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Criterion Film Club Week Eight: Jigoku

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Criterion Film Club Week Eight: Jigoku

Old 10-05-09, 12:15 PM
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Criterion Film Club Week Eight: Jigoku

Old 10-05-09, 04:31 PM
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Re: Criterion Film Club Week Eight: Jigoku

Shirô Shimizu’s life is slowly destroyed through the presence of his roommate, the mysterious Tamúrá. (Who is he? A man? A conscience? A doppelgänger? A demon? The God of Death?) Shirô becomes an accomplice to a hit-and-run. When he tries to go to the police, his fiancée dies in an auto accident. Soon, he, and everyone associated with him, are pulled into a whirlpool of death. And then (as in a Jack T. Chick tract), everyone goes to Hell.

This is a film that the adjective “oneiric” definitely applies to. It was a bit difficult to get into at the start, but once the hit-and-run accident happen, I began to be pulled in, and by the end I was mightly impressed. Nobuo Nakagawa was a brilliant director, and I hope more of his films become available on DVD.

There are just so many techniques in this film that I loved -- extreme camera angles and movements (my favorite was the upside down shot as Shirô started crossing the bridge), Bavaesque lighting effects, brilliant sound design (with blasts of jazz coming out of nowhere, and the loud noises preceding Tamúrá's appearances). Then there is the minimalist set design, suggesting that the characters are about to be swallowed by the void. Even the more elaborate sets are shot in such an expressionistic way that the surrounding darkness foreshadows everyone's ultimate fate.

And what a fate! Who knew Buddhists had such a dark streak in them? We are all sinners, we are all damned, and, hoo boy, are we going to suffer for it! Nakagawa pulls out all the stops here. This is some delirous filmmaking here, with just one surrealistic image after another, heightened by some occasional lens distortion and a judicious use of gore.

Not sure if I completely understand the ending, though.

The extras, if few, are quite good. The documentary was enlightening, especially with Yoichi Numata stating he didn't quite know how to play Tamúrá. The clips from Ghost Story of Yotsuya got me excited about seeing that film and make me hope that Criterion will release it soon, either as a standalone DVD or as part of an Eclipse set.

The trailer and the poster gallery were interesting insights into Japanese exploitation, while the booklet essay is essential to help non-Japanese understand what's going on.

This is the type of stuff that Criterion does best.

Last edited by Tim Tucker; 10-05-09 at 04:37 PM.
Old 10-07-09, 01:21 PM
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Re: Criterion Film Club Week Eight: Jigoku

Very good choice, as I agree that it has some cool film-making techniques.

But I'm still largely confused by it. Looking forward to finishing the supplements and essay to open it up a bit more for me.
Old 10-16-09, 10:32 PM
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Re: Criterion Film Club Week Eight: Jigoku

Had to view this one twice, and I'm still not sure what to think. First, I love Japanese cinema from the 50s and 60s (and even into the early 70s). I've really enjoyed Kwaidan, Onibaba, and Ugetsu. This one, well. . . . The supernatural aspects of the story are quite well done and effective, even if on a miniscule budget. But the framing story that leads into the last 30-40 minutes and the various "levels" of Hell was unconvincing to me. For one thing, I'm still not sure what to think of the seemingly omniscient Tamura--was he a demon in human form, the personified dark side of each character, an acutal human, an imp, or what? It seemed that everyone knew him (by name), reacted to his presence/statements, and saw him, something that really confuses me about his actual nature in the story (as well as his eventual fate). As for the other characters, I never really connected with them, even the main character, Shiro.

But you're right about the third act, when everything goes to Hell. What a bizarre yet effective imagining it is, with all sorts of weird things happening. If I remember correctly, in the documentary extra the screenwriter said that all the physical suffering depicted was actually meant to convey the mental and psychological torment being inflicted on those souls, things that otherwise couldn't be effectively shown on film. I kinda like that notion.

Also in that portion of the movie is further evidence that G. Lucas is a world-class "borrower" from others for his own pictures. At one point Shiro is trying to find another character in the underworld, and he comes into a nondescript level(?) in which a large crowd of people are just moving along around and around in a big circle for no apparent reason; Shiro gets caught up among them, which causes him to lose his way. The very same things happens in THX 1138 as the title character (played by Robert Duvall) loses track of his fellow escapees as they try to make their way to the above-ground world.

Thanks for the selection. I've wanted to view Jigoku for a while and am happy I finally did. And like Tim, I'd really like to see Ghost Story of Yatsuya sometime. (Another Nakagawa kaidan movie, Snake Woman's Curse (1968), is available on DVD, and it's pretty good.)

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