There’s nothing more apparent or enjoyable in a storytelling than an author that conveys their love for the medium. The expression of such joy comes out in the believability of characters and situations, even if the premise of their existences are ridiculous. Why Don’t You Play In Hell?, the latest film from Japanese cult director Sion Sono, unabashedly falls into this particular camp, and the sheer absurdity of the film itself and its execution is a telling statement of not only one’s dedication towards craft, but love, as well.
Apparent right away during the film through to its end, there is love for filmmaking, even in its most perverse form, depicted by its main characters, an amateur film production group consisting of childhood friends, known as the Fuck Bombers. Their names don’t even matter, what you remember from the entire thing is that they just love the shit out of making movies, and their big break comes in the form of a turf war between rival Yakuza gangs. Where most normal people would balk and run in fear from the prospect of involving themselves with gangsters and the possibility of sleeping with the fishes if their project turns out less desirable than intended, the Bombers are insane in their devotion to their craft, which sets the tone for the entire movie and the absurdity of the events that unfold.
Like the characters therein, the events themselves also don’t warrant any notable mention. One gang wants to film a movie about the turf war, starring the boss’s daughter, and most assuredly, there will be blood. The entire experience goes by in a flash, and I have the utmost pleasure of having watched Why Don’t You Play In Hell? during TIFF’s midnight madness, a late-night moviegoer event that has shamelessly embraces the more absurd forms of cinema.
Midnight Madness moviegoers were treated with a spectacular orgy of ultraviolence, their enthusiasm for the medium is lived out through the fantasy of the enthusiasm displayed by the Bombers during the long, filmed, fight sequence. Layered on top of that is the appreciation for film also expressed by the subjects that were shot as well. The two rivaling Yakuza gangs agree to the terms of filming and the flashiness required for the film to succeed: they mutually agree to the film in the first place, use only swords in their fight, and follow the scene direction of the Fuck Bombers as well. These Japanese mobsters are far from camera-shy, and will flash a sparkle smile at every opportunity before decapitating their opponent.
Throughout the entire fight “sequence,” which essentially takes up nearly half of the movie itself, is remarkably progressive in its level of carnage, and the method in which the entire sequence is filmed in-universe progressively feels more as if the subjects are making love with the camera in their final moments before their limbs or other extremities are severed in glorious fashion. Think Kill Bill, but with O-Ren Iishi’s death depicted across every Yakuza gangster in the sequence.
My favourite death, and possibly an audience favourite overall, happens to one of the non-gangsters. A third party character, not belonging to either of the Fuck Bombers or the Yakuza gangs, gets roped into the film as well due to his unlikely connection to the gang leader’s daughter, posing as her boyfriend but ultimately falling in love with her in earnest. He graces the screen with a romantic white knight flair that doesn’t come off misogynistically due to the ludicrous nature of the situation, as well as the manner of his death in defense of his so-called loved one. He loses his entire right forearm, as well as most of his blood. He collapses into her arms, declares his love, only to be interrupted at the last minute with a sword driven halfway down the middle of his head. He apparently dies, but appears again later on in the sequence with a sword still in his head, only to be shot execution-style by the cops at the end. Uh, yeah. I don’t know either, but the absurdity just works, and it’s because every single member of the cast and crew buy into the experience of making a movie.
In a way, it works on multiple levels at the same time. This is a movie for movie lovers, made by movie lovers. Sion Sono’s cult status puts him on a comparable echelon to Tarantino, and with his own style and cultural background, puts him above the rest in that directorial tradition. He just loves movies the most, and Why Don’t You Play In Hell? is his way of expressing that passion. He had fun directing this movie, and the audience will have fun watching it.