Sinners of Hell/Jigoku (1960)

Along with Toho’s Matango/Attack of the Mushroom People (1963) and Shockiku’s Goke, Bodysnatcher from Hell (1968), Shintoho’s Jigoku (Sinners of Hell, 1960) gets my vote for the strangest of Japanese films. (Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House, 1977 is right up there too.) Jigoku is clearly the most startling and has been described as the most accurate visual depiction of Hell ever conveyed to cinema (*who would know?). The scenes in Hell are horrific —in the goriest scene, a man in flayed alive; people crawl in agony searching for water only to watch a pool drain before their eyes; shards of glass poke up from the ground and impale wanderers (it’s like a Chihuly exhibit gone bad); and people boil in lakes of fire and oil. Denizens of Hell are impaled. People are sentenced by a Satan-like entity. An infant floats on a lily pad in a pool of blood. These images are not easily forgotten.

Jigoku is the grandfather of the modern Asian gore film movement. It came out before Night of the Living Dead (1968), but was filmed in Shintoho-Scope with garish Eastman color film stock. The blood is brilliant scarlet. I wonder if Herschell G. Lewis was inspired by this flick? I’d be willing to bet Clive Barker had seen this film in rendering his Hellraiser. The film features several remarkable camera sequences. I suspect director Nobuo Nakagawa and DOP Mamoru Morita studied Hitchcock films. I particularly liked inverted overhead photography on a rope bridge (a crane shot?) and other cinematic touches. The camerawork is terrific in Jigoku.

The characters are despicable —that’s why they end up in Hell. The plot is simple: Two men in a vehicle run over a drunk, they kill him, and run from the crime. The family and lover of the victim declare revenge. Everything spirals downhill after that and culminates in Hell. There’s probably a lot more to this film, but that’s what I took from it. Criterion’s DVD is loaded with supplements and the print looks fantastic in HD. This film is not for all tastes —my girl friend hated it and asked why anyone would make a film like this? That’s usually my response watching a Tom Hank’s film.

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