Saturday, October 14, 2017


Directed by Nobuo Nakagawa and screenplay by Nakagawa and Ichiro Miyagawa, Jigoku (Hell or The Sinners of Hell) is the story of a student who succumbs to guilt after leaving during a hit-and-run where he is chased by an evil doppelganger who would lead him to Hell. The film is an unconventional horror film set in modern Japan where a young man deals with his consequences as well as facing what could be his doom. Starring Shigeru Amachi, Utako Mitsuya, Yoichi Numata, Torahiko Nakamura, Fumiko Miyata, and Hiroshi Hayashi. Jigoku is an astonishing yet horrifying film from Nobuo Nakagawa.

The film follows a man that had everything going for him as he’s engaged to his professor’s daughter and is set for a nice future until he is pursued by a mysterious doppelganger who would get him involved in a hit-and-run where the man who was hit dies. It’s a film that isn’t just about the exploration of guilt but also a man dealing with the consequences as his life descends into total chaos due to these strange events that would have some form of involvement from this mysterious stranger who is there to stir things up. The film’s screenplay by Nobuo Nakagawa and Ichiro Miyagawa takes a simple three-act structure that takes place in three different locations during the course of the film as it relates to its protagonist Shiro Shimizu (Shigeru Amachi) and his life in Tokyo where he’s just this theology student trying to live his life as he’s constantly followed by this mysterious man in Tamura (Yoichi Numata) who always says very dark things and would put Shimizu in danger. Notably as Shimizu would encounter things that would affect him as he tries to right the wrongs only for everything to go wrong.

The second act takes place in a rural retirement community where Shimizu is visiting his dying mother where he meets a young woman named Sachiko (Utako Mitsuya) who looks a lot like his fiancée Yukiko. Yet, Tamura would follow him as would two women who are related to the man Tamura and Shimizu hit and ran during a night in Tokyo. One of these women is the man’s girlfriend who would have a brief tryst with Shimizu as she and the man’s mother would follow him where a lot of chaos ensue into what Shimazu’s father is doing in creating a tenth-anniversary party for the retirement community. The film’s third act is set in Hell as it’s about all of the sins that Shimizu has committed as well as those who had been around him.

Nakagawa’s direction is definitely stylish for the way he would present the film as it would start off with a brief surreal sequence of what Shimizu would endure in Hell to something more normal as he’s in a classroom. Much of Nakagawa’s direction for the scenes in Tokyo and at the rural retirement community does have bits of style but much of it is straightforward to play into the drama of what Shimizu is dealing with. There are a few slanted angles in some scenes as well as moments that are surreal whenever Tamura would pop up as it play into the sense danger that Shimizu would encounter. Nakagawa would use some wide shots to establish some of the locations though much of it is presented in medium shots and close-ups. That approach to the compositions would play into the moments of chaos including a meeting with Shimizu and Yoko (Akiko Ono) on a bridge as it is very tense as it relates to everything Shimizu had done as it relates to the hit-and-run. Eventually, the aftermath as it relates to this anniversary party would showcase these elements of horror as it sets the tone for what is to come in the film’s third act.

The film’s third act which takes place in Hell is definitely one of the most horrific and terrifying sequences in film. It has these vast settings where Shimizu and many of the characters he encounter would endure their own ideas of Hell. The usage of the wide shots play into the look of Hell from this eerie river to images that of a pool of fire and people walking endlessly in circles. In Hell, Shimizu would have some revelations about himself as well as seeing the sins of people he know or had just met as show a world where it’s torment that never ends. Even as Shimizu learns more about who Tamura really is and why he had been involved in Shimizu’s life. Overall, Nakagawa creates a rapturous yet unsettling film about a man’s consumption of guilt that would lead him down to Hell.

Cinematographer Mamoru Miyagi does incredible work with the film’s cinematography from the natural lighting approach to the scenes in Tokyo and in the small town to the more stylish array of looks for the scenes in Hell with the help of Hiroshi Ishimori in the lighting to help create moods for these sequences. Editor Toshio Goto does excellent work with the editing with its usage of jump-cuts for some scenes as well as freeze-frames and other stylistic elements to play into the suspense and horror. Production designer Haruyasu Kurosawa does amazing work with the look of Hell in all of its settings as well as the way the community retirement home look in its party scene. The sound work of Kihachiro Nakai is fantastic for the array of sound effects and textures that are presented for the scenes set in Hell as it help create this atmosphere that is very unsettling. The film’s music by Chumei Watanabe is brilliant for its mixture of jazz, pop, and traditional Japanese music to play into this array of styles that play into the drama as well as the suspense and horror.

The film’s phenomenal cast include some notable small roles from Kanjuro Arashi as Hell’s king in Lord Enma, Sakurato Yamakawa as a fisherman who would catch fish that would later be poisoned, Hiroshi Shinguji as a corrupt police detective who desires Sachiko, Koichi Miya as an immoral journalist, Tomohiko Otani as a neglectful doctor at the community home, Jun Otomo as Sachiko’s father who is a troubled painter that is struggling with alcoholism, Kimie Tokudaji as Shimizu’s ailing mother, Akiko Yamashita as Shimizu’s father’s mistress Kinuko who would pursue Shimizu, Fumiko Miyata as Yukiko’s fragile mother, and Torahiko Nakamura in a terrific performance as Professor Yajima as Yukiko’s father and Shimizu’s mentor who is coping with a picture presented by Tamura that has him coping with his own sins from the past. Hirisho Ayashi is superb as Shimizu’s father who runs the community home which he uses for his own selfish reasons while cheating on his ailing wife with a young woman.

Hiroshi Izumida is wonderful in his brief role as Kyoichi “Tiger” Shiga as a gang leader who is the victim of the hit-and-run that Shimizu was involved in while Akiko Ono is fantastic as Kyoichi’s girlfriend Yoko who is a prostitute that had a brief tryst with Shimizu only to learn more about what he did. Kiyoko Tsuji is excellent as Kyoichi’s mother who vows vengeance for the death of her son as she is eager to find out who did it with Yoko’s help. Utako Mitsuya is amazing in a dual performance Shimizu’s fiancée Yukiko and the neighbor girl Sachiko as two figures of purity and morality who give Shimizu a reason to do what is right and to remind him of what is good in the world. Yoichi Numata is brilliant as Tamura as a mysterious man who constantly follows Shimizu as well as have a mysterious sense of knowledge about what everyone has done as gets them to face their own guilt. Finally, there’s Shigeru Amachi in a remarkable performance as Shiro Shimizu as a theology student who gets involved in a hit-and-run as he copes with the guilt of his actions as well as the chaos in his life that would eventually lead him to Hell.

Jigoku is a phenomenal film from Nobuo Nakagawa. It’s a film that is definitely a must-see for anyone that is interested in Japanese horror as it is widely considered to be the film that laid the groundwork for a lot of modern J-horror films in the years to come. Notably for its immense art direction, dazzling visuals, unsettling score, and themes of guilt and torment all taking place in a world called Hell. In the end, Jigoku is a tremendous film from Nobuo Nakagawa.

Nobuo Nakagawa Films: (Vampire Moth) – (The Depths) – (Black Cat Mansion) – The Ghost of Yotsuya

© thevoid99 2017


Dell said...

I've never heard of this one, but sounds like something I need to see.

thevoid99 said...

It was on Turner Classic Movies last Sunday as I heard a lot about this film as it is widely considered to be the film that gave birth to Japanese Horror.

Brittani Burnham said...

This initial plot reminds me of Shutter and that movie was awful but this does sound like it could be better than that. I'd watch it if it came on TV. Great review!

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-Shutter was shit. This film is absolutely fucked up and definitely will give you some ideas of Hell. It's available on Filmstruck, I think as I was able to watch on Turner Classic Movies which every film lover must have. Especially for the late Sunday-night TCM Imports.