Why Don't You Play in Hell is a dense and insane movie. So dense and insane, in fact, that I could spend my thousand words just trying to untangle it's elaborate plot, or I could spend my thousand words just deconstructing it's bizarre tone, or I could write ten thousand words on both at the same time. It's rare that both the what and the how of a film are this extravagant, and trying to encapsulate this movie in a succinct way has almost paralyzed my brain.
Let's start with the plot: the leader of a group of young filmmakers called the Fuck Bombers leaves a prayer in a local shrine saying that he wants to make an epic action movie someday. Meanwhile, a Yakuza boss's wife uses a kitchen knife to kill four hitmen that have broken into her house in an attempt to take out her husband. She goes to jail for murder and gets paroled after ten years. Her release causes a problem for the boss, because he promised her that he would produce a vanity film starring their daughter while she was in prison, but the film that he was working on fell through after their daughter ran off with a man. But then the man cheated on the daughter, so she made him eat broken glass and then returned to the set, ready to act.
(Hold on, we're almost halfway through the simplified version of the plot.)
Then a young man gets (more or less) kidnapped off the street by some Yakuza thugs and is told that he's going to direct this movie starring the daughter or else the boss's thugs will kill him. The unwilling director runs away, and then he accidentally pukes pea-soup all over the shrine, knocking loose the prayer, which miraculously connects him with the Fuck Bombers. Soon, the director, the Yakuza, and the Fuck Bombers have come up with a plan: the Yakuza clan will go to battle with their rival gang using real weapons, and the Fuck Bombers will film it with an eye towards splicing together the documentary footage of the bloodbath with scripted footage to make a move that's half-fiction and half-police-evidence.
As a rough outline of this film's plot that isn't wrong, but it isn't really right, either, because that's leaving out the toothpaste jingle that's a thematic link running through the whole movie; the cocaine psychosis dream sequence; the wannabe stunt man in a Bruce Lee jumpsuit who gets insulted by children in a park; the restaurant that changes hands every time the Yakuza boss gets a new mistress; and the rival clan's sudden decision to only wear old fashioned kimonos because they want to throw off all their Western influences.
Like I said: a lot is going on in this movie.
Here's what you need to know about the how of the film: it's both all over the place and very self-contained. Despite the fact that basically every character dies at the end, the only genre Why Don't You Play In Hell doesn't really attempt is tragedy. There's a lot of violence in the movie, some of it titillating, some of it horrifying, and some of it funny; there's a lot of straight comedy, too; surreal images abound; and that damn toothpaste commercial doubles as both an advertisement and as a musical number.
However, the film still manages to have a certain amount of unity, because it has a consistent approach to it's scattershot stories. Everything is purposefully meta. This is clearly a movie made by a man who loves movies, and while a lot of the film doesn't make literal sense, it makes metaphorical sense. The final showdown, for example, is a battle between gangsters dressed like samurai, gangsters dressed like American gangsters, a squad of cops in SWAT uniforms, and a film crew, one of whom is wearing Bruce Lee's jumpsuit. Visually, it's a crazy hodge-podge, but there is a logic there - it's all the eras of Japanese action movies run head first into each other.
This film is not going to be for everyone: it's crazy plot has so much going on that it takes forever to start to get a sense of where it's going, and then on top of that every scene has multiple layers of in-movie and out-of-movie meaning. If you don't like overkill - or rivers of blood - then you are not going to have a good time at this movie.
That said, I bought what this film was selling. Sure, there were times when it pushed too far, but overall I enjoyed how bold it was. Why Don't You Play in Hell is kind of like a Quentin Tarantino movie, except it's more anarchic and less verbal. But it's also kind of a David Lynch film, since there's a nebulous overlap between a dream world and the real world - but there's a lot more slapstick here. Better yet: it is Evil Dead with Yakuza instead of Deadites, except with less of an attention span and more love for toothpaste. (No, seriously - there is a lot of singing about toothpaste in this movie.) If being the bastard child of Tarantino, Lynch and Evil Dead sounds like a lot for one movie - well, I did warn you up front: Why Don't You Play In Hell is pretty dense and insane.