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Horror Movies Reviews

The Summer of Spook Review: Jigoku (1960)

The Criterion Collection cover of Jigoku.

The Summer of Spook Review #3

People fear death and the afterlife. They fear the punishment that they will receive for their sins and misdeeds. Films have explored death, the afterlife, demons, Satan, and Hell, but none have explored it with the same emotional and psychological horror present in Nobuo Nakagawa’s Jigoku. Jigoku doesn’t position the demons or devils of Hell as the tormentors but instead has the people in Hell tortured through their own guilt. The tormentors of Hell do torture and harm the people who have descended into Hell, but the movie shows people as their own tormentors plagued by guilt, and that manifests into torture and horrific bodily harm.

Jigoku tells the story of a young man named Shiro (Shigeru Amachi). Shiro is a theology student that is well-liked by his professor. He has recently gotten engaged to his professor’s daughter, his fiancee is possibly pregnant with their child, and everyone seems to think he has a bright future ahead of him, but Shiro is tormented by a hit and run that he and his friend Tamura (Yoichi Numata) committed one evening that left a man dead. Tamura is much more cold and lackadaisical about the manslaughter, but Shiro is haunted by guilt. It isn’t long before more tragedy begins to befall Shiro. His fiancee dies, and their unborn child dies in the process, his mother becomes mortally ill, he discovers that his father is an uncaring and philanderous man who refuses to aid his ailing wife, and the lover and mother of the man killed hunt Shiro wanting revenge. Nakagawa’s presentation of this material is quite dreamlike–nightmarish probably makes more sense–and surreal. The character of Tamura is unlike any other in the film, and his presence in the film adds to the surreal quality that persists throughout the entirety of the film. Tamura’s actor, Yoichi Numata, even expressed his confusion in the role and was unsure how exactly to play him. He comes across as devilish, and I was waiting for the film to reveal that he was tormenting Shiro as a ghost or Prince of Hell, but instead, he ends up in Hell tormented for his multitude of sins. 

Tormented by the fires of Hell.

Jigoku is an incredibly cynical film. There is no sign of hope or paradise anywhere to be found. The only redemption that anyone can receive comes in the form of endless torment in the depths of Hell. Nakagawa never dangles an ounce of hope in front of your face. From the start of the film, you know that it ends in Hell and torment. The end did leave me questioning whether or not Shiro had gained some form of redemption. In the end, Shiro’s lover and sister beckon him from afar, and where they are standing looks nothing like the Hell that he has just gone through, but having watched the movie I feel that the end may be a trick and a false sense of hope to lure the audience into believing that is some form of a happy ending. Ichiro Miyagawa joked about Heaven being in the sequel, but that was only a joke.

Jigoku is an emotionally taxing movie. The literal and figurative Hell that Shiro goes through is devastating and horrific to watch. Jigoku is a nightmarish portrayal of guilt and Hell. It is probably one of the most terrifying portrayals of Hell I have seen put to film. It is a masterpiece of horror cinema and an essential entry into the genre that shouldn’t be overlooked, but prepare to be tormented by the psychological, emotional, and violent horror present on the screen.

Rating 5/5

By Film Slut

I am a creative writer who enjoys writing short fiction, poetry, short scripts, critical essays, and film reviews. I have been described as a “film slut” because I spend the majority of my life trying to watch every movie made.

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