Jigoku is a very strange and disturbing 1960 Japanese horror film whose title literally means “Hell”. The film opens with student Shiro (Shigeru Amachi) who reluctantly falls in with another student named Tamura (Yôichi Numata), despite Shiro feeling very uncomfortable with this morally void young man. When driving together one night, Tamura runs over a drunken Yakuza and kills him. Tamura convinces Shiro to keep silent about the man’s death. Shiro, now racked with guilt, starts to see his life spinning out of control. Even as he tries to make things right, his fiance’ Yukiko (Utako Mitsuya) is killed in a car accident while they are on the way to the police where Shiro wants to confess. Soon after that, his mother takes ill. Even worse, Shiro seeks comfort in the arms of Yoko (Akiko Ono) who works at a strip club and turns out to be the girlfriend of the drunk Yakuza he and Tamura ran over. Once Shiro’s identity becomes know to her, she and the gangster’s mother plot revenge on him. Shiro becomes surrounded with a group of people who, like him, all have their hidden sins and fate seems destined to punish the young man as his life continues to spiral toward a terrible fate. Are Shiro and those around him truly on a path to pay for their sins?
Director Nobuo Nakagawa boldly answers this question as the final act of the film literally takes place in Hell and eternal punishment is brutally given out to Shiro and the sinful individuals that came to surround him. The film takes a surreal turn as Nobuo gives us a visually haunting portrayal of hell and the diverse punishments suffered by those who find themselves there. Shiro might have been able to avoid this fate, but now must not only suffer himself, but watch his fiance’ and their unborn child suffer as well. The other characters are also punished according to their sins and Nobuo takes us unflinchingly along for their suffering with some very disturbing sequences and some very graphic gore. As this is 1960, most of the visuals… which are quite haunting… are done in camera with just a few composite shots thus making this film even more effective.
Jigoku may not be for everyone. It is a slow paced film, but that serves the story, as we experience Shiro’s guilt and the lack of morality by those around him. We are then are taken to Hell with them to see them receive their punishment. It is a visually stunning and very unsettling trip if you’re up to it. A bold and haunting example of 60s Japanese Horror cinema.
3 flaming circles of hell.