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Jigoku (Criterion Collection)

Shigeru Amachi , Utako Mitsuya , Nobuo Nakagawa    Unrated   DVD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Shocking, outrageous, and poetic, Jigoku (Hell, a.k.a. The Sinners of Hell) is the most innovative creation from Nobuo Nakagawa, the father of the Japanese horror film. After a young theology student flees a hit-and-run accident, he is plagued by both his own guilt-ridden conscience and a mysterious, diabolical doppelganger. But all possible escape routes lead straight to hell— literally. In the gloriously gory final third of the film, Nakagawa offers up his vision of the underworld in a tour de force of torture and degradation. A striking departure from traditional Japanese ghost stories, Jigoku, with its truly eye-popping (and -gouging) imagery, created aftershocks that are still reverberating in contemporary world horror cinema.

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The first time I saw this movie, I felt like I was going crazy, I had been shut in for a few days hadn't really been out, and it was late at night. The first half of the movie is absolutely agonizing to watch (in the best way), it's one bad thing after the other as the doomed protagonist spirals into hell.
One of the most interesting things about this movie is I found that I was actually relieved once the characters where in hell because the build up was so tense, the decent into to hell is almost peaceful.

I think it is safe to say that this movie is more about creating atmosphere and bringing life to Nightmarish visions of Hell, than proving or pushing some sort of Moralistic point, the overall feel of the film is fairly Nihilistic (every character in the movie ends up in Hell) and though the movie surely gives the viewer a lot to ponder over, it is the imagery that will really stay with you.

The special effects are absolutely superb, extremely inventive, evocative and beautiful. The lighting and cinematography in the early scenes is dark and spooky, y'know.... it's a perfect movie for me, one of my favorites.
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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  19 reviews
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars One Man's Hell Is Another Man's Heaven Sept. 27 2006
By K. Harris - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
What can I say about "Jigoku"? It was certainly a film I looked forward to seeing, one that I had heard good things about. Quite frankly, what movie called "Hell" wouldn't at least be worth a look. However, while I admired the movie and would cautiously recommend it, I have to face the facts that I didn't particularly like it. Yet it's easy for me to see some camps claiming "masterpiece" status for this peculiar film--and just as easy to see others deriding it as "trash". As a film, it's really neither--but I don't dismiss it out of hand. Given the context that it's a Japanese film from 1960--the imagery is quite striking, visually alluring and seems to have had an influence on many other films even to this day.

The setup is appealing, and the characters are well presented. But you know something is off from the beginning. There are hallucinatory elements wound into our hero's daily life and his best friend appears to be an omnipresent evildoer. But just as soon as you get used to things, we're whisked off to another city I like to call "crazytown". Most of the characters presented here are petty, mean, corrupt--and worst of all not really developed. I wondered why we were being introduced to so many one dimensional villains. Then the answer came to me as people started dropping dead left and right--I realized we would soon be seeing them in "Hell".

The message I got from "Jigoku" is that most of us are sinners and murderers in life, and we will pay for those sins. Even those characters that are seemingly without sins are punished for loving the sinners. And "Hell" is where everyone pays the price.

The finale of the film does take place in "Hell". It is beautifully constructed, and I believe quite well done. It's very theatrical--if you're looking for gory realism, you're going to need to look elsewhere. If I was to recommend the film, it would most likely be for these sequences. But by this time, I had lost all track of any narrative drive in the film--so the images were all I was left with.

So--worth seeing? I believe so. Enjoyable? I'll leave that up to you. KGHarris, 9/06.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating look at a Buddhist vision of Hell... Fine DVD from Criterion Nov. 6 2006
By dooby - Published on Amazon.com
I found it interesting to watch this. It is being touted as a horror film. Would I recommend it to a horror fan? A qualified maybe. It is an old Japanese film (1960). It will be something very alien to its present target audience. Most viewers will be unfamiliar with the cultural/religious context in which it is set. Although Jigoku is correctly translated as Hell, it is not the Judaeo-Christian Hell that most viewers would have in mind. This is a Buddhist vision of Hell. It may look visually similar to western portraits of Hell but the entire concept is very different. The film presupposes the audience's familiarity with Buddhist beliefs. Firstly there is no God in original Buddhism. No supernatural deity sends Shiro's soul to Hell. In this Buddhist worldview, Shiro is in Hell simply because he believes he deserves to be there for what he perceives as his crimes in his previous life. Viewed at dispassionately, Shiro is blameless in most, if not all of his "crimes" and certainly not deserving of damnation to Hell in the western sense. Hell in Buddhism is also not eternal. (In this sense it is almost like the Catholic concept of Purgatory). The Buddhist Hell is simply one stage (the lowest) in the Wheel of Life, from which everyone can leave if they make the effort. So the film is not as pessimistic, arbitrary and utterly devoid of hope as it would appear to most western audiences. Shiro and all the others will eventually work their way out of Hell to a higher plane of existence. Tamura, described here by the western term "doppelganger", is a Hell-being and a soul in his own right. Although Tamura too can work his way out of Hell, he chooses not to, and is condemned to repeat his torment until he learns his lesson and earns progression to the next level. The final scene is a visual metaphor for the Great Mandala, the Wheel of Life. Shiro is vainly trying to reach and rescue his child on the other side of the Wheel as it ceaselessly turns. We see him struggling hopelessly without success right up to the final freeze-frame. Left unsaid is what will happen given time. Shiro will eventually learn that the key to saving his child is to let go and get off the Wheel, allowing the turning Wheel to bring his child to him. That for him will be enlightenment, and with enlightenment he will be ready to leave Hell and progress to the next stage in Life. Viewed in that light, the film has an optimistic, even uplifting ending, very different from what a western audience would infer.

The horror effects may have been good in their day but they are very dated now and look decidedly amateurish. Most of the tortures depicted, are traditional tortures featured in Eastern mythological portraits of Hell and you can see them depicted in texts, temples and theme parks across East Asia. If you are seeing it mainly for the shock or horror effects, don't bother. But it is a fascinating look at a wholly different worldview from what most westerners would be exposed to. It remains a fascinating work in its own right and deserves recognition for that alone, rather than for simply being another "J-horror" movie.

Criterion's DVD is as usual very professionally produced. The print looks its age. But it is clean, undamaged, and aside from a jumping frame here and there, is very good. It is presented in its OAR of 2.35:1 (anamorphic). Colours are very sombre, drab and dark for the most part, occasionally punctuated by hellish crimsons which look impressive when they appear. Sound is in the original Japanese 1.0 Mono and is perfectly serviceable. Optional English subtitltes are provided.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Crime and Punishment, and Punishment, and ... Sept. 18 2006
By Timothy Hulsey - Published on Amazon.com
Less gory than hardcore horror fans might hope, yet more disturbing than anyone would expect, Nobuo Nakagawa's low-rent classic _Jigoku_ (_Hell_) paints a relentlessly bleak portrait of human depravity. At first the film spins a straightforward, Dostoevskian yarn about a well-meaning college student and his increasingly guilty conscience. But in the second half, events take a decidedly more Dantean turn. Nakagawa's surrealist imagery and daring camera work recall the best of the Italian horror mavens -- except that _Jigoku_ preceded their work by several years.

Criterion has opted to give this film a single-disc treatment, with a perfectly decent (though far from spectacular) hi-def transfer and the original Japanese monaural soundtrack. An informative half-hour documentary, two still-frame poster galleries and a theatrical trailer round out the extras.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Check your copy July 6 2008
By Jimbob - Published on Amazon.com
To anyone who buys this please check your copy to ensure it is the second pressing. There was a technical glitch with the original pressing which resulting in some footage not displaying in the film. Criterion quickly issued a 2nd pressing

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Symphony of Hells Jan. 13 2007
By Eikasia216 - Published on Amazon.com
A Symphony of Hells

Crossing the river of Acheron is no cozy scrapbook moment; scanning the charred valleys of Gehenna is far and away no sightseeing excursion; the `fiery lake of sulphur' is not one we'd like to laze next to slurping Bloody Marys, absorbing its heat. The thought of the bright orange blaze of hell stokes our moral conscience, allowing us to vacation in our own reflexivity, giving us reason to ponder how far we've descended into, put theologically, the `pleasures of the flesh'. The thought-trip always ends with a swift riposte square into the center of our soul, in light of our shortcomings. Whither will we end up...after?

This film gives us such a thrust. Criterion's glistening transfer of the visually-arresting Japanese classic Jigoku ("hell") whirls us around in a blood-boiling, flesh-peeling, bone-crushing, eye-gouging, limb severing vortex that the hapless `sons of hell' are sucked into by dint of their earthly transgressions. Though the film is ostensibly Buddhist, and notwithstanding the fact that karmic retribution is always meted out with a battle axe, it always sheers away from and gives a wink at any dogmatic undertones. Nakagawa, who is no hard-bitten acolyte haranguing us over post-life itineraries, has Dante and Goethe serve as visionary add-ins in this extra-bilious stew, surrounded by a burning ring of fire. And yet, despite all that, the film is actually more terrestrial than one might suppose (more on that later).

Two theology students are driving down a backcountry road when they inadvertently (was it?) hit a drunken yakuza ("gang member"), leaving him to die in the middle of the alley. Shiro, the protagonist, wants to turn himself in while his friend Tamura, the humanoid Mephistopheles of the film who was behind the wheel at the scene, refuses. When Shiro's theology professor's daughter, Yukiko, to whom Shiro is betrothed, convinces the latter to go to the police, Yukiko dies abruptly in a car crash on the way to the police station. Racked with guilt, a despondent Shiro devolves into a libertine existence of drink and easy women. Shiro's world becomes suffused with echt-doubles of people in his formerly pleasant life, phantasmagoria abounds, and Tamura is appearing out of nowhere to ensure that his friend will not cashier them both to the authorities.

Any and all further character development carried out is meant to show that the whole crew is damned from the start, that fire and brimstone are what's in store for everyone we see. There is not a single redeeming value in Jigoku; every evil act is courted without a smidge of remorse. (Shiro feels guilty for what has happened but lacks the amount of pluck needed to know what to do with himself.) Those who have won a ticket to ride on the boat of Charon include a debauched, negligent doctor and a self-interested corrupt policeman.

The film becomes a death-zone, spurred by human, all-too-human vice and folly, each character virtually his own Faust; the Grim Reaper clearly has a field day when only halfway through the film, that is, before taking the batch of sinners down with him. Almost everyone dies from eating poisonous, guppy-sized fish sold to one throwing a rather boisterous soiree--an ensign of Acheron, the river from which the fish were gathered. As the theology professor, himself having a few skeletons in his closet, says reassuringly, "everything hinges on fate."

The venue to Nakagawa's hell is simple, very noticeably from the start shot in your average studio--it would be years before the CGI technology that brought you the hell in the filmic rendition to Todd McFarlane's "Spawn" would be available. Besides, that kind of netherworld is inspired largely from the pictures presented in what Christians call the New Testament. The hell in Jigoku is more interesting and heterogeneous. Called "Naraka," actually more purgatory-like in Buddhist teaching, is the netherworld of greatest suffering. The deathly emerald green that washes our screen in the 40-minute climax is counterpointed with the rushing fires that incite a chorus of spine-tingling yowls. Babies are heard bawling as they are held in limbo (a Roman Catholic whimsy). Ogres armed with battle axes slice off hands and feet. Amidst the blood-slathered bodies running around like crabs in a skillet is a crew of skeletons and flayed corpses. The soundtrack to all this is even more bizarre, going from a jazzy mixture of taiko drums and a tenor-sounding saxophone, to an eerier timbre a la a Ligeti etude. In short, the needling imagery to this sui generis of a scene will be seared in your memory for a long time to come.

This film has been written off as a cheesy piece of glam cinema, far-Eastern kitsch par excellence, compounded with near witless dialogue, whose popularity Criterion should have confined to its native country. The film, to be fair, still only receives specialized attention, particularly when benchmarked against movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and all its oriental thaumaturgy that elicit the dumb oohs and ahs of the uncultured Anglophone. Compared with garish, high-end films like Kwaidan, what with its expressionist visuals, laconic dialogue, and frippery costumes, Jigoku is far more accessible to Western audiences unacquainted with non-Western horror--particularly since it was only a burgeoning genre at the time--and all its subliminal incorporeality.

There is a silver lining in this darkly human story. The final cathartic scene in which we see Yukiko spinning her little purple umbrella in front of a vernal backdrop is, to this viewer, emblematic of a purified soul; the fires to which Shiro was condemned is platonic in its meaning of restitution. Jigoku, I surmise, is very much a film "of the earth" in that our own past, chock full of misdeeds and transgressions, comes back to haunt us, regardless of what religious outfit you garb yourself in. That is Nakagawa's hell in its essence; to avoid it, perhaps we should hearken back to the Nietzschean dictum, "Learn to forget!"
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