The Criterion Collection
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Shocking, outrageous, and poetic, Jigoku (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 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 thanks to its truly eye-popping (and gouging) imagery, Jigoku created aftershocks that are still reverberating in cinema around the world today.
As long as human beings have conceived of an underworld, they have sought to represent it in art. Nobuo Nakagawa's 1960 film Jigoku joins this artistic niche alongside Dante's Inferno and Monkeybone starring the great Brendan Fraser. The story, meant primarily to provide a frame from which to hang a series of creepy set designs, concerns a college student, Shiro Shimizu (Shigeru Amachi) who flees a hit-and-run accident. Even though he wasn't the one driving, Shiro is plagued with guilt, which begins to interfere with his courtship of Yukiko (Utako Mitsuya), whose father just happens to be a theology professor who lectures on Buddhist concepts of Hell. The first half of the film sets the stage for the cast's decent into Hell, where things start to get really freaky. Lit with sickly blue and red light, Nakagawa's vision of the afterworld is bleak and expressionistic. In one scene, lovers struggle to come together across a field of jagged glass shards. In another, the damned run across fields of wriggling hands and feet. Perhaps most disturbing, many of those condemned to an eternity of suffering find their heads and wrists shackled in what appear to be boards in the shape of coffin lids. It's no wonder audiences of the time were scared witless. For a contemporary viewer, however, it's easier to observe the film as an exercise in creative cinematography and a precursor to the J-horror genre. More than the imagery, its this subgenre's roots in spirituality that give it the power to chill, with the implication that we bring torture upon ourselves with our own moral violations.
The Criterion Collection does its usual fine job presenting the disc with plenty of extras. The "Building the Inferno" featurette is an amusing glimpse into the working methods of the enigmatic--and hard-drinking--Nakagawa, considered by many in Japan a third-tier director. It's hard to tell whether the transfer itself or the original film is too dark--one is inclined to believe the latter; many of the pre-Hell scenes are blackened to the point of making it hard to see who's doing what. But no one should expect anything light and sunny from this DVD. --Ryan Boudinot
- New, restored high-definition digital transfer
- "Building the Inferno," a new documentary on director Nobuo Nakagawa and the making of the film
- Theatrical trailer
- Galleries of posters from selected Nakagawa and Shintoho studio films
- Booklet with a new essay by noted Asian-cinema critic Chuck Stephens
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The beginning of the movie shows the downfall of a young man who becomes trapped by his own guilt. The last part of Jigoku depicts the torment and suffering of the damned, literally in hell. The overall look is remarkably shot and completely haunting. It's incredibly violent, filled with eerie and desperate images of the lost souls. You've got bodies being sawed in half or being flayed alive down to the bone. It's a smorgasboard of brutality. I WAS BLOWN AWAY!!
The only other movie I've seen similar to this is What Dreams May Come. It's fairly obvious that movie borrowed some hellish ideas from Jigoku.
This film has reached cult status, a true masterpiece of horror.
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.
If you've ever heard the expression, "Hell is repetition", then that's what you're in for. The film is basically a take on the idea of hell and what it's like. Needless to say, it's not a vacation in Busch Gardens. People get torn to pieces, beheaded, flayed and/or thrown in a river of boiling blood in the films last third. A cautionary tale for those of you looking to commit foul deeds is what this "boils" down to.
Okay, so bad pun aside, Criterion pulls a nice rabbit out of its magic hat with this release. I hadn't heard of the film before I had purchased it but after watching all the material on the disc, I felt like a true blue Jigoku scholar. Picture is very nice and the colors are very vibrant. The sound is in 1.0 mono but works quite well regardless. All I'll say is, it's a Criterion disc; what else can you expect other than first class?
I enjoyed the movie quite a bit actually. It's always quite interesting to see films like this, that are highly artistic and stylized while clearly enjoying torturing the viewer with horrific imagery. I recommend this one to fans of Japanese horror, but just don't get this one confused with films like "Ringu" or "Ju-On: The Grudge", as they are a bit different in their own way.
Definitely, at the very least, worth a look for those looking for something different and surreal.
this could be one of the most mentally terrifying films ever made. It was WAY ahead of its time. It honestly shocked me to realize that this was made in the early 60's...for any horror buff or jap-horror fans, this is a MUST OWN!