1980's Friday the 13th is usually credited with having kick-started America's obsession with gore-soaked cinema. Arriving on the coattails of Halloween, Sean S. Cunningham's slasher set out to do the same, only bloodier, unwittingly embroiling future films of its kind in an endless competition to out-gross one another. But Japanese filmmaker Nobuo Nakagawa got the party started a couple of decades before Jason ever reared his ugly head, with 1960's Jigoku. In what was to be the final film for a studio on its last legs, Jigoku went out with one hell of a bang, combining centuries of Japanese storytelling with the sort of frighteningly explicit theatrics Hollywood now takes for granted.
As Jigoku begins, everything is peaches and cream for our hero, Shiro (Shigeru Amachi). But on the night he becomes engaged to his sweetheart Yukiko (Utako Mitsuya), Shiro's life takes a turn for the worse, when he and sinister comrade Tamura (Yoichi Numata) are involved in a hit-and-run accident. To top things off, Yukiko accompanies Shiro when he decides to confess, only for her to perish in a car accident. Shiro's sadness continues to compound once he's summoned to a nursing home run by his parents, where all the pieces of a complex puzzle proceed to come together. Various characters with various agendas converge upon the rest home and explode in a flurry of emotions, but their anguish isn't over yet. Forces greater than Shiro and the others could ever comprehend have gathered them in order to drop them squarely into Hell, rendering them powerless as they confront their sins and lament their never-ending torture.
In a narrative sense, it's obvious that Jigoku (a title that literally translates to Hell) is a little on the flimsy side. You don't need to watch five minutes before you realize this flick is going to be one of style crushing substance under a steel-toed boot. At its heart, Jigoku is a morality tale, and not just one in which the story's almost one-dimensional evildoers get their just desserts. On first glance, Shiro seems to be the least likely candidate for demon fodder, as his involvement in the numerous deaths that take place prior to his hellish journey ranges from accidental to practically nonexistent.