A promotional image for the Japanese horror film ‘Jigoku’ from 1960.
Also known under its alternate title of “The Sinners of Hell,” Jigoku was directed by Nakagawa Nobuo. An idiosyncratic man who was often referred to as “the Alfred Hitchcock of Japan,” Nobuo was known for wearing traditional wooden Japanese footwear (or getas) which are supported by horizontal platform wooden slabs on the soles, around the set of the film, which while a bit strange paled in comparison to the terrifying, gory and very weird things that happened on screen.
Jigoku takes a cue from the real life murder case of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb. The pair were two rich white college students who murdered a fourteen-year-old boy after planning what they referred to as “the perfect crime” for months. The case was also used as a plotline for both Hitchcock’s 1948 film Rope and Richard Fleischer’s 1959 film Compulsion starring Orson Wells and Dean Stockwell. Though the title of the film seems somewhat straightforward, it is anything but. At its heart, it is a sordid tale of guilt and remorse and how our actions in life may well be predictors for what will be waiting for us once we’ve passed into the great beyond. Nobuo’s narrative also follows along with the various regions and consequences associated with the multiple levels of the Japanese conception of Hell, which is an incredibly complex topic to try to explain on its own. One of the reasons I love this movie so much is the fact that it plays out much like a classic horror film. You know, bad things happening to bad people after they do bad things. There’s even a scene that had me recalling one of my favorite horror films, 1980’s grossly unappreciated Motel Hell. Other Japanese horror films that would also take notes from Nobuo’s Jigoku include the 2002 film Ju-On: The Grudge.
Jigoku was the ninth film in a series by Nobuo with Shintoho, one of the largest film studios in Japan. Shintoho’s primary source of revenue was producing genre specific exploitation films. In a strange twist, the studio found itself almost completely broke during the filming. Although shooting was expedited to help cut costs, some of the actors were actually enlisted—or forced—to dig holes on the set for themselves (!) for an unsettling scene that will stick with you like the fake, red gore that gets slung around throughout the film. By the time Jigoku was released, Shintoho had gone bankrupt. This fantastically gross and frightening film was the subject of a great documentary from 2006 titled Building the Inferno: Nobuo Nakagawa and the Making of ‘Jigoku’ which I highly recommend you seek out after first successfully seeking out Jigoku. I’ve included a number of remarkable stills from the film below. Pretty much all of them are NSFW. YAY!
Remember those holes that the actors had to dig for themselves on the set of ‘Jijoku?’ Here’s one of them with the actor inside having his makeup done.
A terrifying scene from ‘Jigoku’ that probably inspired the 1980 film ‘Motel Hell.’
A vintage movie poster for ‘Jigoku.’
An alternate movie poster for ‘Jigoku.’
The trailer for ‘Jigoku.’
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘Female Convict Scorpion’: The Japanese women-in-prison movie that elevated exploitation to high art
FEEL THE FUZZ: Insane music from obscure vintage Japanese psych & garage rock bands
Hilariously crude Japanese ‘fart battle scrolls’ from the Edo period
The king of Kinbaku: The erotic works of Japanese bondage artist Seiu Ito
Watch David Bowie’s Japanese TV commercial for sake from 1980