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Why Don’t You Play in Hell?

Posted by martinteller on June 14, 2014

Yakuza boss Muto (Jun Kunimura) is not home when a rival gang comes to rub him out, so his wife Shizue (Tomochika) dispenses with the would-be killers.  She leaves Ikegami (Shinichi Tsutsumi) alive.  As Ikegami crawls home, he encounters the “Fuck Bombers”… a gang of young aspiring filmmakers led by director Hirata (Hiroki Hasegawa) and starring his protégé, Sasaki (Tak Sakaguchi), “Japan’s Bruce Lee”.  Ikegami calls a truce between the two gangs.  Now it’s ten years later.  The Fuck Bombers have yet to make their movie, and though Hirata’s enthusiasm is unflagging, Sasaki is fed up.  Shizue is about to be released from prison.  Muto has arranged for their daughter Mitsuko (Fumi Nikaido), a toothpaste ad icon in her youth, to star in a movie.  But Mitsuko has run off.  A series of unfortunate events leads Muto’s gang to capture the innocent Koji (Gen Hoshino), a meek young man who they believe is Mitsuko’s lover.  They also believe he’s a director, and coerce him into making Mitsuko’s movie.  Divine intervention — in form of some fortuitous projectile vomiting — will lead Koji to the Fuck Bombers.

Sion Sono takes a turn away from the more serious and dour material of his previous two films, Himizu and The Land of Hope and returns to absurd bloodbath-y mania.  It works as both as a satire and a celebration of genre flicks, with violence raised to giddy levels.  Characters emerge from shootouts without a scratch, or survive deadly wounds for impossible lengths of time.  Sometimes a line between fantasy and reality is drawn and sometimes it isn’t, but it’s all in the realm of the ridiculous.  And it’s a lot of fun, especially in the crazed climax, which includes a cocaine-fueled dream sequence in the middle of a gory battle.  Not all the fun comes from violence, either.  Ikegami’s fixation of Mitsuko is hilarious, thanks especially to Tsutsumi’s goofy portrayal.  There’s a particularly funny series of cuts and camera moves where his gang follows his up and down movements as he struggles with a problem.  Most of the film is punctuated by funny bits, and almost all of them connect on some level.

The main problem I had with the film is the same one I had with Himizu: it doesn’t feature enough of the character I most want to see.  In the first act, we spend a lot of time with Hirata and the Fuck Bombers.  Their optimistic, DIY, punk approach to filmmaking is endearing.  Then they recede into the background as we deal far too much with Muto and the yakuza.  It’s like there’s too much story to get through, too many plot details to set up.  While I like all the different plot threads, it’s Hirata who feels like the heart of the story to me.  I’m not sure even there needs to be more Hirata or just less of everything else.  A film this nutty shouldn’t feel so bogged down.  There are other issues as well, although less problematic.  The copious blood splatters are sometimes too obviously computer-generated, which I find distracting (as I did with Kitano’s Zatoichi) no matter what the intentions.  Also it all feels a bit too much like either a copy of or a response to Tarantino, both in its genre play and in its cinematic referencing.

Overall, I like it just fine… there are some dynamite sequences, and the cast is enjoyable.  It’s just not one of Sono’s best.  Rating: Good (77)


3 Responses to “Why Don’t You Play in Hell?”

  1. Out of curiosity, which ones would you say ARE his best? I absolutely LOVED this one – it’s gloriously insane, yes, but I loved that about it. And the finale was one of my favorite things in a cinema in a long time, simply for the anarchy of it all. Add to that the great characters of the “Fuck Bombers” and I just had a blast. But I’ve seen nothing else he’s done, other than Suicide Club, which mainly left me scratching my head. So what else should I check out?

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