Director: Sion Sono
Cast: Jun Kunimura, Fumi Nikaido, Gen Hoshino
Spoilers Within: No
Originally posted 20th July 2016 on Letterboxd.
Film 5 – #117 in ‘The Hard Drive Randomiser’
There are films that exist to confuse with intent, laying down actual science in an explicitly non-servile way as to confound the viewer either through genuine academia (Primer for example) or interlacing, gradually revealing plots (i.e. Memento); others are simply confusing due to their cryptic and bafflingly stupid approach to storytelling (The Matrix sequels spring to mind). Sion Sono’s berserk Why Don’t You Play in Hell? falls somewhere in the middle of both of those, and it’s better for it in every conceivable way.
The film starts with a sugary, adorable jingle for brushing your teeth that seems as disconnected as the subsequent 45 minutes, only sparingly teasing you with visuals or slivers of information to call back to the core narrative. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, it’s a mix of the two approaches to elliptical storytelling: the way Sono approaches the decade-long time jump – as well as omitting the Fuck Bombers for at least 40 minutes from their first introduction and for a further 30 after they’re re-introduced – makes the film feel deliberately complex in order to foster the rewarding, breathless third act turn where (mostly) everything comes back together in ridiculously bloody finale.
Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is a sincerely bonkers and gloriously violent ode to the disorderly method of filmmaking, playing pastiche to the likes of Kill Bill and Hard Boiled via Cinema Paradiso all with a uniquely brash and uncompromising attitude. Sono practically begs you to question his style, daring you to take moments of it seriously in the face of the multiple dream sequences and flights of fantasy, goading you into it with the straightforward lyrics of the cutely repetitive tooth-brushing jingle.
It’s packed with constant overacting, turgid pacing, ugly camerawork, and a needlessly elaborate story, but where other films would buckle under just one of these, Sono has created a film that drags all these through the (literal) rivers of blood and sweat that goes into filmmaking and delivers a constantly entertaining and laugh-out-loud funny ballad to the art of tangible film.