Film review: Why Don't You Play in Hell? is a gore-fest with a juvenile touch

Yvonne Teh

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 November, 2013, 10:29pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 November, 2013, 10:29pm

Why Don't You Play in Hell?
Starring: Jun Kunimura, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Hiroki Hasegawa, Gen Hoshino, Fumi Nikaido, Tomochika, Hiroki Hasegawa
Director: Sion Sono
Category: III (Japanese)
Rating: 2/5


Poet-turned-filmmaker Sion Sono's works have been shown at many international festivals and tend towards the cult end of the spectrum rather than art house. His latest offering: Why Don't You Play in Hell? screened at Paris' L'Étrange Festival, Austin's Fantastic Fest and the Midnight Madness section of this year's Toronto International Film Festival.

The film begins innocuously enough with a toothpaste commercial in which a bright-eyed, 10-year-old named Mitsuko dances and sings a catchy jingle. But mayhem and bloodletting ensues before she appears as a young adult (Fumi Nikaido) in the film, along with revelations that her father is yakuza boss Muto (Jun Kunimura) and that her mother, Shizue (Tomochika), was incarcerated for 10 years for massacring all but one member of a rival gang who went to the family's home to assassinate Muto.

To help realise his wife's dream that their daughter becomes an actress, Muto wants to make a film starring their daughter and show it to Shizue when she gets out of prison. Undeterred by matters such as his gang's violent feud with a squad headed by massacre survivor Ikegami (Shinichi Tsutsumi), Muto enlists the hapless Koji (Gen Hoshino) - a nice young man whose only crime is his crush on Mitsuko - to direct the film. Koji recruits a wildly enthusiastic group of wannabe filmmakers headed by the annoying, motor-mouthed Hirata (Hiroki Hasegawa), after which an already zany movie veers into the realm of seriously deranged.

After showing his serious side with post-earthquake dramas Himizu (2011) and The Land of Hope (2012), Sono has returned to cult-shocker territory with an often visually startling movie with a script he originally wrote 17 years ago. Although the story has been updated, including a plot strand that pays nostalgic tribute to 35mm film, there still is a juvenile feel to Why Don't You Play in Hell?, not least in the copious use of profanity and hyper violence.

More than once, a revered elderly film projectionist is heard telling Hirata and his crew to "Make a damn good movie, even if it's only one". But while the youngsters - including a yellow-jump-suited Bruce Lee wannabe (Tak Sakaguchi) - try, there's only so much that can be expected of a group that calls itself the F*** Bombers.

Sono's latest effort got the People's Choice nod for the Midnight Madness sidebar at Toronto, but this film's lunacy levels are so consistently over the top as to be tiresome.


Why Don't You Play in Hell? opens on November 14