Writer/director Shion Sono is no stranger to the blood-and-guts gangster film. In the last 10 years, he has been operating with an unbelievable amount of energy and a seemingly endless fountain of ideas. On average, Sono churns out two to three films a year. Anyone who makes Woody Allen look lazy, regardless of the film’s quality, is impossible to not admire.
There is a great deal of plot in the movie and it behooves you to give it your full attention as there’s something at least memorable happening in every scene.
The film starts off in different strands, with each portion telling its own tale. Eventually, the strands interlock and, as they become more embroiled in each other, the film becomes more chaotic: on one hand, you have a close-knit group of filmmakers obsessed for years with making a “great film,” praying to the movie gods to grant them the ability to do so. Then you have a mob boss, his wife and his daughter. The boss’ enemy, another Yakuza clan in the area, break into his home where they find his wife preparing dinner. Instead of carving up the roast beast, she carves up the clan, creating a scene of such over-the-top levels of carnage and oceans of blood that the Crazy 88 scene in Kill Bill is PG-rated by comparison.
As she is carted off to jail for 10 years, the clans make peace. But, as her release date nears, she obsesses about her daughter, once a celebrity for a popular toothpaste commercial, starring in a big movie (the tune won’t leave your head for days, I promise).
The mob boss’ family crosses paths with the idealistic filmmakers and carnage ensues.
While Frank may be the obvious, more hipster choice for a flagship film, Why Don’t You Play in Hell is exactly the kind of flick that personifies the Calgary Underground Film Festival. Where else will you see a rip-roaring, bloody-as-hell gangster film from Japan in Calgary?
Sono’s restless, swirling camera struggles to keep up with the action on the screen which leads to a visual restlessness in scenes that fits the story well. His storytelling is fun and smart. And while things will always get lost in translation, particularly between two languages as different as English and Japanese, his dialogues are funny and witty.
It is hard to watch a film like Why Don’t You Play in Hell without getting overly critical as it reminds you of the better films it strives to be. It is certainly not perfect. Some of the pacing is a little odd, the story is fun and tight but often ridiculous. While the blood is over-the-top, it all but loses its ability to shock.
If you get a kick out of the films of blood barons like Tarantino, Takashi Miike, Hong Kong-era John Woo or Seijun Suzuki, then you’ll have a blast with Why Don’t You Play in Hell. A shotgun blast. To the head.
By Dustin Griffin