Tuesday, August 24, 2010


It’s fun watching a movie whose DVD case carries such statements as that the film’s director is the “father of the Japanese horror film”; it makes you feel as though you’re in for a movie that can’t possibly live up to the hype that’s just been tossed its way. Bless it’s heart, though, the film certainly does its best, though in a typically Japanese weird and tangential manner.
Indeed, the first hour of the film, after a brief intro where we get a university lecture on how many different religions believe in the concept of a Hell (which is what Jigoku translates to), and how it exists to punish those whose sins went unpunished in life (which is not how I have ever heard Hell described before, but alright), feels more like a crime movie by Seijun Suzuki than anything else. It follows a student named Shiro (Shigeru Amachi) who goes driving with his irresponsible friend one night, only for them to accidentally run over a drunken gangster before panicking and driving away, leaving the yakuza’s mother and girlfriend to track the pair down and plan their revenge. As it must with such tragedies, further sins continue to pile atop their initial sin, until we reach the one hour mark and the entire cast winds up dead.

I don’t think I’m spoiling much here, as the main focus of the film comes over the final forty minutes, as all the characters are now in Hell being tortured for all that they have done. It comes off like the segments in Hell from Awakening of the Beast (yes, I know Jigoku came first, that’s just the closest comparison I can think of), hyper stylized, and filled with screams and torture. We are treated here to just about every vision of Hell that one could hope for, from the circles of fire to the Greek irony of masses desperately clutching for water they can never quite reach to a more Dantean lake of blood to punish the lustful. Our protagonist even finds himself haunted here by the sounds of his unborn baby now crying for eternity around him, with him doomed to spend all of time trying and failing to rescue her.

It’s a pretty trippy and intense experience, and to the best of my knowledge it’s the first film ever made that actually tried to depict Hell, so it definitely gets some bonus points for that. The film does come off as somewhat disjointed, as it’s essentially two different films that connect at the hour mark, but I can’t really fault it too much for that. After all, both sections are still engaging, and the grand finale wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if we didn’t have such a sense of who these people are and how they wound up in Hell in the first place. Sure, we could wind up getting a great deal more gore scenes then (side note: according to IMDB, this was the first movie to use elements of gore as FX, which I assume means that it’s the first film to show violence in a manner beyond just splashing victims with red paint), but there wouldn’t really have been any emotional element to really make it click.

Regardless, due to the nature of its disjointed narrative and its overall strangeness, I can’t really give this one as unreserved a recommendation as a more standard film. All I can truly say is that I personally enjoyed it quite a bit, and if the above description sounds interesting to you, you may enjoy it quite a bit as well. I honestly hope that you do.

Rating; *** ½

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