Jigoku 地獄 Sinners of Hell (1960) – Japan
The visuals of its last third, show that Nakagawa has a uniquely vivid imagination for hell that defiantly changed horror.
The story, performances, and first two thirds are out of place when joined with the ending, and the whole of it as an experience is confusing.
Nobuo Nakagawa’s Jigoku is well received by horror fans and critics for its daring visual effects and ahead-of-the-times juxtapositioning of shots for shocks, but it does not service its story well, cutting corners with details so as to spotlight a splattery hell finale with gimmick than provide substantive plot.
Shiro is engaged to the young and beautiful Yukiko, and their future seems fit for great fortunes. He is a smart student of theology at a Tokyo university, and Mr. Yajima, his professor and soon-to-be father-in-law, trusts him to make a good life for his daughter. But when Tamura, a conniving kind of jackal friend and classmate to Shiro, soils him with the sin of a hit and run on the night of his engagement, the good life planned dissolves. Events spiral downward until you and he, and all those he loves, see the hellfire of eternal damnation in an onscreen underworld, torture the game.
The last third of the film is the dinner and a show you wanted, with Nakagawa’s cinema hell come to life in vibrant, disturbed breadth – where the sinners of Shiro’s life find torture for sins. The colors are bright and surprising, with lucid imagination, and their shrieks for mercy send chills down your spine. But there it ends after twenty some odd minutes, and you wonder: is that all? – when you sat through more than an hour with confusion.
Shiro’s story unfolds so absurdly on Earth before the mentioned torture end that you lose the anticipation. Then the whole of it feels unbalanced, an act of compromises, nearly not worth the wait.
The camera shots are pretentious, and the performances are lame. You don’t look away though. You’ve heard it has to be watched from some froemds, and stick around, to await the gore that revolutionized a genre’s generation, or yada yada. But it’s tedious, to fuel for to twiddle your thumbs, a problem much of horror has, at least of the splatter variety.
Like a film noir that just sniffed its first dose of swing jazz, Jigoku’s characters are too cool for school and a conscience, compressed by mold, into beady, bullying human beings. And when danger is near, the conflict is fake and unchallenged for them. They act because why not – to be bad… to seek an end of living quickly.
Many will die for reasons, odd as they are, but you don’t care. Their time on screen is quick for you to exhaust the effort, save for Shiro’s sake, but even he can’t save himself. It’s all to get to the gimmick, the good stuff, and that’s a shameful confession to spill.
Nobuo Nakagawa deserves his praise. The visuals make for an entertaining carnival ride, so as to be studied and watched again, but its Ichirô Miyagawa’s script that gives us a sour sense of poisoned wine, the whole of its potential spoiled by the air of snob pretensions. He must have been under pressures to produce a script in haste for the failing studio of that time for the characters to be so neglected, but at least we did get the Dante’s Inferno end.
You go off now, into the sunset, and see this nuke ride of a flick. It did change the kaidan genre, somehow, but its parts do not make much sense, sensational and only temporary.