In 2009, Jen and Sylvia Soska stepped on the horror film scene with their critically acclaimed debut film, Dead Hooker in a Trunk. By 2012, the Twisted Twins had released a number of directorial works including American Mary, all through their production company, Twisted Twins Productions. Their recent projects include See No Evil 2, ABCs of Death 2 and the upcoming Vendetta.
Sion Sono’s films came into our lives in a manner impossible to describe, leaving us overwhelmed, confused, engaged, elated. The experience has left us never quite the same. We came across his work when we discovered Suicide Club (aka Suicide Circle), in which a detective tries to uncover the truth behind a mysterious string of suicides. The film opens with a group of school girls gleefully singing in a subway station before joining hands and leaping in front of an oncoming train. It also had a standout performance from the captivating, androgynous Rolly Teranishi as the wicked Genesis. And you can bet we were first in line to take in Tokyo Tribe when it hit Fantastic Fest this year. With Sion Sono, you know you can expect buckets of blood, plenty of WTF moments, a killer soundtrack, bizarre characters and a plot that you feel insane trying to explain to those not in the know — and that’s exactly what you get with Why Don’t You Play in Hell?
As we’re filmmakers ourselves, this brilliant love letter to filmmaking and ill-fated, all-consuming passion sank its talons into our hearts from the first frame. Allow us to attempt to explain the powerfully imaginative world master Sion Sono has created to delight us with this time around. We come in 10 years prior to the heart of the story as we meet a ragtag group of aspiring young filmmakers, the Fuck Bombers. They include director Hirata (Hiroki Hasegawa) and his two best friends: his guy pal Miki (Yuki Ishii), the master of the dolly shot, and his gal pal Tanigawa (Mika Haruki), master of hand-held. (Miki and Tanigawa ultimately fall in love in camera-crew bliss, and start a competition to prove to the others that they are the superior talents.) The Fuck Bombers are infatuated with filming the coolest stuff and share Hirata’s lifelong dream of making one film, the perfect film. When they come across a group of kids fighting, they film them, deciding that one of the brawlers, Sasaki (Tak Sakaguchi), is Japan’s own Bruce Lee. Sasaki joins the Fuck Bombers, an enduring bond of friendship is formed and they set out to fulfill Hirata’s dream.
On the other side of town, yakuza boss Muto (Jun Kunimura) and rival clan leader Ikegami (Shinichi Tsutsumi) are locked in a bloody war. When assassins arrive to take out Muto, they instead find his bloodthirsty and vicious wife, Shizue (Tomochika), who dispatches all but one of the killers with vengeful efficiency. The missus goes to jail, not giving up her husband, and the greatest and most bizarre tragedy is that their adorable daughter Mitsuko’s smash sensation toothpaste commercial, in which the poppet sings a catchy jingle, is yanked off the air.
The two narrative strands are brought together 10 years on. Shizue is to be released from prison and Muto wants to give her a gift to show that her sacrifice hasn’t been for naught: a movie starring Mitsuko (Fumi Nikaido). Mitsuko, however, is a typical do-whatever-she-wants teen with no interest in helping her father, but just when it seems like completing the film is a possibility, fate intervenes as the Fuck Bombers enter the picture — and everything that Sono has set up comes beautifully together.
At the heart of Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is a pressing story about how we can be obsessed with what we love the most, and how much we would sacrifice for those desires. It’s not an idealized love, the way American films portray it. It’s like any true love: it’s dirty, it’s messy, it’s terrifying, it’s exhilarating and it’s defining. The film brilliantly builds this ridiculous world filled with epic, larger-than-life characters and over-the-top dramatics, stunning cinematography, outstanding visuals, shocking storytelling and music so catchy you’ll wish you were more fluent in Japanese. I swear that toothpaste commercial song has been burnt into my soul.
Fascinatingly, the movie also has many allusions to Tarantino’s Kill Bill, from Sasaki donning Bruce Lee’s infamous yellow tracksuit to Mitsuko facing off against the yakuza with the House of Blue Leaves music drumming away in perfect counterpoint. Just when you get sucked into its heart, the film rips out yours, leaving you thinking about sacrifice and just how much you’d give up for what you love the most.
And when you think you have it figured out, Sion Sono kicks it into high gear for an absolutely unforgettable and unforgiving grand finale bloodbath, without which no Sono film would be complete. Even with its over-the-top visuals, Why Don’t You Play in Hell? manages to pull on your heartstrings at all the right moments while making you burst out laughing just when things seem at their grimmest.
Some people may not be able to suspend their disbelief or allow themselves to get lost in this live-action, comic book-feeling gorefest, and we honestly feel truly sorry for those people. If you want to keep your feet planted firmly on the ground, you won’t be able to soar with Why Don’t You Play in Hell?
You will never guess how it ends, so just buckle up and enjoy the ride as Sion Sono drives you through this insane masterpiece.