DVD Review HTF Review: Jigoku


Supporting Actor
Jun 13, 2002

Jigoku (Hell or The Sinners of Hell)

Studio: The Criterion Collection # 352
Rated: R
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 enhanced for 16x9 displays
Audio: English DD 1.0
Subtitles: English
Time: 101 minutes
Disc Format: 1 DVD-9
Case Style: Keep case
Theatrical Release Date: 1960
DVD Release Date: September 19, 2006

After viewing the horrific torture fest that is Jigoku (aka Hell or Sinners of Hell) one may be compelled to go to confession. Shiro (Shigeru Amachi) is a man tortured by demons that eventually manifest themselves in the form of Temura, Shiro’s best friend (Yoichi Numata). Shiro’s life begins to take some poor turns: he is party to a hit and run resulting in a man’s death, then later, the death of a vengeful sibling of that victim, for starters. While all of the deaths seem to center around Shiro and his decisions, they all have their own basis in the negligence and sins of the players. Shiro winds up at an old folks home where his mother is dying, his dad is cheating and the doctor is quick to serve a poisonous meal of contaminated fish. Numerous deaths occur and everyone is thrown into hell to sort it out. Eventually, Shiro finds himself trying to find the soul of his unborn daughter, but he is continually battered by his sins and the sins of those around him. The souls of the dead seem to add to his torment as he runs around the rings of hell chasing the crying child. Temura pops back up, now as a demon, to spearhead the campaign against Shiro’s soul. In each scene, we are battered, like Shiro, by images of torture, gore and horror as the characters are made to atone for the sins they committed. While still corporeal, they tried to ascribe their faults and subsequent happenings on to Shiro; on the other side, all is revealed, and everybody pays.

Director Nobuo Nakagawa’s picture is a dark creepy psych trip through the metaphysical and personal hells we all put on ourselves. While the first third of the picture deals with what we do to get to hell, the last third shows us the goods: graphic (for 1960) scenes of physical torture, lots of screaming, and still more moral conundrums that seek to make you question everything you believe in. The demonic Temura, finally in his true element, provides a trickster narration to explain to us the basis for these hells. Numata delivers his speeches with great bravado and hatred (think Ian Mc Diarmid in Revenge of the Sith, but much darker) and I believe he’ll be chasing me around in my nightmares in the weeks to come. Nakagawa uses camera tricks to emphasize his perspectives on the afterlife as we are constantly shown descending images, and circular, never ending movements. He leaves the color palette subtle and subdued, but he allows the reds to take center stage to emphasize what the story is really about.

The picture is correctly framed at 2.35:1 and it is an anamorphic transfer. Criterion is good enough to provide us with more information about the transfer itself, so I will pass this along: “This new, high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a new 35mm print. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, and scratches were removed using the MTI Digital Restoration System.” The picture has very deep blacks and an excellent shadow detail. Saturation in the flesh tones was average and they do not stand out in contrast to the rest of the colors in the picture, which are also quite pleasing. As I mentioned above, red is a constant theme in the picture, so it provides a focal point to the action on the screen. Detail is good but it tends to smear in some places. The picture exhibits fluctuating levels of grain, which could be expected in a picture of this vintage. Edge enhancement was minimal.

I watched the disc with the Dolby Digital mono track engaged. This is an average sounding soundtrack, but it did exhibit a good dispersion of sound and for a while I thought I was listening to a stereo soundtrack. Voices are clear and natural, but the music tends to come off a bit harsh and shrill. I think this is due more to the age of the print than the encoding. Criterion tells us, “The soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the 35mm optical track, and audio restoration tools were used to reduce clicks, pops, hiss, and crackle.” LFE’s were non-existent.

Bonus Material:

Building the Inferno (37:58): A new documentary on director Nakagawa and the making of the film. There are interviews with Numata, screenwriter Ichiro Miyagawa, Nakagawa collaborators Chiho Katsur and Kensuke Suzuki, and Cure and Doppleganger director Kiyoshi Kurosawa. An average documentary, mostly about Nakagawa, but it also spends some time on the genre of the Japanese ghost story pictures of the ‘60’s.

Galleries of posters from selected Nakagawa and Shintoho Studios films: about a dozen pieces total that may give you some ideas for future viewing options.

Theatrical trailer: A quick and old piece of film.

Also included in the package is a booklet with an essay by Chuck Stephens who is a contributing editor to Film Comment

This vintage Japanese horror picture has enough disturbing images and screaming, scary characters to keep you up for the next couple nights. While it can be mildly thought provoking, it mainly compels you to rethink right and wrong and the consequences of each. The sound and picture are average, but this is probably the best the movie has ever looked.

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