On a night
out with Tamura (Yoichi Numata), Shiro (Shigeru Amachi) is involved
in a hit-and-run which kills a gangster. Shiro is engaged to
Yukiko, the daughter of Prof Yajima, but she dies in a car accident
soon after. To get over Yukiko's death, Shiro visits his dying
mother in the countryside, and finds that his father, who runs
an old folks home, has taken up with a younger woman. Living
in the next room is an old artist whose daughter, Sachiko, looks
like Yukiko. Shortly, Yukiko's parents drop by for a visit,
and join in the home's 10th anniversary celebrations.
Included among the guests are a journalist and a policeman though
Tamura suddenly shows up. To pocket the home's food expenses,
the cook buys rotten/poisoned fish, which kill the inmates,
and a drunken orgy/shoot-out leaves the rest dead. The clock
stops at nine and everyone is sent to hell to be judged.
which is also known as Hell and The Sinners Of Hell, is classified
as a horror film but since its release in 1960, the notion of
horror cinema has changed so much that even though the film
carries a number of horrific images - tongues being ripped out,
heads being crushed, spikes driven into the body and bodies
severed into two - it's hard to be shocked or frightened by
the film. For local audiences at least, the journey through
Hell is familiar to anyone who has been to the Haw Par Villa.
Though not a blow-by-blow rendition of the exhibits, the general
idea is the same. Do bad on earth and you'll get just desserts.
The journey through the various chambers of Hell takes up almost
half the movie but it is a surreal trip that captivates with
its interesting set designs (a spot of dry ice - or do they
have smoke machines then? and careful use of spotlights can
do wonders) though we have all seen more interesting-looking
(Hell) denizens. In that sense, the journey that unfolds has
a stagey effect that is comparable to Kwaidan's but it certainly
makes for more entertaining cinema.
is David Lynch fans who will have a field day deconstructing
Jigoku. Director Nakagawa uses not one but two sets of dopplegangers
to highlight different aspects of the film. Way before Lynch
hit on the doppleganger concept in Twin Peaks (and brought it
to fruition in Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr), Nakagawa uses
Tamura as a stand-in/ dark side for Shiro. In an early scene,
Shiro, finding Tamura beside him, muses: "Who is this guy Tamura?
I know I don't like him." It is Tamura who drives the car that
kills the gangster and again Tamura who shows up in the countryside
to set things going downhill. The other doppleganger is Sachiko,
who is a dead-ringer for Yukiko, and Shiro finds himself drawn
to her. As it turns out, Sachiko is Shiro's sister and that
raises the whole incest spectre (again, an idea germane to Twin
In a movie
which follows the protagonist through Hell, it is only safe
to say that what's at the core is a morality play. Everyone
who is judged has a skeleton to hide - for example, Yukiko is
punished because she was carrying an unborn child and her father
killed a fellow soldier (in Malaya no less) when he deprived
him of much-needed drinking water. To Nakagawa's credit, the
film isn't preachy (he stopped just as he was about to get there!).
The wages of sin may be death
to which a character in
Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein says, "but the hours are good."
In Nakagawa's Jigoku, one can't even argue for that - it's damnation
all the way.
and colours look fine though not exquisite but it is the fact
that this cult favorite is now available to an English-speaking
audience (there are English subtitles), and in widescreen format,
that will make fans want to sought it out. - Stephen Tan