What is hell? Is it a state of mind, a physical destination, or just a concept used by the “Powers that Be” to keep the masses inline? We’ll never know until we die, but that doesn’t stop artists and philosophers from contemplating the idea. The Japanese film, “Jigoku”, provides a vision of hell, both on Earth and in another realm, and if it’s even ten percent true, I’ll never sin again.
The first section of the movie deals with Shiro, a college student in Tokyo, and his unhealthy friendship with Tamura, a suave minion of the devil. Or at least he appears to be supernatural, appearing and disappearing whenever he wants. Tamura fulfills the archetype of the seductive devil on Earth, tempting Shiro. Tamura runs down a drunken Yakuza member with his car and flees the scene, leading to Shiro’s troubled conscience. An effective metaphor on living a hellish existence on Earth, Shiro struggles with reporting the accident to the police or remaining silent. As he struggles, another death occurs, he shacks up with a prostitute, and his life spirals downward. The power of the section is unfortunately minimized as it does not feel real. While the jazz score reminded me of the realistic “In Cold Blood”, I kept thinking of “Bedazzled” and anticipating an attack by Godzilla.
The second section follows Shiro on a visit to his family home, where his mother lies dying and his father cavorts with his mistress in the adjacent room. The segment starts with a meditative style reminiscent of Ozu, but ends with a higher body count than the first five “Friday the 13th” films. The centerpiece is a sake bacchanalia that leads to the comeuppance for every character. To follow the films logic, if you sin you will face unnatural and untimely deaths.
The final 35 minutes of the film is “Dante’s Inferno”. Shiro, and everyone who died in the film, travel to hell, a hell that looks a lot like the setting of an episode of “Lost in Space”. The torments of hell are graphically depicted, surprising for a film released in 1960. The gore makes the film feel more modern than “Kwaidan”, released five years later. I would expect to hear a Japanese horror filmmaker, such as Takashi Miike, proclaim that this is a seminal film in his development.
The film doesn’t quite come together for me. There are too many different styles playing together, as evidenced by the excessive number of references I used to describe it. It doesn’t quite work as a cautionary tale or a philosophical exploration of hell, because I didn’t walk away with a clear understanding of the filmmaker’s beliefs. The torments of hell provide the most compelling section of the movie, both for historical interest and inventiveness. For gore hounds, a must see. For the rest of us, there are better contemplations of the afterlife out there.
What’s your favorite depiction of hell? Comment Below
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