Content Warning for Curse Words, Drugs and Violence
Where do I begin in describing all the reasons why Why Don't You Play in Hell? (2013) is such an essential watch? The humor is brilliant, and the performances are memorable. It’s wild and weird, filled with deliciously chaotic energy, and bloody, exaggerated violence.
Why Don't You Play in Hell? introduces us to the self-proclaimed “freakiest movie freaks in Japan.” There’s Director Hirata, the energetic, passionate leader; Miki, who is responsible for panning shots; Tanagawa, who captures the handheld shots; and Sasaki, their star who fights and dresses in the style of Bruce Lee. Together, they are known by the gleefully crass name, The F*ck Bombers. It’s no doubt that the scenes where the F*ck Bombers are present are the absolute best of the film. Hirata prays to the God of movies for the chance to create a perfect film, even if it means dying, and his passionate energy is infectious.
Muto is the leader of a local yakuza gang. Another yakuza gang attempts to assassinate him, but when the men arrive at his house, they find only his wife, who unleashes a torrent of violence upon the would-be killers. While much of the over-the-top violence is saved for the last half-hour, this gory whirlwind gives us an appetizer before the even wilder main course. For her literal overkill, Muto Shizue is sentenced to ten years in prison, but she is more upset that her bloodthirsty actions may lead to their daughter Mitsuko’s toothpaste commercial being removed from the air. Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, the toothpaste jingle is such an earworm that it becomes a central in-universe meme.
After a time jump of around a decade, we find that the F*ck Bombers have done nothing with their lives, the local yakuza are gearing up for a murderous conflict, and Mitsuko’s career is floundering. With his wife soon to be released from prison, Muto is determined to find his prodigal daughter and drag her back to a film set—any film set.
This part of the movie is a bit slow, as we learn about the characters’ lives and motivations. Although this can be frustrating for fans of utter chaos, the middle stretch of Why Don’t You Play in Hell? helps ground the bizarreness that is to come. We need to believe the yakuza would agree to collaborate with the F*ck Bombers to film a bloody battle to the death in order to make Mitsuko a star. This grounded absurdity gives the movie a unique and memorable tone.
And then that last half-hour arrives with all the blood, violence, and chaos you’ve been waiting for. Heads will fly and people will die. One character will accidentally get incredibly high on cocaine and see comically strange visions, guns will appear out of nowhere, and much of the cast will die hilarious and exaggerated deaths. It’s everything we’ve been waiting for.
Why Don't You Play in Hell? has a spectacular cast, and Hiroki Hasegawa is particularly exemplary as Director Hirata. Fans of Shin Godzilla might recognize him as the steadfast government official who spoke his mind and lead the skillfully organized efforts to defeat the kaiju. Here, his character is equally obsessive, but instead of foregoing showers, Hirata has a singular, pure desire to direct the perfect film and then die (that last part is technically optional but absolutely acceptable). Hirata is so excitable, optimistic, and zealous. This is a character whose presence sparks pure happiness. We want him to succeed despite the costs, and we understand how, in this absolutely absurd world, others would follow him to the bitter end.
Fumi Nikaidô also stands out as Mitsuko Muto, a vibrant female character in a film with many prominent male roles. The daughter of vicious killers, Mitsuko Muto has taken after her parents—she is brutal and calculating. Her revenge against her ex-boyfriend is gruesome and hard to watch. She struggles to create a piece of art more timeless and memetic than the toothpaste commercial she starred in as a child, and she is bullheaded and determined to escape any acting part she feels is beneath her. Still, she does care about others: when her machinations endanger Koji, an innocent man drawn into the intrigue, she uses her cunning to keep him safe and help him navigate the criminal underworld.
Bong Joon-ho’s famous quote from his Golden Globe Awards acceptance speech for Parasite rings true here: “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” While I enjoy mafia films like The Godfather, violent action flicks like Aliens, and weird and gruesome movies like Evil Dead II, nothing combines these elements better than Why Don't You Play in Hell? It is truly the pinnacle.