25 April, 2008


Teruo Ishii made my day in 1968 and is still amazing me forty years later...

This in the morning; 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY in the afternoon!

Japanese Hell / Hell

Don't look into the karma-mirror, you might not like what you see...

Thanks to Teruo Ishii (1924-2005) for introducing me to STARMAN/SUPER GIANT, via a feature film compilation of several episodes he directed for the 1950s SHINTOHO series, Saturday morning TV airing, on the same day in 1968 when I went to see the original theatrical showing (in 70mm) of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. A double bill I'll never forget. I still like them both more than ever, but for very different reasons.

I finally caught up with the late Teruo Ishii's penultimate film last night via International Movies on Demand and my mind is still reeling. A dire warning to sinners on what awaits them in the afterlife it begins with Miss Rika being visited by the Bitch of the Inferno who narrates in front of a kind of backward waterfall of electric hues. The young woman, an Aum sect devotee, is taken on a guided tour of Hell, where the rest of the cast will soon end up.

Inspired by the 1960 classic, also titled JIGOKU, this is actually a remake which for once actually justifies itself by transposing the idea and imagery onto our own age's anxieties while remaining very much in the ero-guro tradition of Ishii's 1960s work (cf THE HORROR OF MALFORMED MEN, which you need to see immediately if you already haven't; go out and buy the superior Synapse DVD without hesitation!). But Ishii's HELL isn't based on Rampo. Rivaliing the excesses of Jose Mojica Marin's ESTA NOITE ENCARNAREI NO TEU CADAVER (1966)it was partially inspired by an actual event, the Aum sect's gas attack on the Tokyo subway.

Mixing in other stories and episodes concering the corruption of power brokers, the seduction of the naive, contemporary fears about serial predators, referencing contemporary conspiracy theories as well as Dante's INFERNO, and demonstrating Ishii's obvious compulsion to continue his surrealistic vision through severely minimalist techniques due to budgetary and logistical restrictions. The subway incident, for instance, is staged without a single special effect, without any location shooting or any kind of sets whatsoever, just a few actors seated in front a black curtain foaming at the mouth as the camerawork becomes unhinged in the style of Andy Milligan.

You won't know where this film is going and will be left wondering exactly where it's coming from. Unpredictability and compelling ambiguity are high attributes as far as I'm concerned and this is exploitation of a very high order which makes us question the world we live in.

And watch out for those darting rat-sized insects which can seen to represent Ishii's personal brand of noir humor.

In a way, he ended up where he started, with the delightful, penny pinching SUPER GIANT series, creating a roiling alternate universe out of next to nothing. Bathed in noxious blue light the nude, dancing damned await transport across Styx. Don't be one of them!

Just don't compare this film to the 1960 version and you might enjoy it as much as I did. Enjoy is probably not the proper word, though, for the tongue pulling, limb sawing, skin peeling, decapitation antics on display in full arterial splatter mode.
Actually, some of the blindingly intense colors and eye-assaulting visual streams are also in a similar aesthetic modality as the delirium-on-a-shoestring produced by the best of Jess Franco's direct-to-video work from the late 90s and early 21st Century (cf VAMPIRE JUNCTION, SNAKEWOMAN).

*The 2005 Media Blasters DVD presentation isn't exactly High Definition in terms of sharpness and color, but it does give a sense of the film's original palette.

(c) Robert Monell, 2008

No comments: