Jigoku (Criterion Collection)
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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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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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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.
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.
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.
Briefly, Jigoku tells the story of a young man weighted down by the guilt of his role in a fatal hit-and-run accident. Consequential manisfestations of said incident saturate this movie's duration until our protagonist's nightmarish descention into Hell.
Any admiration I can muster for this movie revolves strictly around its apparent boldness. Jigoku was filmed in 1960, and from what I've seen of Japanese horror, the surrounding five to ten years produced mostly artistic and angular scary movies that, to me, unfolded with a wonderful grace. (Onibaba, 1964, for example.) Jigoku, literally, took a giant saw to the backbone of this norm. Desensitized as I am, it was still a pleasant shock to see some of what Director Nobuo Nakagawa was trying to present.
This praise, however, ebbs when I consider what else was happening in horror cinema at the same time elsewhere on the planet. I hate to push a trite reference, but Alfred Hitchcock's Pyscho also came out in 1960. It's probably rude to compare the two in this forum, but I'm trying to make the point that Jigoku, to me, doesn't seem to have aged well.
I didn't enjoy the movie. I found the acting to be choppy and even obnoxious at times. (Which, now that I think about it, would be the best way for me to describe the abrubt, even jarring jumps from scene to scene. Not impressed.) A regular dose of glass-shattering screeches from the female actresses had me reaching uncomfortably for the volume on my remote on more than one occasion, which unfortunately had to happen during some of the film's best offerings. I'm sure this can be blamed largely on sound quality of that era and on Japanese horror in general. I've watched enough to know that screaming Asian females can hit notes of a murderous pitch. It hurts.
That being said, I think this is a movie that SHOULD be watched, if only for its importance. I was glad when it was over, but I knew that I had seen something that broke a fairly thick mold in its day. It's a trippy movie filmed on one of the most inventive sets I've seen from that time. This alone, which occupies only the last 20-30 minutes of the movie, has earned my humble recommendation.
It's definitely one of those movies that make for great conversation and I'm glad I can now weigh in on it.
Thank you for your time.
- t -
6 June, 2010
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