Jigoku: The Criterion Collection
Theology student Shiro (Shigeru Amachi) is on a night drive with friend Tamura (Yoichi Numata) when he asks Tamura to take a turn down an abandoned road. The two argue over their change of course when they hit a drunken man in the middle of the street. Thinking no one saw them, the two drive off but the fallen man was a yakuza, his girlfriend witnessed the accident, and with his mother they plot revenge. Shiro feels guilty, and takes his fiancée Yukiko (Utako Mitsuya) with him to confess to the cops, but on the way gets into a car accident that kills her. Emotionally troubled, he then goes to his parent's retirement retreat where his mother is ill. The facility is horribly corrupt, serving its patients the cheapest food available, which leads to the entire town dying due to some tainted fish and poisoned (by the yakuza's girlfriend) sake. Then everyone ends up in hell. Literally. As a westerner, it's harder to get a read on Nobuo Nakagawa's 1960 Jigoku ("Hell") because his film doesn't play on Western horror tropes. There is a playfulness to the opening (the credits feature cheesecake models), and the conceit of having someone engaged in theology commit a crime is fascinating enough. But these touches don't necessarily connect to the film's final third, where all the characters end up in hell. In this section, the movie becomes hallucinatory, stage-bound, and eye-poppingly colorful as the characters go through different stages of hell, as well as all the brimstone and fire and mental anguish that the devil has to offer. Indeed, this section offers a particularly Eastern vision of hell that contains whiffs of such Western artists as Jean Cocteau and Hieronymus Bosch, but many other influences that seem distinctly Japanese. Watching as the main character chases after his unborn child birthed out of wedlock, the movie becomes so arch that it must be viewed as a tone piece, a meditation on the nature of the corrupting power of evil, and the dangers of how easy it is to slip into bad habits. It also feels over the top and transgressive in a bemused way the director seems to be having fun taking all his characters and his audience to hell. As such, the picture isn't particularly scary, but it is so visually stimulating that it's an unforgettable experience. The Criterion Collection presents Jigoku in a good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) and the original monaural Japanese audio (DD 1.0) with optional English subtitles. The disc's only notable extra, "Building the Inferno," is an appreciation featuring Jigoku screenwriter Ichiro Miyagawa, star Yoichi Numata, Nakagawa collaborators Chiho Katsura and Kensuke Suzuki, and current J-horror director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (39 min.). Theatrical trailer, Nakagawa poster gallery, keep-case.