March 2nd 2015 05:04
From its opening toothpaste commercial and maddeningly catchy jingle, Sion Sono’s most recent masterpiece again reveals his unique ability to engross, entertain and supply audiences with an electric charge of out-there, crazy humour. In Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (2014) we’re soon introduced to a series of characters whose lives will intersect with that of the commercial’s young star Mitsuko. Foremost amongst them is a trio of wannabe filmmakers who call themselves The F**k Bombers - Hirata, their director; Miki, “the king of dolly shots”, and Tanisawa, “the queen of hand-held shots”. Together they trawl the streets in search of action to turn into high art. When they encounter a young gang leader, Sasaki, about to take part in a rumble with a rival gang, Hirata is convinced they’ve found a potential action star, perhaps the next Bruce Lee. They also cross paths with a bloodied gang leader, Ikegami (Shin’ichi Tsutsumi), fleeing the aftermath of a massacre in which Mitsuko’s mother took vengeance against members from a Yakuza in competition with that of her husband Muto (Jun Kunimura). Ikegami subsequently takes over the Kitagawa Yakuza and plots revenge against Muto and his men.
Fast forward a decade and little has changed: the two Yakuza groups are still in opposition but headed for an ultimate showdown, whilst the F**k Bomber quartet has remained static, with the resolutely cheerful Hirata (Hiroki Hasagawa), their erstwhile leader, still supremely optimistic that the all powerful, overseeing Movie God will, sooner or later, bequeath him that fateful opportunity to make his one masterpiece, and “a hell of a movie” at that. Sasaki (Tak Sakaguchi) is the brooder of the group, retreating into bitterness at their stasis, waiting stupidly for a moment and time he's assumed will now never arrive. It’s not long after he blows his top and bails out, that the fateful moment arrives when the helpless sap, Koji (Gen Hoshino), abducted by Mitsuko (Fumi Nikaido) after she abandons her latest film mid-shoot, comes upon the group's plea to the Movie God, and calls for their assistance. Having an irate Muto - who has now captured the pair and only spares Koji's life because he's fooled into thinking he's a director - breathing down his neck, puts him in a precarious state. Thus, the moment of truth for F**k Bombers has arrived.
Sono’s film proceeds at a kinetic speed, with regular bursts of stylised violence, use of different film stock, rapid-fire editing and off-kilter angles. The film is uproariously funny, with a very Japanese take on of getting up close and personal in a verbal slanging match just one of countless hilariously interwoven elements of Sono’s blazingly nutty screenplay that tickles my funny bone again and again. Wildly uneven? Certainly, but that's part of Sono's MO, reaching for extremes whilst blowing narrative borderlines to smithereens. Unpredictable, unconventional and gleefully offensive are qualities rarely indicative of genius but they most certainly are when applied to this most idiosyncratic of modern Japanese filmmakers. Like compatriot Takashi Miike, Sono is absurdly prolific, latching on to 2 or 3 projects a year, but he’s well on the way to surpassing Miike in terms of quality. He’s come a long way in 15 years from his porn-film beginnings! His actors here are all astonishing, attacking the material with a reckless abandon, throwing themselves into the fray like a troop of dive-bombing kamikaze pilots.
What bleeds through – quite literally - beyond Sono’s blissfully twisted, playful sense of humour, is a love for cinema as a blessed, revered, subjective art form. Though he plays with genres like ingredients to be wilfully tossed into a blender, it’s this underlying passion that immerses us in his blown out worlds, with visceral assaults and gut-wrenching excess so audaciously conceived that they send a shiver of giddy excitement down your spine. The film’s full-throttle climax is a marvellous case-in-point, a set-piece that has to be seen to be believed. To give too much away would just be cruel. But What Sono’s film boils down to is a crimson-soaked, skewed poetical ode to cinema, to the outrageous passion of filmmakers so determined to achieve the nirvana of a perfect shot that they would die for their art and with a stupid grin etched on their faces as they did so. Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is delicious, deliriously good fun, in its own twisted way a very unique kind of masterpiece. In fact, it's even better than that: goddamnit, this is the greatest thing since sliced bread.
You must own Why Don't You Play in Hell?, out now on DVD from Madman Entertainment.