Director Shion Sono (Love Exposure), a Fantastic Fest favorite, is all about blowing out your mind through the back of your skull, sifting what remains through his personal and kaleidoscopic genre iconography, returning you to slack-jawed sentience, and then setting your proverbial pants on fire. No, really, that’s the totally insane – and insanely fun – method to Sono’s madness. Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, picked up by Drafthouse Films for distribution, plays like the director cracked open Cinema Paradiso, Bruce Lee’s Game of Death, the yakuza films of Takashi Miike, and Hammer & Tongs’ Son of Rambow, and then whipped up the most crazy-cool cinematic omelet you’ve ever choked on. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you may even shout “What the fuck?!” more than once, but you’ll almost certainly want to watch Sono’s entire filmography, like, right now, man.
Sono commences with a backstory as astringent as anyone could desire: Muto (Kunimura), the slowly fermenting head of a yakuza clan, is frolicking with his mistress when a rival gang breaks into his home intending to do him in. His wife, however, has other ideas, and single-handedly butchers all but one of the nattily dressed home invaders. The lone survivor is Ikegami (Tsutsumi), who is caught on film bloodily staggering away from the botched hit by the Fuck Bombers, a group of aspiring teenage filmmakers. And that’s just the first 10 minutes.
Cut to 10 years on and those same 24fps urchins are now adults, led by their irrepressible director Hirata (Hasegawa) and a yellow jump-suited (à la Bruce Lee) badass named Sasaki (Sakaguchi). Eventually, Hirata’s endearing psycho-passion for filmmaking lands him a job shooting the melee to end all melees when the two yakuza clans go head-to-head (and to limb, to spine, to viscera).
Prolific Japanese character actor Kunimura (Audition, the Kill Bill films) steals the show, as does Fumi Nikaidô as Muto’s prohibitively sexualized daughter. Longtime Sono editor Jun’ichi Itô and Takashi Miike’s favorite director of photography Hideo Yamamoto partner up to create a manic feast for the eyes that, surprisingly, also brims with true love, a wildly beating heart, and perversion that, in context, feels like absolute normalcy. Why Don’t You Play in Hell? isn’t for everyone, but neither was Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Genius is genius, no matter how many audience members may riot.
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