Venice 2013: ‘Why Don’t You Play in Hell?’ review


Sion Sono returns to the Lido this year with Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (2013), a deliriously silly homage to cinematic violence. Hiroki Hasegawa plays protagonist Hirata, a young indie filmmaker with big ambitions. He roams the streets with his gang, the ‘Fuck Bombers’, shooting footage of whatever crosses their path – including bleeding Yakuza member Ikegami (Shinichi Tsutsumi) as he escapes a botched hit. The intended target for the hit was crocodile-suited rival boss Muto (Jun Kunimura), but everything went wrong when they ran into his wife, Shizue (Tomochika), who dispatched the kill squad with a kitchen knife.

Shizue is jailed for the gruesome act and their daughter’s advert for toothpaste is taken off the air. Ten years then pass as Shizue prepares to be released from jail. Muto subsequently gives her the good news that her now adult daughter Mitsuko (Fumi Nikaido) is making her first film. Hirata, on the other hand, finds himself involved in making a movie for Ikegama, now obsessed with the daughter of his arch-nemesis. Why Don’t You Play in Hell? feels almost like a debut offering for Sono, so full is it of brash invention. Not all of it works and some of the broader, blacker comedy might be off-putting to mainstream audiences, but anyone receptive to the works of John Woo, Johnnie To or Takeshi Kitano will undoubtedly find much to enjoy.

Sono’s latest is at once a parody and paean to the aforementioned directors and bloody Eastern cinema, complete with a sensational Japanese Bruce Lee wannabe (jumpsuit and nunchuks included). There’s never a dull moment, and the occasional twists and turns are audacious and insanely brilliant. Cameras spin, blood spurts and limbs and heads are soon flying, with the Yakuza becoming willing accomplices in their own film. The cross-pollination between real-life gangsters and the movies has a history as long as cinema itself, but here Sono’s Why Don’t You Play in Hell? takes it to a whole new level. The satire is as sharp as a katana and the film’s punk attitude as daft as one could ever hope for. If there is something that we can take seriously in this postmodern mishmash of lurid fun, it’s Sono’s deep love and faith in the possibilities of cinema.

The 70th Venice Film Festival takes place from 28 August to 7 September, 2013. For more of our Venice 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.

John Bleasdale