|Reviews & Columns|
TV on DVD
Reviews by Studio
Collector Series DVDs
Easter Egg Database
DVD Talk Radio
The M.O.D. Squad
DVD Talk Forum
DVD Price Search|
Customer Service #'s
Why Don t You Play in Hell?
Written and directed by Sion Sono (who has become somewhat of an enfant terrible in Japanese cinema over the last few years, and I mean that in the best way possible), Why Don't You Play In Hell? follows a low budget team of amateur film makers who are bound and determined to make the most brutally realistic Yakuza film ever made in the history of Japanese cinema. At least, on the surface that's what it's about… the F#ck Bombers. That's what this crew calls itself.
Led by the film's director, Hirata (Tatsuya Nakajima in the early scenes and then Hiroki Hasegawa as the character grows from a teenager into an adult), the F#ck Bombers start things off by shooting a brawl between a group of kids out on the street. Here Hirata meets and strikes up an odd relationship with a man named Sasaki (Tak Sakaguchi). Hirata sees star power in Sasaki and decides he'll make him into the next Bruce Lee. As they set about making their 8mm masterpiece, there's a very real Yakuza war evolving all around them. The Muto Clan, led by Taizo Muto (Jun Kunimura), is at war with the Kitigawa Clan, led by Ikegami (Shin'ichi Tsutsumi) in which the singing career of Muto's daughter, Mitsuko, would seem to hang in the balance (she had a hit with a jingle she sang in a toothpaste commercial!).
Again, years pass, and Muto has decided that Mitsuko (all grown up and played by Fumi Nikaido), has got what it takes to make it in the movies. The problem? She's not interested in movies, she's interested in doing her own thing. Her father is persistent enough that she feels the need to kidnap her ‘boyfriend' Koji (Gen Hoshino) to trick him into leaving her alone, but things get complicated for her when Koji's childhood obsession with her commercial turns into full-fledged love on his part. When Mitsuko finally relents and agrees to her father's insistence, she does so only on the condition that Koji be allowed to direct. When it soon becomes obvious that Koji has no idea what he's doing, there's only one film crew that can help him win the day: Hatari and the F#ck Bombers, who will know be able to get that Yakuza battle on film they've been planning for so long…
Based in an alternate reality Japan where movies can only be made on film stock, Why Don't You Play In Hell? is part obsessive love letter to the medium, part action/gore extravaganza, part satire and part black comedy. If there's one thing that fans of Soni's output know, it's that when it comes to his work you're best to expect the unexpected and in that regard, Why Don't You Play In Hell? definitely delivers. It's a movie of inspired lunacy to be sure, but there are so many quirky little details worked in here that the comedy almost always works and the satire, with obsessive directors like himself being the most obvious target, is typically spot on. Of course, the fact that the movie itself was shot on digital video is irrelevant. When his characters constantly chant about the merits of 35mm and pray to the god of film it's easy to look past that fact and just enjoy ‘the big picture.'
What's interesting about the picture, aside from the outlandish set pieces and insane characters, is how the movie plays to the director's own strengths. While Sono has evolved as a filmmaker and grown in popularity over the years, he still leans towards projects that offer more in terms of creative freedom than financial gain. The F#ck Bombers are after that. They're very much the low men on the totem pole, just as he was when he started making movies years back. The characters know they won't necessarily achieve instant stardom overnight, but they're driven and ambitious and inspired and creative in their attempts to finish their project. While those qualities are often more than a little misguided, as is often the case in the real world too, they're definitely there.
With a story is frequently berserk as this one it would have been easy for the movie to fly off the rails. The acting styles are often erratic and more often than not all over the place and the plot zips around quickly and typically places you don't really expect it to go. Sono, however, keeps control over this and while it comes perilously close to flipping out under the weight of its own style, it never does. By the time it's all over with your brain is left seething. The film is an adrenaline rush of sorts, particularly in its last twenty-minutes. However, if you pay attention to the details, the nuances in direction and performance and design all on display, Sono's love letter to the art form he has chosen is actually quite touching.The Blu-ray:
Why Don't You Play In Hell? was shot digitally and then slapped onto Blu-ray disc for Drafthouse Films in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation. The widescreen framing (which occasionally switches to 1.33.1 fullframe) looks good and while the movie is heavy on CGI throughout, detail is typically really strong here. The scenes that take place in ‘earlier times' have got a fake-grain effect going on but that does sort of add to the mood of those scenes and it feels appropriate enough even if it isn't one hundred percent convincing. Sharpness and contrast are spot on and the color reproduction evident in each frame looks excellent. Black levels are nice and solid as well and there are no issues with any compression artifacts. All in all, the movie looks great on Blu-ray.Sound:
The audio chores on the disc are handled by a Japanese language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix with optional subtitles provided in English only. Surround channels are used well here throughout the movie while sound effects (which do have a sort of old school martial arts artificiality to them in terms of clarity) have a decent amount of punch behind them. Dialogue seems clear enough and levels are properly balanced, as is the score. This is at certain points a pretty aggressive mix and at other points not so much but what we hear in the different parts of the movie reflects what's going on in the movie quite fittingly.Extras:
The main extra on the disc is a twenty-two minute long Press Conference With Sion Sono in which the director speaks at a Japanese Tower Records location about what went into getting this movie made, the real life inspiration for the F#ck Bombers and the story itself and how an old friend of his named Tanobe (who joins in on the talk) inspired a lot of what happens in the movie. The quality of the press conference, technically speaking, is nothing to write home about (it's a ropey SD presentation) but it's interesting to watch. It's also presented in Japanese with English subtitles, but you probably knew that already.
Aside from that we get two different trailers for the feature, trailers for a few other Drafthouse Films offerings, menus and chapter selection. Included inside the keepcase is a booklet containing credits for the disc and the movie as well as some writing from James "Barf" Callahan (the man who illustrated Oni Press' amazing comic series The Auteur!) who discusses his work designing the Drafthouse poster art for the movie. Some interesting rough sketches are included here that show us a ‘start to finish' look at how the piece was put together. A reproduction of said poster is also included inside the case.Final Thoughts:
Why Don't You Play In Hell? isn't for everyone, it's pretty out there, but if you're able to get in on it, the movie proves to be not only wildly creative but at times ridiculously clever too, and never at the cost of entertainment value. As to the disc itself, though it disappoints with a fairly minimal selection of supplemental features (some behind the scenes stuff or a good commentary would have been very welcome here) at least the audio and video quality are top notch and offer up this wholly bizarre and thoroughly entertaining movie in a top notch presentation. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.