Thursday, July 31, 2008

What Fresh "Naraka" Is This?

Jigoku(The Sinners Of Hell)Directed by Nobuo Nakagawa(1960)
Horror film about the "Buddhist Hells"(an important distinction from Christian Hell. 1. You don't go to Buddhist Hell because of any kind of God, you go because of past Karma, and you stay just as long as is necessary, for the pound of flesh to be rendered so to speak). "Naraka" the Buddhist word for Hell, we are told when the film opens means roughly "abdonimal" or "excrusiating", and though it's concept is more abstract than the Wests, it's torture's are much more specific (list like) and would make Eli Roth blush.
The story, begins with young man, who get's in the wrong car with the wrong guy(Tamura, who just appears out of nowhere, and then usually just to cause trouble or point out others sins), who has a hit and run, with a drunken Yakuza. The two drive off, though our hero wants to go back, and from them on, everything in his life goes wrong. Girlfreind dies, mother becomes terminally ill, father revealed as an unrepentent adulterer and reprobate, a doppleganger of his girlfreind re-apears, and the girlfreind and mother of the man he killed are on his tail too, which all come together in one hellish night of murder, revenge, and accidental death that takes them all.
The next half hour to fourty minutes takes place in Hell. We watch a series of spectacles from the outer depths of purgatory to the inner rings of the vortext of torment, where our Hero after meeting his wife again (who may have been his sister, it's revealed, at least one of the dopplegangers was), goes on a quest to find the soul of his brother/son, who is shown on screen as a baby riding a leaf down a river of blood. Severed heads, flailings, a field of faces half burried (images I recognize from "What Dreams May Come" Hell sequence), and much, much, more. Jigoku, is one of the few horror movies I've seen, that has no pre-cursors, nothing has ever looked this, though plenty have tried since. There's elements of theater, b-movie conventions, theology, sharp editing and directing, and some of the best set design Ive ever seen.
Though over 60 years old, it feels suprisingly not too dated, and though bleak as any film about "Hell" could be, it's important to note that Buddhist Hell is more like a place for shedding psychic skin, than an eternal prison, as the last frame of our hero and his child on opposite ends of the wheel of torment, followed by a distant light shimmering in the darkness, would suggest. So...not to scary, but Brilliant. One of the best philosophical horror movies ever!

No comments: