(1960)4Jason BuchananA stylish and frightening look at hell both figuratively and literally, director Nobuo Nakagawa's influential 1960 masterpiece remains effective not only because of its shocking journey into the underworld, but also for its remarkable attention to character detail. As the film opens and the viewers become acquainted with college-age protagonist Shiro and his young fiancée, Yukiko, the future is looking decidedly bright until their seemingly perfect relationship is thrown into chaos with the introduction of Shiro's evil friend, Tamura. Following the incident in which Tamura and Shiro run down a notable yakuza on a lonely stretch of road, Shiro's life quickly descends into hell on Earth as his morals crumble and those around him suffer and die. It's important that the viewer identify with everyman Shiro as he begins to wind down the slow road to hell, and by the time he does arrive at his final destination, it's easy to understand why he made the decisions that he did. Standing in stark contrast to the comparatively naturalistic Earth-bound scenes, Nakagawa's vision of hell is a surreal and technically masterful vision -- glowing with lakes of fire and shimmering with the flayed bodies of countless tortured souls. Nakagawa's hell is not a vision for the faint of heart or easily disturbed. It is here that Shiro's journey becomes both heartbreaking and horrifying as he makes his way through a phantasmogoric netherworld in search of his lost love and his unborn child -- all while suffering the endless torments of the damned. It's truly unsettling how Jigoku can remain so contemporary well into the new millennium, and though this isn't likely the first trip genre or fantasy fans have taken into the underworld, it's likely to be the one that remains most vivid and effective long after memories of What Dreams May Come have faded.