Directed by: Shion Sono.
Written by: Shion Sono.
Starring: Jun Kunimura (Muto), Fumi Nikaidô (Mitsuko Muto), Shin'ichi Tsutsumi (Ikegami), Hiroki Hasegawa (Director Hirata), Gen Hoshino (Koji Hashimoto), Tomochika (Shizue), Itsuji Itao (Masuda), Hiroyuki Onoue (Detective Tanaka), Tak Sakaguchi (Sasaki), Tetsu Watanabe (Detective Kimura), Tasuku Nagaoka (Mitsuo Yoshimura).
There is a lot to like about Shion Sonos Why Don’t You Play in Hell – even if the movie ends up spending more than two hours to get basically nowhere. The over length of the film is certainly felt in its first hour, where the film deliberately keeps its two competing storylines – one involving an simmering gangland feud between two rival yakuza clans, the other involving a group of would be filmmakers, who have been trying for a decade to make a great film, and not coming close (because, it must be said, they don’t really have a lot of talent). We can sense that the two storylines are going to come together – there are actresses in the yakuza plot, and violence in the moviemaking part, but Sono keeps them apart for far too long. In the last 45 minutes, when the two finally merge, we get a ridiculously fun finale. But the film takes too long to get there, and even if the finale is fun, it really isn’t saying very much. It’s an interesting film, to say the least – I just wish it was a little bit better.
The movie opens with a toothpaste commercial, which has a jingle that becomes lodged into the heads of most of the characters in the movie, and will likely stay there for you as well. The performer is the young Mitsuko – the daughter of a Yakuza boss, Muto (Jun Kunimura). A rival gang, led by Ikegami (Shin'ichi Tsutsumi), targets Muto and his family for elimination – but the assassins he sends underestimate Muto's wife, who brutally (too brutally in fact) slaughters them all. Meanwhile a group of high school filmmakers, led by director Hirata, and star Sasaki, who they dub the next Bruce Lee, who have dubbed themselves the Fuck Bombers, want to create the greatest movie ever made. Most of the action takes place 10 years after this – with Mitsuko (now played by Fumi Nikaido) is about to star in a bigger movie, and perhaps become a star just as her mother gets out of jail for that brutal attack on the assassins, and the tensions between Muto and Ikegami are boiling over once again. Meanwhile The Fuck Bombers still think they can make the best film ever made, even if Hirata is more Ed Wood than Martin Scorsese. They come into contact with Mitsuko, who introduces him into the world of her father – and he decides that he can make the movie he has always wanted to by filming the upcoming gang war. He takes to Muto about the best way for his men to fight for it to be more cinematic – and then reaches out to Ikegami to do the same. The ensuing war, and its aftermath, is far and away the best part of the movie.
The problem with Why Don’t You Play in Hell is simply that it drags everything out too long. You can feel Sono's love for this material – and that, like Hirata, he is so in love with this material, he wants to accomplish it all in one film. The film is at once a yakuza film, an over the top comedy, a tribute to moviemaking, and a love letter to 35MM film, and a whole hell of a lot else. The movie lacks any real focus. At its best, all that enthusiasm Sono feels for the material comes through. At its worst, the film simply repeats itself over and over again, and doesn’t end in a place that makes it all worthwhile. There is a lot to like about Why Don’t You Play in Hell – but more to kind of shrug your shoulders at, and then move on.