Japanese horror films are all the rage these days, with the originals hitting DVD in the States, and the remakes showing up in the theaters. Therefore, it stands to reason that even Criterion would get in on the trend, offering up a film from famed director Nobuo Nakagawa, widely regarded as the father of the Japanese horror film.
Jigoku is both strange and fascinating. The film tells the story of two friends that are involved in a hot-and-run accident. While one of the young men is cool, calm and collected, the other is wracked with guilt over their actions. While the family of the murdered man begins to close in on the guilty parties, strange things begin to happen to the man with a conscience.
While this may sound like a straight forward horror plot, the film is actually far from ordinary. If David Lynch was Japanese, this is the kind of thing he might create. There are also some Tarantino roots showing here, especially with regards to sound design and camera movement. This is certainly not a frightening film, but it is an intriguing piece of art nonetheless. Classic Japanese horror fans will be absolutely thrilled to get their hands on this truly odd release.
The audio track is true to the original mono, but this disc really could have benefited from a separate, all-new 5.1 offering as well. There is some really shocking and fascinating audio on this film, but much of it is much more harsh than it should be because of the mono presentation. Low-end is also predictably absent, which takes away much of the visceral experience of having a train rush right by a character’s face, for instance. Those big â€œbooâ€ moments are just not as powerful without the full audio presentation that a surround sound track would provide.
I was a little surprised that this film doesn’t look any better than it does. Now, judging from the trailer, the film has undergone an extensive cleanup process. I’m certain that it looks much better than it did before the magicians at Criterion got their hands on the product. Still, this will not be a disc that you will grab to show off the great advances that have been made in film restoration over the past five years. There is still considerable grain, and even some scratches left on the negative. The color is also a bit on the dull side, which is a real shame, since it is used to very well over the course of the story. The images are undoubtedly much improved, but they are still not up to the high standards that I was hoping for.
For a Criterion film, this disc is actually a little light on the extras. Of course, as always, the quality of what is here can not be denied. The main attraction is an all-new documentary called Building the Inferno. This featurette explores the making of the film, and also explores the techniques of director Nakagawa himself.
The film’s original theatrical trailer is also included, as well as a poster gallery for this film and others from the director and the studio. The extras wrap up with an essay on the film, written by noted Asian-cinema critic Chuck Stephens, which was penned especially for this DVD release. I admit that I wish there was more here to help explain this bizarre film, but I am completely pleased with the quality of what I was provided.
This is a truly odd film that is much heavier on atmospherics than on jump scares and gore. The goal is to create an empty pit in the chest of the viewer over the course of the film, rather than to blatantly shock and scare outright. In that sense, the film works. I was sufficiently unnerved by the time the film was over, though I expect some of that could be attributed to the fact that the film itself was, by definition, foreign to me. Still, this is an effective and masterfully crafted piece of art that transcends the typical low-budget blood and guts affairs that show up at the googolplex these days. If you are looking for something truly unique this Halloween season, Jigoku may be just what you are looking for.