Review: Nuovo Cinema Paradiso Meets Kill Bill in Sono Sion’s Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (2013)

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A group of teenagers, who call themselves Fuck Bombers dream of making Japan’s greatest action movie. Unfortunately they don’t have any money or professional film equipment. One night they write a prayer to the Movie God to help them realize their dream and put it in a shrine. In the meantime there is a yakuza war between two clans going on. The boss’ (Jun Kunimura) wife (Tomochika) is thrown in prison for ten years, for slaughtering rival gang members. To keep her going in prison her husband promises to make her daughter (Fumi Nikaidō) a movie star. 

Unhappy with a supporting role the daughter flees the set and meets a guy (Gen Hoshino) whom she uses as her pretend boyfriend, a cover to not get caught by her father’s henchmen. With only ten days before her mother’s release the boss decides to shoot the movie with his yakuza crew, but they have no idea how film works. Eventually the mob finds the bosses daughter. To save her fake boyfriend’s life she says that he is a director. However he has no idea about cinema either. In an attempt to escape from the yakuza he stumbles on Fuck Bombers’ letter to the Movie God and that’s where the fun really begins.

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Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (2013) (original Japanese title: 地獄でなぜ悪い Jigoku de naze warui) is an action/comedy/crime/drama which bears a lot of resemblance to early Sono Sion‘s work and his epic masterpiece Love Exposure (2008). The film even features a lot of the same songs. Sion himself wrote the script fifteen years ago and openly admits being influenced by Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. While watching the movie I also felt a lot of tonal and emotional similarities with Giuseppe Tornatore’s Nuovo Cinema Paradiso.

The plot is a lot different, but the genuine love and excitement for cinema are the same. You can feel that this film is young and full of life and joy and passion, even love. Love is key in Sono Sion’s oeuvre which is hard to see sometimes, beneath all the blood flowing on the surface, but it is unmistakable. Love (愛 Ai) is the most important thing. Love is all Gen Hoshino’s character cares about as he’s dying with a katana in his head. Love is the reason the boss wants to make this movie (for his wife). And finally love is what drives Hiroki Hasegawa‘s character to not give up on his dream of becoming a director.

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As always Sion is more interested in characters that are social outcasts, misfits even criminals. He even directly references this  in the film. Another direct statement from the director comes when he expresses his sentiment towards Japan as a country. It is a love-hate relationship. He basically compares the greedy and money-hungry yakuza crew to the nation as a whole. Japan is not interested in art, people only seem care about profit and making money. Comparing Japanese corporate culture to a criminal organization is pretty telling of how he feels about his country’s businesses.

On a technical level, Why Don’t You Play in Hell? presents itself in the same aesthetic as Sion’s less polished looking films. Yamamoto Hideo gives the film a very matter of fact almost documentarist look, which is almost another level of meta/commentary on the part of the director who’s making a movie about people making a movie. The film is very funny and there’s both dark comedy and slapstick humor. Sometimes the film feels slightly immature, which again makes sense, because it is based on an old script. My only critique would be the editing, which could have been leaner, considering that the film is over two hours long.

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Regardless of that I’ll praise the film for being straightforward and clear in its narrative. Usually, crime/action films tend to have very convoluted plots. As a result they lose me halfway through, because I can’t understand a thing anymore. It is not the case for Why Don’t You Play in Hell? however, because I didn’t notice any plot holes (though I’m not one who looks for them) and I understood the whole story fairly easily. If you like Japanese cinema, and especially Sion’s films you’ll enjoy recognizing a lot of great character actors in this film.

Jun Kunimura is especially fun to watch as the yakuza boss. He is very funny and fully embraces his character’s love for melodrama and grand gestures. Shinichi Tsutsumi was another favorite. He plays the rival boss with an infatuation for enemy’s daughter, which is sort of creepy because when they first meet she is only a little child. Fumi Nikaidō is great of course, she was fantastic in Himizu as well another great Sono Sion film. Here she plays the bosses daughter and she gets to kick some ass and show her ass and both are a pleasure to watch. All joking aside she is a very gifted actress (and a natural beauty).

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Another fun thing about the film is a faux toothpaste commercial which is shown at the very beginning of the film and referenced throughout. When the bosses daughter was a child she sang this catchy jingle for a commercial. It’s the cutest thing and it also reminded me of how Sion used Mail Me by Dessert in Suicide Club. Although the film gets a little cartoony at times and especially with the bad CGI at the end, it is a fun and easy to enjoy. It never takes itself too seriously and it is genuinely interested in entertaining the moviegoer and let them have a good time and sometimes that’s more than enough.

7.5 out of 10

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