While viewing Sion Sono's Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, at times I couldn’t tell if the Japanese director was a deliciously inept fan of Tarantino and Jerry Lewis or a bizarro pro gleefully upending a genre or two or three. Not until I checked out his credits on IMDB (over 31 features), and sat down with two of his earlier features, could I assume here’s a gent at top of his game, whatever that game might be.
Sono's The Land of Hope (2012), for instance, is a poignant, well-acted, straightforward drama detailing a nuclear plant’s rupture after an earthquake and its devastating aftereffects on the lives of a small town’s residents.
The “unforgettable” Strange Circus (2005), a Grand Guignol of an entertainment, chronicles a school principal’s incestuous relationship with his twelve-year-old daughter, whom he sometimes encases in a cello case with peepholes, so she can watch him making love to her mother. The young girl, Mitsuko, starts believing she is her mother Sayuri to distance herself from the sex abuse she’s experiencing. But are these females real or just characters in the books of the best-selling, sex-addicted, wheelchair-bound novelist Taeko -- or is Taeko really Mitsuko or is she Sayuri? And who’s living in the cello case in Taeko’s apartment? And who gets his or her limbs cut off? And is that a real guillotine that keeps popping up? Only Netflix will supply you with the answer.
Back to Hell? This ode to the joys of filmmaking will no way ever be confused with Cinema Paradiso.
The film begins with a beautiful, little girl, Mitsuko, in a tooth paste commercial, singing her heart out. Shortly afterwards, four hit men from the Kitagawa yakuza gang try to slaughter her dad, Taizo Muto, head of the yakuza Muto clan. They fail after Mrs. Muto, Mitsuko’s mom, starts knifing them to death.
On the other side of town, The Fuck Bombers, four teens who dream of making an action masterpiece, start shooting their epic. They don’t get very far.
Jump a decade ahead. Mrs. Muto is about to be released from prison in ten days, and all she can dream about is seeing the movie starring her daughter that Taizo has been telling her about. There’s a problem. There is no such product. To remedy the situation, The Fuck Bombers, who are still together, are called into action. Their task: Complete a film before Mrs. Muto gets released or face death. Also, instead of hiring actors and utilizing a screenplay, an actual battle with swords between the Muto and Kitagawa gangs will be the centerpiece of this extravaganza.
The plot is actually much more complex than the one I have shared with you. For example, the grownup Mitsuko stuffs broken glass into the mouth of an ex-boyfriend and then tongue-kisses him while her fake boyfriend for the day, Koji, a gentle soul, watches in shock.
Then there’s Ikegami, an assassin with a Lolita-complex, who’s been in love with Mitsuko from her dental ad days, which is more than a bit creepy if you don’t live Japan. He becomes head of the Kiragawas and makes all his hoods wear kimonos.
The whole over-the-top on-screen affair is chaotic, with loads of crosscutting that lead up to an outrageous half-hour skirmish with so much blood on the screen you can imagine you’re watching a tour of a Heinz ketchup factory.
The tone, as you’ve guessed, is fairly comic throughout, the acting is reminiscent of Pauly Shore’s, and if you have a few beers by your side, some cold pizza, and a bag of chips, and if you are caught up on all of your Downton Abbeys, this might just be the ideal entertainment for you. Sadly, I don’t drink. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, the New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton). He is also a member of the performance/writing group FlashPoint.