asian horror

Why Don’t You Play in Hell (2013)

01

WDYPiH is a labor of love fifteen years in the making from acclaimed director Sion Sono, the creator of one of Japan’s finest psychological horrors, the classic Suicide Club (aka Suicide Circle).  While Sono’s list of movies is long and varied, and his aforementioned opus is still worthy of praise, this particular film shows that he has matured greatly as a director since.  A yakuza action film in the style of decades past, WDYPiH’s tight action sequences and flawless choreography add some real heat to what is essentially a comedy at its core.  Let me just put this simply: I fucking loved this movie.

Sweaty’s Stats

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Nudity

Zero.  Shh, it’s okay.

Gore

It may not classify as horror, but if you know yakuza action films, you know they tend to get bloody.  This one is fortunately no exception.

Screwball Factor

Low to moderate, but the comedy is solid.  This one plays it pretty straight; it’s not overtly silly, but some of the characters certainly have their moments.

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Summary

02

The class is Badass 101. Your instructor’s this guy.

We begin our story with a group of amateur filmmakers, called the Fuck Bombers, for some probably –not-translated-well reason.  Stumbling upon a fight between amateur rival gangs, they attempt to film the brawl under threat of violence to themselves, for the sake of “art.”  Hirata, director and leader of the Fuck Bombers, convinces one of the gang members, Sasaki, to abandon his yakuza dreams and instead become an action star.  And so Japanese Bruce Lee is born, Game-of-Death jumpsuit and all.

Next up we’re introduced to the Muto family; Boss Muto and leader of a real yakuza gang, his sweet young actress daughter Mitsuko, and devoted wife, Shizue.  One day members of the rival Kitagawa gang show up at the Muto home looking for the Boss; instead they face the wrath of his wife.

04

Never underestimate a wife with a knife.

Shizue slaughters the intruders but the cops don’t see it as defense and lock her away.  Daughter Mitsuko’s toothpaste ad is pulled from the air due to the scandal, and mom’s not too happy about it.  Meanwhile, Boss Muto takes revenge, and kills the head of the Kitagawa gang.  His successor, Elvis-like Ikegami, then proposes a truce shortly thereafter.

Ten years pass.  Tensions have flared between the two gangs once again.  His wife now having served her term, Boss Muto waits and reflects on the parts of his body most anticipating her arrival.

05

Mm, that’s some good innuendo.

Little does he know, the Kitagawa gang is downstairs, ready to raid the joint.  When the crash of a falling sign spooks gunfire to erupt, Muto immediately springs to action.  And holy shit did this motherfucker write the handbook on looking scary.  He comes down and pulls some John Woo bullet-time on the bastards, complete with feathers (from the throw pillows) flying.  Meanwhile, teenaged little vixen Mitsuko, having been tied up to keep her from running off, flees in the chaos.  Alone on the streets, she meets Koji, the hapless Romeo about to be swept up in her gun-toting, knife-wielding house of Capulets.  Koji helps her evade her father’s men.  She, in turn, introduces him to the world of being a mafia boss’s daughter.

06

And all the sexy torture that comes with it.

Visiting his wife in jail, Boss Muto reveals that Mitsuko was to have completed her first big role in a film.  Unbeknownst to his wife, Mitsuko has flaked and run off, screwing her mother out of the one light of happiness she’s held onto all these years.  Being that she was incarcerated for protecting her husband’s life, Boss Muto swears that Mitsuko will be a star if it’s the last thing he does.  Back at Kitagawa castle, clan leader Ikegami reveals a very unhealthy pining for his rival’s daughter, to the point of having his men stalk her to take pictures.  Also they all wear traditional kimono garb.  And did I mention the castle?

07

Yeeeeah.

So what of our film geeks?  The Fuck Bombers, now a decade older, are stagnantly making film shorts, languishing in obscurity, and still hoping for their big break.  While the rest of the crew remain hopeful, Bruce Lee isn’t feeling it.  Like all true martial arts heroes, he goes off on a personal journey for a little bit, to find himself.

x

Required listening.

On the other side of town, Mitsuko and Koji are eventually captured by her father, but in a moment of pity, she manages to get her dad to spare Koji by insisting that he’s a film director.  Still determined to make a movie in order to appease his long-suffering wife, Boss Muto agrees to let Koji live so long as they get a sweet movie out of the deal.  Koji, knowing nothing of film, tries to escape.  They catch up to him at a local shrine, holding a prayer (and a phone number, so ya know, God can just text back when He gets a second) left by a very determined young filmmaker.  Aaaand … you guessed it: enter the Fuck Bombers.

After Bruce finishes with his existential crisis, he returns to the fold and the group gear up for their biggest undertaking yet: filming a live battle between the rival yakuza clans.  Director Hirata, having been waiting for this moment his whole life, has some big plans for them.

08

09

Full disclosure: I cheered when he said this. It sort of freaked out the cat.

If these last two screencaps just made it move a little, oho … you my friend, are going to love the last third of this movie.  That’s right.  Hirata convinces both sides to put away the guns in favor of more stabby weapons.  And gosh, I hope you guys aren’t put off by a little blood.

10

Wait, did I say a little?  Because I may have been underestimating just a bit.  Say what you will about highly-restrictive gun laws, but they do make action films more awesome.  And that’s not entirely the work of fiction.  Japan has all but eliminated guns; even the yakuza typically avoid using them.

11

Although having Abobo in your employ does help.

Final Thoughts

14

Incredible performances, excellent effects (you just can’t do sword battle without that luscious arterial spray) and what was Papa Bacchus saying about the importance of sound?  This one nails it.  With straight up nods to Tarantino in parts (Santa Esmerelda’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” wafting in as katana girl exacts her revenge, for instance), fans of genre movies like this will find it hard not to love this one.  A modern day installment into yakuza action lore, WDYPiH goes a step further into the darkest fantasies of the filmmaker, where Sono all but fellates himself for us, showing us the artist’s greatest desire: to create the perfect film, where reality and facsimile become indistinguishable.  And while it may pay service to Kill Bill in terms of style, consider that for a moment; that what we have here is a Japanese film that is an homage to an American film, which is itself an homage to Japanese film.  It’s as fantastic as it sounds.  It’s this cross-pollination that I’m really coming to love about the cult cinema between our two countries.

Jun Kunimura (Boss Muto), whom you may remember as Boss Tanaka from Kill Bill vol. 1, is a seasoned actor with other notable cult films such as Audition and Ichi the Killer in his repertoire.  Like Tanaka, this character is mean motherfucker with an army of loyal thugs under his rule.  He brings a cold, steel badassery to this role like a man possessed by the spirit of Liam Neeson, if you caught Liam Neeson at a church social, maybe.  Let’s face it: even if you pull off a fraction of Neeson, you’re still a registered citizen in the country of Badass.

12

brb, just training Batman

Kunimura steals the show, but really the acting is great all around.  The film nerds are a funny and varied bunch of characters, as is the dysfunctional Muto mafia family.  When they come together it is pure magic.  Hell, I would’ve taken another hour of Japanese Bruce Lee just kicking yakuza ass while striking sweet, fake nunchaku-wielding poses.

13

Like a MacGyver of Death, a true warrior can kill with wood, metal, or PVC pipe covered in foam.

My favorite parts of this movie are the “gotcha” moments though.  Some of the more action-packed bits are often revealed to be fabrications, the musings of a star-struck crew.  It’s not always apparent what’s real and what’s imagined until after the fact, and it is some funny stuff.  Sono is showing off his talents with how this movie paces – sure, there are parts that slow down, especially with some of the romantic fluff, but you won’t find yourself bored.  There’s too much going on.  So much, it may take multiple viewings to truly appreciate some of the subtle intricacies of the plot.  The good news is, you don’t really have to take notes to enjoy what’s happening on screen and hell, you may find that you want to watch it again.  I know I did.

Score: 10/10, outstanding action, sublime comedy, peerless performances

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IMDB for this masterpiece

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