I have a thing for Japanese movies. It’s probably due to differences in the approach to filmmaking from other national cinemas, as well as the unique cultural perspective that Japanese filmmakers bring to their work. In director Sion Sono‘s “Why Don’t You Play in Hell” (2013), this cultural lens peers inside the Japanese film industry. Although the title makes the film sound like a J-Horror production, it’s actually a spoof of many cliches in genre Japanese movies — such as the Yakuza movie — although it is very bloody, in the style of Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” films. It also takes a shot at Japanese indie filmmakers. In the film’s story, these two worlds collide — with satirically comic results.
The story involves a Yakuza boss, Muto (Jun Kunimura, who has worked with Tarantino), whose daughter Mitsuko (Fumi Nikaidô) achieved a small measure of fame as child actress in a toothpaste commercial. Ten years later, she is pursuing an acting career in Japanese films, but under pressure from her parents. Her mother is about to be paroled from prison, where she is serving a long sentence for slaughtering a group of hit men from a rival gang who put a contract out on her husband. Her dream is to see Mitsuko on the big screen in a major film feature — and Muto wants to make sure that happens before she gets out of the Big House. Mitsuko puts this plan in jeopardy by running off in the middle of her first film production, which leads to her replacement by another actress.
What is Muto to do? In the midst of an escalating war with another Yakuza gang, he decides to make a movie himself. His henchmen capture his daughter, along with a young man (Gen Hoshino) whom she has convinced to pretend to be her lover. Mitsuko tells Muto that the young man is a film director. In reality, he knows nothing about making a movie. Through a turn of events foreshadowed in flashback sequences, he enlists Hirata (Hiroki Hasegawa), a fanatical yet unsuccessful indie filmmaker, to help him make the film. This is a good move, since Muto has promised to kill him if anything goes wrong with his plan for making his daughter a movie star.
Hirata is the leader of a small band of guerrilla filmmakers who call themselves the “Fuck Bombers.” His goal is to make only one film — an awesome blockbuster of a movie — or die trying. To this end, he recruits a high school hoodlum and proceeds to develop him as the next Bruce Lee. Ten years later, however, Hirata has not yet made his ultimate film, although he prays to the Movie Gods (literally) that it will happen. So, of course, he jumps at the chance to make the Yakuza film. By the way, the action involves an actual (not simulated – in the world of the film) war between Muto’s gang and a rival Yakuza group. Script? Who needs a script?
“Why Don’t You Play in Hell?” is a heck of a funny story, Japanese-style. It’s also masterfully shot and edited. Besides satirizing some aspects of Japanese cinema, it clearly shows an affection for Japanese films as well. It also includes some interesting tricks, including breaking the fourth wall in the final scene.
This movie would be a very enjoyable weekend watch. Currently it can be found on VOD via Amazon Instant (where it is a Prime offering), iTunes, Vimeo On Demand, Google Play, Vudu, and YouTube. I watched it on a DVD from Netflix.
My IMDb rating: 7/10 stars.