Friday, November 25, 2011

#352: Jigoku

(Nobuo Nakagawa, 1960)

I just wish more of the characters in this movie died.

So Jigoku is a dark movie, a fable divided into two halves. The first is set in the real world, though the characters seem like they are walking through a dream (and the production design is oddly minimalist - in a good way). The second half is in the titular Hell, and it's here where the movie makes its reputation. This Hell is an abstract nightmare-scape. Its inhabitants move zombified through a swirling infinity that weirdly reminded me of Solaris - though that film's visuals owe much more to the divine than the damned. Jigoku is a fairly terrifying movie, full of gore and ghosts, even if the moral lesson of the first half has already been beaten over your head before the protagonist's real punishment is doled out in the second.

Despite the visual appeal of the movie, I was left somewhat cold by the philosophy behind it. Perhaps I would have preferred a more realistic in-depth look at the self-guilt that surrounded the first half, or a more expansive look at the nature of spiritual punishment from the second; maybe I just didn't want both in the same movie. After The Flowers of St. Francis, a gentle look at religion made a decade earlier half a world away which I watched right before this film, Jigoku seems almost silly, a naïve case for scaring people into the righteous path. Personally, I don't get it - why would acting like a good person because you don't want to burn in Hell for all eternity make you a good person? Doesn't that just make you a prisoner?

Anyway, some cool gore in this one and it did make me have a nightmare, which is pretty impressive.

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