‘Why Don’t You Play in Hell?’ Review: Maybe We Should!
The man we call Shion Sono may seem like a filmmaker – since he certainly makes a lot of films – but it may be more accurate to call him a mad scientist. His movies are strange alchemical concoctions of every outrageous whim that pops into his head, and even though the mixture is sometimes lumpy and tastes kind of like an expired marshmallow breakfast cereal from 1980s that was laced with LSD, they somehow usually do their job.
Take, for example, his latest Frankenstein monster of a movie. The memorably titled Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is about a team of wannabe filmmakers called “The Fuck Bombers” who are enlisted to make a feature film for the Yakuza. The only rules are: the movie must be shot on 35mm, it must star a talented ingenue, it must cost a lot of money and, most importantly, it must document an actual, deadly Yakuza gang war.
That’s a gleefully ridiculous concept for a movie, and Shion Sono knows it. Weirdly enough, he doesn’t even get to that point until his movie is already 60% over. He spends the first meaty chunk of Why Don’t You Play in Hell? setting up a series of inspired events that makes the hard-to-swallow high concept feel like a perfectly natural development.
The daughter of a Yakuza boss is also an international sensation after starring in a toothpaste commercial. But when her mother stabs a whole hit squad of rival Yakuza, in public, that career is ruined. Ten years later, her mother is about to get out of jail, and as a gift to her the Yakuza boss has vowed to produce a movie starring their daughter, to screen on the day of her release.
Unfortunately, said daughter has walked off the set of the movie, forcing the director to recast the lead role. Now the Yakuza boss only has a few days to make his cinematic love letter, and he has also mistaken some poor sap with a crush on his daughter an ingenious auteur. If the kid doesn’t make an amazing movie, he dies. So he enlists the aid of The Fuck Bombers to complete the film and teach a team of enthusiastic Yakuza how to become boom mic operators, gaffers, and so on.
There’s an exquisite fantasy at play in Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, one that every aspiring filmmaker has dreamed of, in which a rich benefactor gives you unlimited funds to make exactly the movie you want to make. It is perhaps the most believable part of the movie that The Fuck Bombers never look the gift horse in the mouth, and proceed to choreograph and film the actual, ultra-violent carnage that ensues with the exact same enthusiasm they would have used to make any other movie.
In an age where young filmmakers have seemingly little to look forward to, and may never get to shoot a movie on 35mm in their lives, Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is a delicious dose of wish fulfillment. It captures perfectly the dream of glory and the prices that may need to be paid to make those dreams a reality. And it exquisitely films the manic, madcap energy that only folks lucky enough to have made a renegade independent film could possibly understand, but which everyone else is likely to find infectious too.
And most importantly, despite all the shocking violence, projectile vomit and glass-swallowing in Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, the film is never anything but positive. The characters are happy, motivated, excited and ambitious. Their ludicrous decisions and intentional descent into bloody carnage would be a real downer otherwise. But it’s easy to imagine that watching Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is the next best thing to actually making a movie with Shion Sono. It’s nothing but smiles and blood and pure, unadulterated affection for everything that cinema is capable of.