Friday, November 12, 2010



In Japanese with English subtitles

Directed by: Nobouo Nakagawa
Written by: Nobuo Nakagawa, Ichiro Miyagawa

Shigeru Amachi - Shiro Shimizu
Yoichi Numata - Tamura
Utako Mitsuya - Yukiko/Sachiko


The story tells of a student whose friend is pure evil. After getting permission to marry his professor's daughter his friend commits a hit and run that kills a man. Following the events his conscience is burdened by the guilt of this and more deaths that happen around him, his own as well, where he goes to hell and the guilt comes to bare.


     The movie can be placed into three acts: loss of innocence, the fall, and Hell. That is the best way to break up this review due to each acts of the movie are different from each other and have their own feel and flow.

      Considering the very first image you see once the movie starts is of the main character, Shiro, in Hell. You know he's going to die. If this ruins the movie for you or spoils it, then stop reading this and go and watch Twilight where you don't have to think.

     Still here? Good. Let's continue.....

     This is the story of Shiro and his loss of innocence and his fall from grace. You find this out very quickly as his friend, or even evil doppelganger, Tamura, tells him in a class about Hell no less, that the man they hit and left on the side of the road has died. This sends Shiro into depression and about what to do. He decides to tell his fiancee, Yukiko, and together they agree to go to the police together. While on the way there the taxi they were riding in crashes and Yukiko is killed along with his unborn baby. Due to all this Shiro spirals deeper into despair. It is during this time that he meets the lover of the man who died who is looking to kill him and Tamura for what happened, but before she can get revenge he is called away to see his sick mother.

   The reason why I'm going into detail about the movie is due to the fact that the first two acts are dense with plot, which is not a bad thing at all. You get to see the toll the first two deaths have on Shiro fully and how he deals with it, which isn't very well. He becomes tortured and withdrawn first due to the fact that his friend Tamura blames him for the first death cause he told him to go a certain way while he was driving, and then for his  decision to take a taxi instead of walking like Yukiko wanted to do. You can actually almost feel the pain Shiro is suffering due to the acting of  Amachi.  Yoichi Numata's Tamura is a well played during the first two acts as well. One of the things I love about his character is that you can't tell if he's just pure evil and likes to play on people's emotions or if he's the devil himself due to the fact that he seems to know everyone's dark secret and likes to torture people with what he knows and use it to his advantage.

     The first act is shot mostly with dark drab colors for the most part, except for when the character Yukiko is on screen which she is usually wearing white or has a pink umbrella which also sticks out. The use of  blacks gives the first act, which all takes place in Tokyo, gives the city a sinister and limitless pit feel which is well played during the hit and run scene. This is the one scene in the first act which sticks out due to the fact the way the scene is shot you would believe the man is bleeding intensely when actually just the part where he falls is wet with water but it gives it a more grotesque feel.


     The story now moves to the country where Shiro's parents are. Shiro's dad runs a boarding house for the elderly which he keeps in squaller while he sleeps next to his lover while his dying wife is right now door to hear them. It is here that he meets Sachiko who is the splitting image of Yukiko and he starts to feel alive again and free from the burden of his guilt. It is then that Tamura comes and visits along with Yukiko's parents and the mother and lover of the hit and run victim. Events quickly spiral out of control from here with deaths happening all around Shiro which he again blames himself for more and more. Add to the fact that his father feeds the elderly rotten fish from which they all die, a doctor who doesn't care about his patients. The one true innocent is Sachiko. By the time the second act is done everyone is dead, including Shiro.

     The second act breaks from the first with more color and a feeling at the beginning of hope returning and the introduction Sachiko. This feeling doesn't  last long as Shiro's father is more lacks y daisy about his son's return and his wife's illness as well as his lover coming onto Shiro. You find out that the people running the boarding house have no moral compass and will use what ever tactic it takes to get what they want. They feeling of hope disappears completely once Tamura shows up which is also when the color from the world starts to fade just a touch. which is a nice touch to show that the world is going to turn upside down again for Shiro.   It's during this act that it's slightly implied that Numata's character is the devil and you fully believe it. While the first act was wonderfully played by Amachi, the second act belongs to Numata and his portrayal of evil and his zest in playing it from slight to maniacal.

     The camera work takes on a whole new level during this part of the film especially during the bridge scenes where the world is turned upside down, literally for Shiro. The walk onto the bridge is amazing in that as I said before the world turns upside down as the camera follows Shiro out on to the bridge from fixed position which is above him. It is at this point that you know that Shiro's fall is coming and quickly. I'm not going to say how it happens but to say that it's sad when it does cause you know he damned himself and no one did it to him.


     Every character is judge no matter how small a role they played. Shiro is forced to confront what he has done and saw and we find out about the other characters sins as well as their punishment. Shiro during this act decides to try  and do something right and good by trying to save his dead baby's soul which we find out is his own personal Hell.

     To me this was the weakest part of the whole movie but also the most wonderfully shot due to the color usage and camera work. Black is used to full effect here as colors stand out due to this. From simple gray fog on water to the green leaf on which Shiro's dead baby lays on. The use of dept and space is amazing as well as close ups against the black of backgrounds. This is also the most goriest part of the movie and even I was amazed at how well it was done as the use of the color red against the blacks gives it that much more power. Forced perspectives are used freely during act which also help the use of blacks to show a sense of emptiness and hopelessness. The sound design for this part of the film is at it's best also with songs that play in the background giving it a more richer atmosphere. It is also this act when Numata's acting becomes forced and over the top which takes away from his portrayal of Tamura to just about silliness.

    To me this movie was a wonderful experience for the most part until the last act when the story gives way to the special effects and set designs. Now this didn't ruin the movie for me it just gave the last act a completely different feel than the first two acts as well as the acting slips during the third act which also takes away from the whole movie.

     Jigoku was a nice classic film which has held up quite well today. It can be a little preachy at times but it doesn't  completely overdo it. I can easily recommend this film to people who appreciate films for what they are and try to be no matter when they were made or where.


    Even though this happens after she dies, it has to be when Shiro's dad's lover is beheaded and her body is dragged away while her head stays and keeps moving. For a film made in 1960 this was quite well done and brutal.


     Hear me! You who in life piled up sin upon sin will be trapped in Hell forever. Suffer! Suffer! This vortex of torment will whirl for all eternity.


      Director Nakagawa has worked on over 90 films during his career.
      Jigoku was the last Shintoho production, from which some blame the movie for the closure of the                production company.
     To help save money on the film, the actors helped dig their own holes in the Hell sets.
     Actor Yoichi Numata died shortly after giving an interview about the film for Criterion

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