A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Jigoku (Nobuo Nakagawa, 1960)

Shigeru Amachi in Jigoku
Shiro Shimizu: Shigeru Amachi
Yukiko/Sacihko: Utako Mitsuya
Tamura: Yoichi Numata
Gozo Shimizu: Hiroshi Hayashi
Ensai Taniguchi: Jun Otomo
Kinuko: Akiko Yamashita
Kyoichi's Mother: Kiyoko Tsuji
Mrs. Yajima: Fumiko Miyata
Prof. Yajima: Akira Nakamura
Ito Shimizu: Kimie Tokudaiji
Yoko: Akiko Ono
Kyoichi "Tiger" Shiga: Hiroshi Izumida

Director: Nobuo Nakagawa
Screenplay: Nobuo Nakagawa, Ichiro Miyagawa
Cinematography: Mamoru Morita
Production design: Shosuke Sasane, Haruyasu Kurosawa
Film editing: Toshio Goto
Music: Michiaki Watanabe

I know what hell is: I just spent two days without internet access. (Hence the absence of recent posts.) A good chunk of those two days passed waiting for the repairman, who was supposed to arrive between 1 and 4 p.m., but of course showed up just before 6 p.m., so my idea of hell is an infinite waiting room. Which is not the idea that director Nobuo Nakagawa and co-screenwriter Ichiro Miyagawa present. It's pretty much the traditional one of fire and torture. Jigoku is a cult film, as many of the better (or at least more arty) horror films become, and while I'm not a member of the cult I can appreciate the skill with which Nakagawa presents his vision. It's a movie that ranges from deeply somber to extraordinarily lurid. The protagonist, Shiro, is a student who, after celebrating his engagement to Yukiko, gets into a car driven by his sardonic friend Tamura. On a dark road, Tamura runs down and kills a gangster, Kyoichi, whose mother witnesses the accident. Shiro wants to stop, but Tamura keeps driving. Since her son was a gangster, she doesn't report the hit-and-run to the police but, along with Kyoichi's girlfriend, Yoko, vows to hunt down Tamura and Shiro and kill them. After pleading with Tamura, Shiro decides to go to the police himself, but on the way the taxi driver -- whom Shiro briefly hallucinates as Tamura -- runs into a tree and Yukiko, who has reluctantly accompanied Shiro, is killed. Shiro's road to hell is certainly paved with good intentions, and after his death he winds up there. He has received a telegram that his mother is critically ill, so he goes to see her at the home for the elderly that his father runs in the country. She's not as ill as he feared -- the telegram was actually sent by Kyoichi's mother and girlfriend to lure him into their trap. He discovers that the old folks' home his father owns is actually run on the cheap, with a doctor who skimps on medicine and food. He also encounters Sachiko, a young woman who looks exactly like his fiancée, Yukiko, down to the pink parasol she carries. She turns out to be the sister Shiro didn't know he had, but by this time revelations are coming hard and fast: Tamura -- who appears more and more demonic -- turns up too, as do the potential assassins, and in an elaborate concoction of circumstances, everybody dies, including Shiro. And everybody goes to hell, which is a fantasia crafted out of depictions from old Buddhist paintings and traditional cinematic imaginings of the underworld. Shiro learns there that the taxi accident killed not only Yukiko but also their unborn child, and he spends much of his time trying to rescue the infant from the torments of the afterlife. The film ends, after much exploration of the more gruesome torments of hell, with Shiro's vision of the twinned Yukiko and Sachiko, both with pink parasols, but although it suggests Faust being redeemed by Gretchen, there's nothing to indicate that this is any kind of redemption for Shiro. In short, Jigoku is complicated, contrived, confusing, sometimes a little cheesy and more than a little morally questionable -- does Shiro really deserve to go through all this? -- but also thoroughly fascinating.

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