I found it interesting to watch this. It is being touted as a horror film. Would I recommend it to a horror fan? A qualified maybe. It is an old Japanese film (1960). It will be something very alien to its present target audience. Most viewers will be unfamiliar with the cultural/religious context in which it is set. Although Jigoku is correctly translated as Hell, it is not the Judaeo-Christian Hell that most viewers would have in mind. This is a Buddhist vision of Hell. It may look visually similar to western portraits of Hell but the entire concept is very different. The film presupposes the audience's familiarity with Buddhist beliefs. Firstly there is no God in original Buddhism. No supernatural deity sends Shiro's soul to Hell. In this Buddhist worldview, Shiro is in Hell simply because he believes he deserves to be there for what he perceives as his crimes in his previous life. Viewed at dispassionately, Shiro is blameless in most, if not all of his "crimes" and certainly not deserving of damnation to Hell in the western sense. Hell in Buddhism is also not eternal. (In this sense it is almost like the Catholic concept of Purgatory). The Buddhist Hell is simply one stage (the lowest) in the Wheel of Life, from which everyone can leave if they make the effort. So the film is not as pessimistic, arbitrary and utterly devoid of hope as it would appear to most western audiences. Shiro and all the others will eventually work their way out of Hell to a higher plane of existence. Tamura, described here by the western term "doppelganger", is a Hell-being and a soul in his own right. Although Tamura too can work his way out of Hell, he chooses not to, and is condemned to repeat his torment until he learns his lesson and earns progression to the next level. The final scene is a visual metaphor for the Great Mandala, the Wheel of Life. Shiro is vainly trying to reach and rescue his child on the other side of the Wheel as it ceaselessly turns. We see him struggling hopelessly without success right up to the final freeze-frame. Left unsaid is what will happen given time. Shiro will eventually learn that the key to saving his child is to let go and get off the Wheel, allowing the turning Wheel to bring his child to him. That for him will be enlightenment, and with enlightenment he will be ready to leave Hell and progress to the next stage in Life. Viewed in that light, the film has an optimistic, even uplifting ending, very different from what a western audience would infer.
The horror effects may have been good in their day but they are very dated now and look decidedly amateurish. Most of the tortures depicted, are traditional tortures featured in Eastern mythological portraits of Hell and you can see them depicted in texts, temples and theme parks across East Asia. If you are seeing it mainly for the shock or horror effects, don't bother. But it is a fascinating look at a wholly different worldview from what most westerners would be exposed to. It remains a fascinating work in its own right and deserves recognition for that alone, rather than for simply being another "J-horror" movie.
Criterion's DVD is as usual very professionally produced. The print looks its age. But it is clean, undamaged, and aside from a jumping frame here and there, is very good. It is presented in its OAR of 2.35:1 (anamorphic). Colours are very sombre, drab and dark for the most part, occasionally punctuated by hellish crimsons which look impressive when they appear. Sound is in the original Japanese 1.0 Mono and is perfectly serviceable. Optional English subtitltes are provided.