Portrait of Hell

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Portrait of Hell
Portrait of Hell DVD.jpg
Directed by Shirō Toyoda
Produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka
Written by Toshio Yasumi
Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (short story)
Starring Eisei Amamoto
Yoko Naito
Tatsuya Nakadai
Kinnosuke Nakamura
Music by Yasushi Akutagawa
Cinematography Kazuo Yamada
Distributed by Toho
Release date
  • November 18, 1969 (1969-11-18) (U.S.)
Running time
95 minutes
Country Japan
Language Japanese

Portrait of Hell (地獄変 Jigoku-hen?) is a 1969 Japanese jidaigeki (period drama) film directed by Shirō Toyoda and starring Tatsuya Nakadai and Kinnosuke Nakamura. It is based on the 1918 short story "Hell Screen" by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa.


The story, set in the Heian era, depicts the conflict between Korean painter Yoshihide (Nakadai) and his Japanese patron, the cruel and egotistical daimyo Hosokawa (Nakamura).

Horikawa demands that Yoshihide decorate the walls of his new temple with an image of Buddha, but Yoshihide refuses, insisting that he cannot paint what he does not see. In Hosokawa's realm, Yoshihide can see nothing but the suffering of peasants. He creates several gruesome images that appear to have some sort of magical power. (For example, a painting of a man killed by Hosokawa's soldiers at the beginning of the film gives off the stench of a rotting corpse.) These all appall Horikawa, and he demands that the paintings be destroyed.

Ultimately, Yoshihide asks that he be allowed to portray hell on a screen for the wall of the temple, and Horikawa agrees. Yoshihide asks for one thing to be in the centre of his painting: a burning carriage with Horikawa in it. Hosokawa agrees to this, but to provide a model for the scene, he has Yoshihide's daughter, Yoshika (played by Yoko Naito), chained in the carriage. Yoshihide watches in horror as his daughter is burned alive, before going on to paint his masterpiece.

Before the completed screen is unveiled, Yoshihide hangs himself. When Hosokawa looks at the screen, he is horrified to see himself portrayed in hell. The climax of the film is slightly vague, but the audience is led to believe that Horikawa becomes trapped in his own private hell through the power of the portrait.

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