Why Don’t You Play in Hell

October 9, 2013

Sono’s cinema tribute is fun until it becomes a childish CGI fest

Jigoku de naze warui (2013)

Sion Sono has spent the last few years directing uneven dramas. Why Don’t You Play in Hell marks a return to energetic pop cinema. The film, based on a 17 year old screenplay, is a madcap celebration of cinema, until the ending goes down the sewer in a CGI packed finale that contributes to the destruction of real action cinema.

The 130 minute film packs a rather thrilling selection of characters, including yakuza boss keen on making her daughter a film star, and a passionate amateur film crew The Fuck Bombers who take on the challenge to film an all time action film with yakuzas whacking each other off for real in front of camera.

Why Don’t You Play in Hell best compares to Love Exposure in Sono’s filmography. The first half is a blast. The director throws in violence, romance, yakuzas, and samples a thrilling music selection like Tarantino in his best days. Casting features some standouts as well. The recently retired action star Tak Sakaguchi is spot on as a Japanese Bruce Lee wanna-be, and Himizu star Fumi Nikaido steals the show as a yakuza daughter tough girl.

Sono fans will also recognize the fictional movie-within-the-movie “The Blood of the Wolves” as Sono and Sakaguchi’s real life attempt at creating an ultimate samurai action movie. The film was in production for years, and parts of it were apparently filmed in 2012, but it seems unlikely the film will be competed anytime soon, if ever.

Why Don’t You Play in Hell, unfortunately, won’t make Sono and Sakaguchi’s dream project. Sono’s masterpieces Suicide Club (2001), Hazard (2005), Noriko’s Dinner Table (2005) and Love Exposure (2008) all mix wild entertainment, poetic cinema and poignant commentary, making relatively harmonic films. Not so with Why Don’t You Play in Hell, which certainly is loud, but eventually lacks meaning and heart. Some of the music is also recycled from old Sono films, and the pacing goes off before half-way.

The real deal breaker is the climax – an all out massacre executed mostly in awful video game CGI. The computer gore is despicable anti-cinema that ought to entertain 12 year olds – a statement seemingly agreed by Japan’s film censorship office Eirin who rated the film pg-12.

Sono has described his (digitally shot) film as a love letter to the disappearing 35 mm film. In the film’s nostalgic movie theatre scene an old projectionist (the ever so charismatic Mickey Curtis) plays Sono’s 1992 film The Room and introduces the kids to the magic genuine celluloid cinema. It’s a shame 60 minutes later Sono goes crazy with video game CGI – the second death knell to real cinema – and all his prior statements are in vain.

Truth be told, the catastrophic ending (which could also be edited better) aside Why Don’t You Play in Hell is mostly an entertaining, at times even exhilarating, ride. Mainstream audiences ought to like it.


  1. Great review. I was a little less critical of the final bloodbath, though it went on far too long. There was actually a moment, when heads and limbs were being tossed up from behind a shoji screen where I laughed out loud – definitely a non-CGI low-budget effect. But it seems – I keep having some hope – that Sono’s beginning to slowly dig his way out of his nihilist hole and getting a bit back into form.

  2. Thanks Nicholas.

    CGI is a tough issue for me. I just cannot see any real creativity in it. Old school effects may look silly, but at least they are concrete and subject to the laws of physics. It’s like Jackie Chan hanging from a bus window in Police Story – there may be a few hidden safety precautions, but we know most of the risks are real, and that’s why it’s a breathtaking scene. Green screen effects could never replicate the same excitement. I hate to see an influential director like Sono contribute to the CGI craze as other filmmakers are likely to follow his example.

    Nevertheless, the film was indeed a step up for Sono in many other departments. Let’s see what he comes up with next.

    I forgot to mention in the review that the Japanese theatrical version (reviewed above) is supposed to be about 7 minutes longer than the Venice festival print, which was referred to as “Director’s Cut” and had no ending credits.

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