Early in Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, Shizue, the wife of yakuza boss Muto and mother of rising star Mitsuko, is attacked while preparing dinner in her home by four gunmen. Moments later, three of the gunmen are bleeding out, and Shizue is chasing the fourth through the streets with a kitchen knife. She catches him on a catwalk above a street and stabs him repeatedly, blood spraying all over the poor souls walking below. Later, Muto faces the police and asks what his wife, who was attacked in her home and defending herself, was to be charged with.
“Excessive self defense.”
“Excessive” pretty much sums up Shion Sono’s mad-cap gangster-war-film-within-a-film flick Why Don’t You Play in Hell?. Why use tablespoons of blood when you can use buckets? Hell, why use buckets when you can spurt it by the truckload? Nothing is underplayed, nothing is subtle, nothing is quiet. Guns, swords, screaming, fighting, bleeding, Fuck Bombers, razor-blade kisses, lopped off limbs and toothpaste jingles. Sono, the writer and director, plays everything as if it is a big moment.
Surprisingly, it works. All of this freaking madness feeds off itself, whether it’s the guerrilla film-making crew Fuck Bombers standing in the middle of a full-on yakuza war, recording the violence in its entirety, or a young Mitsuko sliding across the floor of her home, the entirety of the space covered in inch-deep blood. There are moments of Disney tween-like sincerity, blood spraying as if being shot out of a firehose and anime-influenced goofy humor, sometimes all three in a matter of 30 seconds.
As with all truly entertaining cinema, it starts with a good story. After Shizue’s “excessive” defense of her home and person, she is sent to jail for 10 years. A decade later, she’s about to get out, and she dreams of watching her daughter’s star turn, the lead in a movie that is almost finished filming. Muto plays along, knowing that his daughter is on the run, the movie has moved on with a new star and that this dream will never be fulfilled. Until … Muto manages to get connected to the Fuck Bombers, who not only know they can make the movie in the minimal time frame allowed, but are ready and excited to get started. As a matter of fact, since Muto is preparing to engage another yakuza gang, led by the zany Ikegami, director Hirata suggests they make it a gangster film and shoot the confrontation. Even more, Hirata engages Ikegami’s gang so that set-up shots can be taken before the battle begins that will help with continuity.
Messed up, right? Sono just keeps raising the bar the whole movie, going wilder and wickeder at every turn. If big, loud, bloody, stupid and Kung Fu Hustle-level absurdity isn’t your thing, move along. But if all of that sounds appealing, jump on board and take the ride with Why Can’t You Play in Hell?.