aka: Hell, The Sinners of Hell
Director: Nobuo Nakagawa
Starring: Shigeru Amachi, Utako Mitsuya, Yôichi Numata, Hiroshi Hayashi, Jun Ôtama
Shiro is an honest and well-behaved young man with a bright future ahead of him. He is doing well with his studies and has recently gotten engaged with his beautiful girlfriend Yukiko. Shiro has an egotistical friend named Tamura, who drives him home one night when they hit and kill a man with their car.
Shiro feels guilty of the murder, while Tamura couldn’t care less and Shiro’s life seem to become darker after this life changing episode. He is tracked down by the mother of the man they killed and she kills Shiro. Shiro is sent to hell where he has to confront his sins.
What happens to us when we die? Where do we go? How does the choices of our lives affect what happens in the afterlife, if there is such a thing? All questions that mankind have been wondering about since the birth of us and questions that has made us seek comfort and give trust in different religions that promise to deliver us the answer.
Jigoku is a movie split in two parts. We see the lives of Shiro and the people close to him in the first part and in the second part we see the consequences and their agony when they arrive in hell. The first part plays like a dark drama that deals with human morality. This part can become a tad bit boring, but stick with it since the payoff is great.
When we enter hell, we go from having a bleak and traditional film to a colorful, dreamy and magnificent view of dark side of the afterlife. This hell has several levels and we get a peek into most of them and what type of agony sinners can expect when their time is up on this earth. It does turn quite gory, but the main focus is the inner psychological torment of the Shiro character. Even though the gore is not the main focus, the few scenes are more brutal than what we are used to from that era even though the effects look very dated by now.
Nobuo Nakagawa is now considered a legend of horror from Japan, but back in his time he was quite underappreciated and even this innovative and creative film was largely ignored upon release. This film show him as a visionary who is not afraid to go outside the box and have big ambitions with his projects.
The characters all seem to have their own purpose and sin. Shiro however comes off as a good guy, but on a closer look he and the Tamura character might be the same person with each of them portraying good and evil. Instead of displaying it within one human, it seems that Nakagawa instead created two different human entities which is another display of his originality.
Jigoku is considered a classic masterpiece and it is easy to see why. The scenes in hell is amazing, beautiful shot and powerful, but the first half is not nearly as interesting and good even though it does serve its purpose developing the characters. Jigoku might not be perfect, but it is a fine film that was very ahead of its time.