Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Portrait of Hell

Not quite as bizarre as it looks from the cover (and I must confess, as bizarre as I was hoping), Portrait of Hell is a slightly twisted morality tale that takes the form of a ghost story.

Lord Hosokawa, a vainglorious feudal overlord desires renowned Korean court painter Yoshihide to create an earthly paradise on the walls of his Buddhist temple. Yoshihide however, only seems capable of painting ugliness - he paints only what his mind's eye sees and all it sees is depravity and death.

Incensed by Yoshihide's stubborn refusal to bend to his will, Hosokawa decides that if he can't have heaven, he will have the perfect hell. He kidnaps Yoshihide's daughter Yoshika and uses her as bait to lure Yoshihide into his final deadly act of creation. 

Despite being relatively slow-paced, Portrait of Hell never drags - its world is a captivating one. The film has the look and feel of a stage play, perhaps because it was shot entirely in the studio rather than on location - but strangely, that works to its advantage. The decidedly ropey special effects are easily forgiven in light of the film's plus points: the lavish costumes and sets, the beguiling, languidly surreal atmosphere and most importantly, an unusual story populated with some memorable characters.

Dir. Shiro Toyoda, 1969