Review: Jigoku (1960)

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Jigoku, AKA The Sinners of Hell, was the last film released by Shintoho studios.  As such, its budget was reportedly cut to the bone (no pun intended) and extras were doing double duty as stage hands in order to get the movie completed.  It’s too bad their efforts didn’t go toward something more worthy.  The finished film is an unintentionally comical mess.  Why some seem intent on lavishing praise on this ridiculous feature is beyond me.

The title is the Japanese word for Buddhist hell and this film was supposedly an exploration of the concept.  The story follows a student named Shiro as his life inexplicably spins out of control.  Much like the biblical story of Job, Shiro’s life is suddenly filled with torments of every type, most of which are presaged by his “friend” Tamura.  Tamura is more demon than friend, and he uses his knowledge of everyone’s sins to torment them endlessly.  Pretty much everyone eventually dies but, unfortunately, that’s not the end of the picture.  There’s still another 45 minutes or so of random, film-school imagery of the underworld and the torments inflicted on those characters we sort of got to know during the first part of the film.  What’s worse is the fact that much of what we’ve learned about the characters seen earlier in the film is negated altogether during the final section.

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There are some interesting images here but they’re overwhelmed by haphazard storytelling.  Director Nobuo Nakagawa is often credited with being the father of the Japanese horror film.  Here, the only horror he inflicts is upon the viewer.  To say this is one dimensional would be putting it lightly.  The story heaps problem after problem onto Shiro’s shoulders to the point where all the viewer can do is laugh.  I have no idea if the performances are any good or not because the things the actors were asked to do were without nuance.  Shiro spends the whole movie with a stone face, brooding away at the edge of the frame.  We get no insight into his feelings or the feelings of those around him so we never really empathize with him.  We stand far, far outside his situation, watching him as if he were in a petri dish.

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This was supposed to be a sort of horror fairy tale.  Instead, it’s just shallow, cheap, and uninventive filmmaking.  Turning a camera on its side isn’t really an innovative choice.  It’s more like a desperate plea to be considered weird.  While this is a weird movie, to be sure, it doesn’t deserve the attention it’s received.  Nakagawa went on to direct the excellent revenge film, Quick-Draw Okatsu, among many others.  I’d check one of those out instead.  Jigoku is not recommended.

 

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