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There's a war going on, but that won't stop the inexperienced but eager wannabe film crew, The Fuck Bombers, from following their dreams of making the ultimate action epic. Ten years ago, yakuza mid-boss Ikegami led an assault against rival don, Muto. Now, on the eve of his revenge, all Muto wants to do is complete his masterpiece, a feature film with his daughter in the starring role, before his wife is released from prison. And The Fuck Bombers are standing by with the chance of a lifetime: to film a real, live yakuza battle to the death...on 35mm! (From Drafthouse’s official synopsis)

 Why Don't You Play in Hell
Writer/director Sion (sometimes Shion) Sono is an obscure enough figure in modern Japanese cinema that he might be a complete enigma to western audiences. He began his career hidden among flamboyant filmmakers like Takashi Miike and Shinya Tsukamoto, during a wave of genre-driven, low-budget indies in the 1990s (working as a writer, director, cinematographer, and even actor for other filmmakers at times) before gaining a glimmer of worldwide recognition for Suicide Club (aka: Suicide Circle) in 2001. He followed up that success with an eclectic collection of sometimes surrealistic, often quirky, occasionally obscene genre-hopping features, including Noriko's Dinner Table, a two hour and forty minute prequel/sequel/in-betweenquel to Suicide Club that explained and further convoluted its ‘mythology.’ Most recently, his diverse talent produced an award-winning serial killer bio-pic ( Cold Fish, 2010) and a weepy melodrama about the aftereffects of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami ( Land of Hope, 2012).

Sono’s latest is Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (literally translated title Why is Hell Bad?), a subversive, over-the-top homage to the Yakuza and delinquent youth flicks that inspired his early independent work.  The referential themes – along with some shared images/sounds (cult favourite actor Tak Sakaguchi dons a yellow Bruce Lee tracksuit and a generic rendition of Santa Esmeralda’s ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,’ for example) and an appearance by actor Jun Kunimura – have garnered comparisons to Tarantino’s Kill Bill series, but Sono takes it further with his film-within-a-film aspects and is much more impatient in terms of his frantic editing. This multi-media, metatextual parade is led by a very Japanese brand of absurdity and satire. Sono tops his contemporaries by opening the film with an extended flashback that doesn’t only set the story in play, but spoofs the exaggerated, grainy, anime-fueled tones of the late-‘90s/early-‘00s movies he and his filmmaking friends were making – stuff like Katsuhito Ishii’s Party 7 and Sogo Ishii’s Electric Dragon 80,000 Volts. Sono even revisits Suicide Club in the form of a commercial jingle sung by a child that sort of ‘haunts’ the entire film. When we arrive in the current timeline, the A/V frenzy is toned down without dialing back too hard on the heightened reality and eccentric characters.

 Why Don't You Play in Hell
Like many of its counterparts, Why Don’t You Play in Hell’s frantic pace, weird structure, excessive flashbacks, and excessive character count makes it hard to follow. The effort spent reading subtitles and surmounting cultural barriers makes keeping up with the already scattershot plot all the more difficult, but the consistent tonal insanity is enough to keep even the most baffled viewer engaged. Once we’re past the first act’s shenanigans and are firmly stationed in the current timeline, the characters are regulated -and the narrative is somewhat naturalized, though this leads to a slightly bigger problem, one that has plagued every Sion Sono movie I’ve ever seen – an excessive runtime. A number of elongated and seemingly repetitive sequences will test the more restless viewers, but, rest assured, it all comes together in the end, when a myriad of intercut plot-points come together amid a flurry of surreal scenes that capture the frustration and elation of filmmaking while blurring the lines between reality and fantasy. Sono also cultivates pathos from his cartoonish personalities. Kunimura, who plays Yakuza boss Muto, is particularly good. He plays a more dynamic version of the same aging crime lord he’s been recycling for years. He’s funny in a surprisingly sweet manner that maintains the satirical tone without acting like a clown.

 Why Don't You Play in Hell

Video


Despite the ‘…on 35mm!’ part of the tagline, Why Don’t You Play in Hell was reportedly shot on Red Epic digital HD cameras and is presented here in 2.35:1, 1080p video. Sono and frequent Miike cinematographer Hideo Yamamoto (no relation to the famous manga artist/writer) cake the opening act in digital grain, some of which appears to just be typical compression noise, but most of which seems to have been added for the sake of additional film-like texture. These scenes take place in an era before digital film was readily available and are replaced in the current time period with smooth, more typically Red-looking images (there’s even a mention of how much more complex cameras have gotten at the top of the present-era sequences). The artificial grain crushes out detail and causes a number of bleeding and edge enhancement effects. Fear not, however, because, once we arrive in the modern time period, we are greeted by clean compositions, smooth gradations, soft contrast, and tight details we’ve come to expect from the Red Epic format. Sono and Tamamoto cut back to the grainy past for flashbacks, but otherwise maintain the more standardized imagery for the remainder of the film. The present-day colours are vivid and eclectic without appearing too unnatural or heavily augmented with digital grading. Complex patterns are supported beautifully by rich blacks that tend to take on the warming and cooling effects of the hues that surround them.

 Why Don't You Play in Hell

Audio


The back of the box lists a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, but this disc comes loaded with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Japanese soundtrack (Drafthouse’s Blu-rays often seem to recycle the specs from their DVD releases). This is an aggressive track that keeps the stereo channels consistently busy while also successfully separating dialogue into the center channel. The early act is strangely mixed, giving it an extra level of surrealism and, once again, establishing the pre-digital era. The effects blending and volume levels are incredibly inconsistent. The present era sequences are mixed more naturally with full 5.1 movement, a thick layer of ambient effects, and more successful directional momentum. Sono supplies his own music. This includes a number of catchy, early ‘60s-style rock, lounge, and surf that helps set the exploitation era Yakuza flair. The inconsistent sound qualities definitely damage the impact of the score and songs at some points by spreading all of the music too far into the stereo channels. The wideness isn’t supported by aural depth, so it tends to sound like an artificially-spread mono track, instead of one designed for two channel treatment. Again, I assume this was an intended effect and not Drafthouse’s problem. The modern time period music fits the channels better and includes plenty of LFE support.

Extras


  • Press conference interview with Sion Sono (22:20, HD) – A perpetually out-of-focus look at a press conference.
  • Trailer


 Why Don't You Play in Hell

Overall


The gonzo, nihilistic insanity of Why Don’t You Play in Hell might prove too much for mainstream viewers, but is an essential viewing for fans of Sion Sono and his genre-bending contemporaries. Drafthouse’s Blu-ray represents the dueling gritty and clean images beautifully with few unintended artefacts and features a nice, brisk DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack. The extras are thin, however, including only amateur-shot footage from a press conference and a trailer.

 Why Don't You Play in Hell

 Why Don't You Play in Hell
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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