I find it hard to believe Sion Sono’s claim that Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is based on a 15-year-old screenplay, which would originate it in 1998. There are so many parts of Why Don’t You Play in Hell? that steal from films released post-2000, it is hard to believe that none of them were influences on even the first draft.
Why Don’t You Believe in Hell? is divided into three sections: “about 10 years ago,” the present, and the finale. About 10 years ago, we’re introduced to The Fuck Bombers, a group of teenage outcasts who really wasnt to make a movie. When they were filing with an 8mm camera, they happen upon a fourth friend who liked to play Yakuza games. Instead, they make him into a Bruce Lee story.
Simultaneously, we’re also introduced to Mitsuko, the daughter of a major Yakuza boss, Muto. Muto has been targeted by a competing boss, but all the assassins were foiled by Muto’s wife. The wife is jailed for killing the assassins and creating chaos, while Muto kills the competing Yakuza boss, letting a younger assassin take over.
In the present, Muto is trying to get Mitsuko into the movie business, while the competition is trying to assassinate Muto (again). Meanwhile, The Fuck Bombers haven’t become a success and the frustrations is ripping the group apart. Meanwhile, Mitsuko runs away and gets a guy to be her pretend boyfriend for the day. All these stories interweave in a semi-predictable way, but the pure insanity is fun to watch. They all culminate in a big blowout finale that would make Takeshi Miike proud.
The main problem with Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is its length. This hyperkinetic grindhouse film runs 127 minutes long, and completely drags in the middle acts of the film. The tangles of the movie are overbearing with scenes that ultimately don’t even matter and would be highly entertaining as bonus features. Sono could stand to chop 20-30 minutes out of the movie, easily. As a 90-100 minute grindhouse explosion, this would be a blast. But, at the full 127 minutes, the movie just has too heavy a middle, and can’t sustain the superspeed pacing it establishes in the opening and finishes with in the finale.
The minor problem is that Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is a complete ode to Kill Bill and the movies of Takeshi Miike. There are fountains of blood, beheadings, dismemberment, and various other fun bits of ultraviolence. Not that Sono doesn’t realize it; he’s very self-conscious about stealing other scenes. The score references the themes from the movies Sono is stealing from, especially that of Santa Esmerelda’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” which played so heavily a role in Kill Bill Vol 1. Sion Sono is doing nothing interesting with the references, being satisfied with merely stealing the scenes and themes outright.
That being said…when Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is fun, it’s really fun. For all of its pacing problems, and even in spite of (or because of) the rip off elements, Sion Sono knows how to turn on the insanity and make a compelling image. His frequently creates a stunning and hilarious image (even when they’re ripped off from Tarantino and Miike). It feels like a snotty punk riff on the genres which while not entirely fresh is still fun as hell.
Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is recommended for a lot of Japanese insanity reasons, but you may need to keep the fast forward button handy in order to skim past the scenes that don’t matter, of which there are plenty. In fact, just watch the opening act, and the final sequences and trust that the middle was middling. You won’t miss much.