Archive for February 17th, 2012

Jigoku (1960)

Shiro Shimuzu should be the happiest young man alive after getting engaged to his pretty girlfriend Yukiko, the daughter of his university professor but Shiro’s life spirals into one disaster after another when he takes a car ride one night  with his university friend Tamura. Tamura runs over a drunken yakuza gangster who has staggered onto a dark road. He dies but not before his mother has noticed the car licence plate number. Together with the yakuza’s girlfriend they plan to find out who the two people were in the car and kill them. This is only the start of what’s to come for Shiro when Yukiko dies in a taxi crash and his mother is slowly dying in his hometown. Shiro takes a trip back home to see her at the nursing home his father runs with his mistress and who should turn up but his ‘friend’ Tamura who has an uncanny knack of knowing other people’s sins and just appearing out of nowhere. Shiro meets the daughter of his parents’ next door neighbour who looks exactly like his dead fiancée called Sachiko which confuses the young man even more. People start accidentally dying around Shiro such as the dead yakuza’s gangster girlfriend who trips on a wooden bridge just as she is about to pull the trigger of a gun on him and plunges to her death below. Even Tamura is pushed over the bridge and is seen to die. Finally everybody at the nursing home including Shiro is poisoned by the dead yakuza’s mother as they drink tainted sake. At that moment Shiro finds himself being sent to Hell itself and wakes up on the banks of the River Sanzu (the Buddhist equivalent of the River Styx) and is introduced to the King of Hell Enma who passes judgement on all that come there and to the various levels of punishment that sinners are given.

This is a superb drama/horror which is split up into 2 parts. Jigoku has garnered a reputation over the years as being the first gore movie ever released. The 1st half gives us a picture of how Shiro and other characters become candidates destined to enter Hell such as his university professor who stole water from a dying army comrade during the war. It lulls the viewer into a false sense of security as we do not know what is to come later.  The movie springs into life during the 2nd half when we enter Hell itself – it’s quite a memorable depiction of the place and looks fantastic. A barren featureless world where the sky is black not the fiery kingdom that Christians believe in. We all imagine what hell looks like but if it’s anything like in this movie I’d rather stay out of there! The tone and cinematography of the first half disappears completely. In comes torment and pain. We witness what happens to sinners once they come to Hell itself. It’s a grim place to be. The severity of the sin determines which level of Hell you will be sent (144 levels in all). This is where the gore factor is ramped up. Teeth are smashed, feet impaled, eyes gouged out, hands chopped off and that’s just for starters! Truly horrific. One unfortunate thief for example is cut to various pieces by a massive serrated blade whilst he is lying on the floor.  Unlike the hell depicted in Christian mythology where we are made to suffer for all eternity, the Buddhist version in this movie grants the person who has atoned to move on to a higher state of existence. Although it is never stated in the movie itself, it’s obvious that Tamura (a demon who pops up unexpectedly to Shiro marked by the sound of an aircraft or train) who is clearly an associate of King Enma, has been sent to manipulate events in the real world so that all the characters have no other destination but hell itself when they die.

Director Nobuo Nakagawa has to be congratulated for creating a very interesting movie. It’s a genre masterpiece that’s a product of it’s time but still manages to be terrifying even today. The gore which wouldn’t be seen as really shocking nowadays due to the glut of blood soaked movies available was seen as ground breaking when it was first released in 1960. The visuals on display in Hell is brilliant such as a boiling green river where sinners are made to wade in their own pus and shit. For many viewers, the slow pace of the first half might seem boring and they’ll only be interested in the scenes in Hell but overall I was impressed with the whole movie. Definitely a movie that should be checked out by horror afficianados.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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