Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Foreign Fears: Jigoku (aka The Sinners of Hell) (1960)

Jigoku (aka The Sinners of Hell) (1960)

review written by Nickolas Cook

Director: Nobuo Nakagawa
Cast: Utako Mitsuya and Shigeru Amachi

"Jigoku", which literally translates to "HELL", was a film way ahead of its time in 1960, when maverick Asian director Nobuo Nakagawa showed an astounded and horrified international audience a very a Western Christian concept of souls being tortured, quite graphically, in Hell, using an eye searing Technicolor cinematographic canvas. There had been nothing quite like it in Japanese cinema and it was very much out of the Asian cultural character for its time.
The plot is simple enough: a young theology student and his sinful, evil best friend flee the scene of a hit-and-run accident, spurred on against his better judgement and morals by his friend. The young theologian is plagued by guilt. Soon, he discovers to his terror that he is also being followed by a mysterious stranger. The stranger reveals himself to be a violent doppelgänger, who seems to know everyone's deepest, darkest secrets, including the young students'. Finally he confesses to his fiance about the accident and she persuades him to go to the police and throw himself on the mercy of the authorities, than rather be plagued by the smirking, demonic doppelgänger, and his overwhelming guilty conscience. Unfortunately, they are in a car accident before they can reach the authorities and his fiance dies. Soon, everyone else around him is also dying in horrifying accidents. When the young man finally dies, he meets them all in Hell, and is tortured along with the hundreds of other suffering, screaming, weeping souls which occupy Hades.
No expense was spared in creating this singularly horrible ideal of Western Christian's concept of Hell. It is sometimes fiery and shadow filled, other times icy and fog enshrouded. It will seem familiar to those of us who happen to also be fans of Lucio Fulci and his "The Beyond" (1981).
The deaths are graphic, but its the torture sequences that will leave you gaping at the screen. Nagakawa holds nothing back. All who are guilty suffer the most horrendous second deaths at the hands of an Asian styled Satan and his demon henchmen; and as far as Nakagawa is concerned, there are no innocent souls. It is such a grim, unrelenting vision of Hell and the kill scenes are so clinical, without a shred of mercy, that it may be even too strong for some Horrorheads. If you thought Eli Roth's "Hostel" (2005) was violent and grim, then you most certainly wouldn't enjoy this film. At least with "Hostel" the director allowed his audience a much fought for sense of cathartic justice (albeit a bloody one). But there is no such luxury in "Jigoku".

--Nickolas Cook