds of the yakuza and The Fuck Bombers collide. Koji’s fear of death has him run off in a vomit-spray panic, which leads him to Hirata to make a 35mm picture on the fly. It’s a whirlwind of a finale, and pure cinematic bliss. Camera operators, sound men and lighting engineers (all part of Muto’s yakuza clan) are there to capture a yakuza raid. The weapon of choice: swords. No gunplay permitted. That rule is soon broken and Ikegami’s hideout becomes the setting for blood geysers and severed limbs.

Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is a fun parable to moviemaking in general, with Sono’s tongue firmly in cheek with the sheer amount of on-screen chaos and comedic moments that take place over its two-hour runtime. Not up for a darkly comic, highly original, and pure mayhem movie, then stick with the Michael Bay kid stuff.

Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and is supported by dts-HD Master Audio in 5.1 Dolby Digital. Colors are lush, especially red (of course), as the blood sprays and pools together as strong as a melted Crayola crayon.

The extras aren’t substantial but include a Press Conference with Director Sion Sono, a 11×17 fold-out poster from comic artist James Callahan, a 24-page booklet, green- and red-band trailers for Why Don’t You Play in Hell? plus other Drafthouse Films titles (Cheap Thrills, The FP, Miami Connection, and Pieta), reversible cover art and a digital download.

Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is a blast to watch and should be fully embraced by the most devout genre movie fan (if it hasn’t already). The Drafthouse Films Blu-ray may be short on supplemental material, but just getting this hyper-violent and, dare I say, laugh-out-loud funny mash-up out to the American audience makes this an easy recommendation.

Drafthouse Films presents Why Don’t You Play in Hell? Written and directed by: Sion Sono. Starring: Jun Kunimura, Hiroki Hasegawa, Gen Hoshino, and Fumi Nikado. Rated: Not Rated. Released: January 27, 2015.

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