Why Don’t You Play In Hell? (Jigoku de naze warui)
Japan (2013) Dir. Sion Sono
You’re going to have to bear with me on this one because the plot to Sion Sono’s latest cinematic subversion is not that easy to simplify, at least not without giving away too much – or too little…
A group of teen filmmakers who call themselves the F Bombers (yes “F” does stand for that word) run around filming anything they can with their cine cameras. Meanwhile the Muto Yakuza gang is in the midst of a violent feud with a rival gang who raid the home of the gang boss Muto (Jun Kunimura) to kill him. Instead they find Shizue (Tomochika) aka Mrs. Muto, who brutally slays most of them single handed, resulting in a ten year prison sentence. A truce is called between the two sides when Ikegami (Shinichi Tsutsumi) assumes control of the gang after his boss’s death, giving Muto the chance to keep a promise to his wife while she does time – to see her ten year old daughter Mitsuko (Nanoka Hara) become a film actress. Mitsuko already has a taste of fame in a TV commercial for toothpaste but due to her mother’s incarceration the ad gets pulled.
Ten years later and Mitsuko (Fumi Nikaido) has yet to make that successful film despite her father’s best attempts. In a diva like strop she flees from a film set, running into milquetoast admirer Koji (Gen Hoshino) who she pays to help her escape. When Muto catches up with them and the poor lad is about to be beheaded, Mitsuko saves him by declaring Koji to be the filmmaker who will make her a star. Muto sanctions the making of this film in time for Shizue’s release from prison but Koji knows nothing about making films. However fate leads him to make contact with Hinata (Hiroki Hasegawa) of the F-Bombers who is still trying to make that one great film and makes him an offer he can’t refuse.
After the visceral and sexual onslaught of his lauded Hate Trilogy and the social tragedies of his post-tsunami dramas Himizu and Land Of Hope, Japan’s provocateur de jour Sion Sono returns to the tongue cheek style so prevalent in large portions of his game changing magnum opus the four hour melange that was Love Exposure. Yes this film is a comedy, albeit a dark and blood drenched one. The reason for this more light hearted (for wanting a better term) direction is down to the script which Sono first wrote fifteen years ago as an action flick, hence the distinct lack of maturity and poignant depth of Sono’s more recent works.
What we do have is love letter to making films while reminiscing about the days of simple filmmaking, lamenting the usurping of 35mm cameras and projectors by the current digital processes, paying tribute and offering homage to many classic films with visual and verbal references keen cineaste will get. Sono also has a crack at restoring the Yakuza genre which has suffered a decline in recent years (although Takeshi Kitano has had a good go with his Outrage films) while slipping in a subtle satire on the child idol fascination of Japanese culture which remains something of a mystery to us in the West. And the whole thing is presented in an ultra violent, claret soaked package with a climactic over the top fight scene that sees more spurting geysers, severed limbs and flying bullets to make Kill Bill look like a rip off of Tom and Jerry! In fact why bother with Tarantino’’s rip offs when not only are the originals better but guys like Sono can pay homage to them for more credibly?
To expand a little more on the characters, the F-Bombers are made up of Hinata, a roller skating dolly shot cameraman, a female close shot expert and former gang thug and a Bruce Lee wannabe (martial arts star Tak Skakaguchi). They believe in the old methods of filming and showing films on 35mm, hanging out at the local cinema which eventually closes down. With Hinata’s blind faith in the Film God assigning him the day he makes his masterpiece, he leaves a note in a nearby shrine with his number on it. Ten years later as Koji tries to flee the clutches of Muto’s men he releases the note from the shrine in a way I won’t mention, and contacts his eventual filmmaking saviour. Naturally Hinata agrees to Muto’s terms but there is the slight problem with the Ikegami gang ready to strike. Hinata’s suggestion? Get Ikegami’s co-operation and settle the feud on film!
Mitsuko has grown from an adorable little girl into a tough talking diva with actress Fumi Nikaido playing a vastly different role from the sensitive schoolgirl in Himizu, looking like Aoi Miyazaki cosplaying as raunchy pop star Kumi Koda. Rather scarily Ikegami became besotted with Mitusko when she was ten and is utterly enamoured with her now although the feeling is far from mutual. One of the films greatest moments comes early on when little Mitsuko arrives home to find herself ankle deep in a pool of blood on her living room. The viscous fluid is utterly still and glistens with the reflections of the furniture. Then Mitsuko (clad in white) slips and slides along the room crashing through the doors and skids to a well timed halt next to Ikegami’s prone body in what must have been a hugely fun scene for young Nanoka Hara.
As I limit my reviews to 1000 words I am unable to provide the in depth analysis I’d like to for Why Don’t You Play In Hell? as it is a film that demands such intense evaluation. So I’ll try to sum up by saying that this is Sono in fine chameleon form while staying true to his own unique and esoteric style, once again delivering another sublime slice of uncompromising Japanese cinema as only he can. If you don’t take it seriously you’ll find this is bloody good fun!