Nobuo Nakagawa (1905-1984) had been one of the great directors of Japanese horror films of the 1950s & 1960s. His film Jigoku (1960) was remade as a rather experimental exploitation film in 1999 by Teruo Ishii (1924-2005).
Ishii made a mess of it. He had been a leading director of pinku or soft-core "poruno" movies in the 1970s, but his career petered out for a long time. He returned to filmmaking in old age, doing direct-to-video independent productions of varying exploitation value.
His version of Jigoku is a silly film with very few touchstones to Nakagawa's minor classic.
It comes off as an amateur work, though Ishii was anything but an amateur, & any resemblance to nonsensically artsy fartsy avant garde is strictly intentional.
And despite that it's more foolish than offensive, it was banned in Germany, providing Jigoku with more cache than injury. Though I didn't like the film at all, I am charmed that an aging director would delight in making it.
A lyric tells us, "This is a tale of things not of the world/ A tale of the River Sanzu/ The eternal limbo of dead children," by the voice of a plaintive singer, followed by a man screaming, then cut to a professorial presentation on the nature of Hell in sundry religions.
Rather than a story we get something that is partially an illustrated essay on Hell, including visuals of the sorts of sins that can land you there.
The chaotic hodgepodge of a soundtrack ranges from noise, folk song, & jazz, the director's varied tastes being rooted in the 1960s or early 70s.
Looking for something that might pass for a plot, Shimizu is to marry Yukiko, but the happiest day of his life becomes horrific when he runs over & kills a man.
He speeds away from the incident, on the advice of his devilish passenger, Tamara. A yakuza gang wants revenge for the death of the man run down.
There was a witness, Yoko, but she pretended not to have seen anything, for she wants to seek revenge herself, assisted by the dead gangster's mother.
The story limps along weakly, part domestic tragedy, part yakuza tale, people being sinful left & right. It has occasional moments that rise from the overall mess. The wedding festivities with the world's worst band was marvelous. But most of the time it's all unbearably dull.
The women's eventual vengeance is perfunctory & unconvincing after so long a wait. Shimizu & Tamara discover they're dead & have arrived at the bank of the Sanzu, the river of Hell.
The hell journey is more interesting than the film had been up to then, but only barely. The "spooky" music is not spooky at all, but rather comical.
There are many cheap gore FX & a gigantic Lord of Hell, Emma, with a ridiculous make-up design.
Much of the time the Hell scenes feel like the result of the filmmaking of immaginative teenagers, & odd to think the director was actually a veteran.
In the main the tortures of Hell come off as a shoddy light-show put on in a square-dance barn trying to go disco. We do see flayings, bleedings, & victims sawed to pieces, none of it convincing enough to constitute gore because the FX are merely silly.
Yet silliness does have some entertainment value, & Jigoku has a certain "guerilla filmmaking" quality to it, attempting to do a lot with no budget.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl