Why Don’t You Play in Hell? Review

Reckless gonzo auteur Sian Sono goes for broke with a film so gleefully deranged and delightfully nonsensical, but with far too much plot and character to keep things fun. At 127 minutes it could lose about 40 minutes of dead weight in the middle entirely at random and not change the outcome of the film’s story. It’s a literal case of a film being too much. The first time I sat through the film it was exhausting, but not without merit. A rewatch offered a lot more to like when noticing small details, but it was also even more tiresome.

A sprawling cult epic in the making and another in a long line of films in the past few years decrying the death of cinema and 35mm film, Sono spins a multarc story based around two warring Yakuza families and how a group of amateur filmmakers who have never done anything with their lives or art (known as The Fuck Bombers) will exploit the rivalry and a doomed romance between a related teenage actress (and former commercial jingle spokesgirl as a child) and a nerd to make “a damn good movie.”

Why Dont You Play in Hell

As a biting artistic statement about how stylistic filmmaking has killed modern Japanese cinema, Sono hits the mark nicely, but he never seems to know when to cut. Some sequences just keep going on and on long after a point has been made without adding anything new. It also tends to forget about the filmmaking crew for a long stretch, which is unwise since they’re the heart of the film and the Yakuza stuff is astoundingly boring and dry. Sono never fully decides if he wants to be serious, satirical, goofball, or nostalgic in any scene he directs. He has always struck me as an interestingly sloppy filmmaker. He clearly has a lot to say, but he never quite figures out how to say it. It’s like having a conversation with someone witty and intelligent who just suddenly up and decides to start humping your couch for no reason before returning to talk about something boring before setting your couch on fire and slapping the shit out of you for no reason. Bits and pieces of that are memorable in hindsight, but being around it for as long as he asks you to be around the material is a chore unless all you care about are those high spots that are peppered through the film as a whole.

Still, the first 30 minutes and the extended grand finale (involving cocaine, rainbows, swords, and one of the most recognizable pieces of music ever created) will be worth it for adventurous viewers. I still wish it worked better as a whole than it does in fits and spurts. It’s certainly the work of a “capital A Artist,” but that doesn’t mean the art is particularly great even with something to say.


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