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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

WHY DON'T YOU PLAY IN HELL? Review: Japan Cuts Opening Night

Photo courtesy of Drafthouse Films
2014, 129 minutes
Not rated

Review by Joshua Handler

Sion Sono's new film, Why Don't You Play in Hell? is insane.  There's no other way to put it.  It is way too long for its own good, but at the point when it felt too long, it got bloodier and crazier.  The film is supposedly Sono's "ode to 35mm film" and tells two stories: one about an amateur film team who wants to make a movie, the other about a Yakuza boss who tries to get his daughter back.

Nothing could ever prepare you for Why Don't You Play in Hell's energy and insanity.  From the opening minutes to the bizarre final moments, this movie keeps its energy level somewhere above The Wolf of Wall Street if it was on crack.  Every single actor is completely game for whatever Sono wants them to do.  Of particular note are the performances of Jun Kunimara (as a crazed yakuza boss) and Fumi Nakaidô as his equally crazed daughter.  Kunimara brings an unpredictability to this role that makes him frightening, but also a light sense of humor that makes him extremely enjoyable.  Nakaidô brings toughness, seductiveness, and faux innocence to her performance.  She's a joy to watch in the action sequences.

While I certainly warmed to Why Don't You Play in Hell?, it took me a while because it and its characters are out in their own world.  The characters annoyed me initially, but over the course of this 2-hour film, I grew to accept them and enjoy watching them.  Additionally, this movie seemed endless.  At 129 minutes, it is way too long.  It's not that Sono adds scenes to waste time, it's simply that he is having so much fun that he doesn't know when to stop.  That being said, the excesses in Why Don't You Play in Hell? are at least outrageously entertaining.

The climax of Why Don't You Play in Hell? is one for the ages.  Nothing could ever prepare you for its brilliance.  I've faulted a number of movies over the past year for not going far enough with their climaxes or concepts.  That is one thing I could never fault this movie for.  Just when you think it's going to end, Sono throws in another scene more outrageous than the one you just saw.

Overall, Why Don't You Play in Hell? is quite the ride.  It certainly will not be for everyone, but for those who live for crazy Japanese cinema, it will be a new masterpiece.  This film served as opening night for Japan Cuts at Japan Society and was shown in conjunction with the New York Asian Film Festival.  Actress Fumi Nakaidô was in attendance for a Q&A.  Japan Cuts runs through July 20.


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