Sion Sono’s Why Don’t You Play In Hell? Is the most raucous, joyous film I’ve had the pleasure of watching in ages. The reckless abandon Sion brings to every moment left me wide awake and dreaming of storytelling possibilities two hours after walking out of the theater, despite the screening letting out in the wee hours of early morning, when any reasonably sane person would be asleep. The film serves as a reminder to anyone that has picked up the camera in their youth and still pursue their dreams decades later despite what age and common sense tell them.
The film begins with the stunning visual of a young girl sliding through an ankle deep pool of blood that belongs to her father’s rivals. From there it spans into a decade long story involving rival yakuza gangs, a group of pie in the sky filmmakers that call themselves the Fuck Bombers, the young girl all grown up and gone bad while trying to escape from under her father’s thumb to become a star in her own right, gangland murders, jackbooted thug cops and a deadly case of mistaken identity. Through various mechanisms, the whole thing culminates in the Fuck Bombers bringing their cinematic masterpiece to life when they convince the two gangs to let them film their climactic showdown to the death: No guns, only swords! That’s the story in the nutshell and it’s completely besides the point. Watching Why Don’t You Play In Hell for the plot would be like going to Disney World to sample the snack bar.
The joy in Why Don’t You Play In Hell? Comes from the unbridled enthusiasm and manic glee Sono brings to every sequence, culminating in the yakuza fight sequence. The carnage is secondary in the scene the scene to the joy the participants take in “acting” out on screen. Under the instruction of their effervescent Fuck Bomber director battle hardened thugs revert to a child-like state, playing “samurai warrior” with friends in the backyard. You get the feeling that if they weren’t slicing one another into formless hunks of meat and gristle, the two sides would cast aside their differences permanently over beers after the shoot wraps. Even amongst all the bloodshed Sono manages to add touch on themes of paternal love and holding on to one’s dream when everyone else tells you to let them go, adding heft to the film.
I’m growing to love the anarchic spirit of Japanese cinema more and more. There’s a willingness to take chances, to swing from the hips and for the fences that’s missing here. Sion Sono’s work springs from a love for film rather than what a focus group tells the marketing department they want. Anyone that loves movies and all the possibilities they offer should be on board.