Written by: Arif Khan on September 28th, 2005
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, July 30th, 1960
Director: Nobuo Nakagawa
Writers: Ichirô Miyagawa, Nobuo Nakagawa
Cast: Utako Mitsuya, Shigeru Amachi, Hiroshi Hayashi, Fumiko Miyata
DVD Released: June 25, 2000
Approximate Running Time: 101 mins.
Aspect Ratio: 2:35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
DVD Release: Beam Entertainment
Region Coding: Region 2 NTSC
Retail Price: $49.99
After indulging myself in a lot of the newer Japanese films, I thought of taking a step back, and see what Japan’s archives had to offer. Throughout the years, Japan has revealed extreme amounts of innovative and provocative cinema, and as I looked into the different Horror films of the past, the director Nobuo Nakagawa seemed to constantly reoccur. After awhile, there really was no escaping the name Nobuo Nakagawa while researching unknown horror films. So I took the risk, and purchased Beam Entertainment’s DVD Edition of Jigoku.
Jigoku (Hell) tells a tale of Shiro (Shigeru Amachi) a young man and his best friend, Tamura (Yoichi Numata), who are out one night driving, and accidentally hit a drunken Yakuza. Secretly, they leave the body and drive off, a mistake which haunts Shiro and his girlfriend, Yukiko (Akiko Yamashita), all the way to the depths of hell. Every director in his career makes one film that they are remembered for, and it is thus considered their masterpiece. Quentin Tarantino has Pulp Fiction (I personally find Kill Bill better though), Dario Argento has Suspiria, Takashi Miike has Ichi The Killer, while Nobuo Nakagawa has Jigoku. It’s one of his best films to date, and the film has so much going for it, that essays could and have been written on it.
The first thing I would like to cover is the directing. His use of contrast in colors and lighting are truly beautiful, and yet so dark and sinister. What really impressed me was how they constructed hell so brilliantly. It’s dark enough to be mysterious, yet light enough to be tantalizing. The textures and insignia’s in hell are magnificent. The blues, reds, greens, and oranges all conjure images that Nakagawa intentionally wants you to see. When you watch this film, you can tell from the very beginning, that you truly are in the hands of a master. The screenplay is very interesting and has an immense amount of originality, it’s something that I’m surprised Hollywood hasn’t taken and remade. The acting is extremely well done, with all the actors making their characters believable. The last thing I would like to mentions is the film’s violent aspect for it’s time period. When you are catapulted into hell, you see a lot of unpleasant things, such as people being sawed in half, stabbed in the throat, drowning in a sea of blood, and my personal favorite, being skinned alive. One death is so crazy, you have to see it to believe it. But it’s all crafted really well and interestingly enough to keep your eyes glued to the screen. The only problem I can see is that a few aspects of the film, such as: make-up and costumes seem a little outdated compared to today’s standards, but everything else is so good, you over look such small details.
The film comes presented in a 2:35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen transfer. Considering when the film was made, I think they did extremely good job on the picture quality. But, there is a significant amount of print damage on the DVD, along with grain and a few sequences in which the colors are faded. But overall, the colors are vivid and strikingly lush. The sound is presented in Japanese 2.0 mono, an alright job, but there is an extensive amount of hissing and a small amount of distortion. Overall, an average sound job that could have been better, but than again, could have been a lot worse. The removable English subtitles are extremely well done, with very little, if any, grammatical errors.
As for the extra features, which are second to none, we get DVD credits, and a small amount of text information on both the film and its cast and crew, both which are presented in Japanese. Overall, Jigoku is a brilliant and highly unique film with fantastic directing, beautiful set-pieces, substantial acting, and all together an informative film on the darker aspect of the Japanese Culture. If you enjoy Horror, I implore you to let Nobuo Nakagawa’s great film wash over you, and see Hell produced in its most original form yet.