Saturday, June 6, 2015

Jigoku (The Sinners Of Hell)

Jigoku (The Sinners of Hell) Directed By Nobuo Nakagawa (1960).

Just to illustrate how ahead of the curve D.R. were on Art House films mingling with trash ( sometimes the barriers are interchangeable) you could at the time get a rare duped copy of this Japanese film about hell way before it became a Criterion edition. I've mentioned before three years ago in Criterion Smut that Michael J. Weldon (of Psychotronic Video) described it as beating H.G. Lewis to the gore punch in the early 60s. I owe as much to that magazine as Deep Red. The film does eventually get to the gruesome spectacles and frightening demons, but you have to have patience of steel, often in a high brow Japanese flick that's how it goes--just don't ask me to review a film by Ozu (there's not enough coffee on the planet to wake me up during those circumstances).

It starts off with smoke and flames, those typical visions of Judeo-Christian Hell and then tells the story of Tamura (Yôichi Numata) and his pushover friend Shiro (played by Shigeru Amachi) who gets in a hit and run accident. Tamura is lit in a ghoulish way and carries a rose (he reminds me of the imagine of the Devil in that Tales from the Darkside episode "I'll give you a million").

The victim of the car accident is Tiger, a drunk gangster who stepped off the wrong curb and died from a brain hemorrhage. Tamura threatens his guilt ridden pal with "if I go down you go with me". The lighting and style the actors are silhouetted makes it look like a stage play and half the movie was created on a soundstage. 

Shiro's girlfriend is killed in a car crash later on (J.G. Ballard must've enjoyed this film). Shiro seems smart, but he's a total dumbass because after they get wind that he accidentally killed Tiger, a Yakuza, every stripper and angry mom is seething with white knuckle rage to even the score-- get out of town now! He does heed my warning and leaves but during this time period the film kind of lags a bit ( I've fallen asleep a few times watching this at night).

Then like an omen, Tamura shows up again to make Shiro's life literally a Hellish nightmare.
Shiro fights his enemies out in the country on a super high bridge and kills them, but of course he feels guilty when he should be relived. 

It takes an hour but we finally reach hell The two main characters meet Enma the king of Hell, he looks a lot like Roy Wood from Wizzard! He passes judgement on all who arrive (why they wait this long to showcase the cool effects is beyond me but it's worth it). This concept is based on Buddhist Hell, where Enma (or Emma-o) judges in an icy and heated region of Hades which has 8 levels, also you can escape this domain once the prayers of the living are considered and enlightenment has been attained). This lord of hell was played by Kanjuro Arashi.

Let's sing a duet about the benefits of Cold Cream!

They talk about hearing a faint baby cry which reminded me of Hellraiser, just imagine if the Cenobites stopped in their tracks and were like "OK, you can leave now, go in peace", that's just silly right?

We bring you tidings of Great Joy!

In this version of Hell, there's a pus filled mote, where thirsty zombies are encouraged to drink. Then the punishment train rolls out as various henchmen saw and flay the new citizens of sin. One guy is totally skinned and his organs are exposed. There's all this family drama (talk about a Hellish nightmare!) Shiro looks for his child and gets caught in a field of broken glass and sees a giant wheel of fire. Tamura is now a proud demon and continues to mock his old friend as he goes through trials and fields of severed heads, finally reaching the wheel his baby is stuck on. Shiro, on a spinning wheel trying to reach his child reminds me of one of those cruel Japanese game shows!
This film is seriously well crafted and brilliant but for some reason I like Nakagawa's Yotsuya Kaiden more. They are both visually amazing and ahead of their time, Yotsuya came out the year before and both are available from Criterion and you can watch them on Huluplus, I think they would make a good double feature.

Oh no! I fell just like Bugs Bunny next to that ribcage

And then baked into the center of some righteous Mac-A-Roons!

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