Thursday, February 19, 2015

Pure Hell

Where do people with guilt complexes go when they die? They might go to the place depicted in 1960's Jigoku (地獄, "Hell"), a horror film about a young man who constantly finds himself in situations where people die and constantly blames himself for it. The movie is devilish, a long cruel joke that wisely never explains itself. It's effective in its sense of inescapability and as an evisceration of sentimentality.

Shirou (Shigeru Amachi) is a theology student in love with his professor's daughter, Yukiko (Utako Mitsuya).

Watching the movie, I thought his name was the "Shiro" that meant white, 白, but it's actually "Shirou" using the kanji "四郎", a fairly common name, the first kanji meaning the number four and the second referring to a young man. But I don't think the resemblance to "white" is incidental because despite the fact that the film shows him apparently on a fixed path to Hell, he never seems to have an even slightly malicious thought and is never actually responsible for any deaths around him. The first one, a drunken yakuza, is hit by Shirou's car when it's being driven by his mysterious friend, Tamura (Yoichi Numata), a young man with a cruel sense of humour who was also courting Yukiko. The professor refused to give his consent but Tamura applies pressure by demonstrating knowledge he somehow has of a murder the professor committed during the war.

One might read Tamura as being the dark half of a single person for whom Shirou is the other half or one might read Tamura as a demon. When Shirou goes to visit a nursing home where his parents live, ironically called Tenjoen, "Garden of Heaven", Tamura shows up to reveal he knows about forms of murder everyone there has committed.

Somehow in the nursing home is also a prostitute, a reporter, and an artist who's been working on a painting of Hell for a long time. The artist's daughter is Sachiko, who looks uncannily like Yukiko (and is also played by Utako Mitsuya). Also like Yukiko, Sachiko seems to be the only one who's never done anything bad. The fact that they are inexplicably identical adds an otherworldly quality to their purity as though they represent an ideal more than actual people.

As the deaths pile up they become more absurd and the imagery becomes increasingly surreal and fantastic, people are cut up alive and Shirou's unborn daughter is sent down some ghostly river on a lotus leaf. Every is in constant anxiety about the fates of their loved ones causing me to wonder, as people start coming back from the dead and the cycle of threat continues endlessly, why the characters don't grow numb to the trauma. It occurred to me it was because these were people from melodrama. Shirou's overwhelming sense of guilt and panic will never be assuaged because he was simply never meant to be more complex than that. As much as they're caught in circumstances and places of torment, the characters are also frozen within particular feelings, forever. This is the Hell of the sentimental.

Twitter Sonnet #718

Razor Slinkies massacre the stairway.
Distant nine a.m. paints the mouse yellow.
The army crushed a cracking gold Segway.
Beetles converge on the shrunken pillow.
Armour moleskin salami microphones.
Dress the divested vesture in a tank.
Bring forth the forthright coats of herringbones.
Don ye derbies of buoyant hue and rank.
Don't eat the cookie when cowries go unsought.
Rejoice in Germany's manticores now.
Revel in beige envelopes without blot.
If they ask whence Webster's arrived tell how.
Behold, the Lord hath spilt ice cream on Earth.
Mark ye to ants the sugar liquid's worth.

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