on November 30, 2003
In 1953, Teinosuke Kinugasa (1896-1982) directed and co-adapted the historical play entitled "Jigokumon" (English transliteration of the Japanese title), which was written by Kan Kikuchi (1888-1948). The film's name (the same as the play) translates into English as "Gate of Hell", and was released theatrically in the U.S. in 1954. The story takes place in 12th-century Japan during the Heian period and at the start of a revolt. During the confusion and fear running rampant through the royal palace in Kyoto, a lady of the court, Lady Kesa (Machiko Kyô), is rescued by a soldier named Moritoh (Kazuo Hasegawa, 1908-1984). After the revolt fails, Moritoh is told that he can have anything that he wants, and what he wants is Lady Kesa to be his wife. He is quickly told, however, that she is already married to Wataru Watanabe (Isao Yamagata, 1915-1996). Rather than seek something different, Moritoh becomes dangerously obsessed with Lady Kesa.
Filmed in beautiful & vibrant color (probably one of the first color films from Japan), the cinematography in "Gate of Hell" is exquisite. The story is by no means dated, though it does become somewhat predictable. Still, it is both compelling and engaging and the acting is superb, especially Machiko Kyô. Memorable scenes in the film include the confusion at the royal palace, Laky Kesa hiding from traitorous soldiers, Moritoh meeting Lady Kesa and her aunt after the revolt, Moritoh given the choice of his heart's desire, the horse races, Moritoh at the home of Lady Kesa's aunt, and the ending scenes. The makeup used on Moritoh could have been better.
The film won several awards including an Oscar for Best Costume Design, an Honorary Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and the prestigious Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in France. Overall, I rate "Gate of Hell" with 4 out of 5 stars. Hopefully, the film will be fully restored and released on DVD one day. I highly recommend the film.
on February 15, 2013
This film wowed the critics when it first came out in the 1950's. The extraordinary medieval costumes and exquisite color compositions dazzled the audiences. Today, even Martin Scorsese ranks the movie among his top 10 of foreign films. It must have influenced so many Japanese directors when they attempted to create their own epics.
Obviously, I prefer the masterpieces of Kurosawa or Kobayashi or Mizoguchi. This is a very good film rather than a great one. Nevertheless...this movie grows on you. Other reviewers discuss the basic plot: Moritoh, a warrior who quashes a revolt, is to be rewarded for his bravery by the emperor's regent. He is asked to choose any gift from the emperor. During the revolt, he encounters the beautiful Lady Kesa, who is kind to him. Like a fool, he demands that he be given Lady Kesa as a wife, even though she is already married to a lord of higher class. Everyone asks him to desist.. but pride, madness, and desire prevent him from doing so. He vows to destroy anyone who stands in his path and goes so far as to kidnap his prize. On the other side of the wall, rather than defend his wife from such outrageous conduct, Lady Kesa's intellectual husband takes no violent action to protect her.
The scenes are enhanced by the exaggerated dramatic, strong movements of Moritoh against the delicate movements of Kesa. Notwithstanding, she is just as strong a character as he is. I give this movie 5 stars because I felt this was Machiko Kyo's best performance. Every gesture of hers can be studied for meaning.
The ending of the film grabs me so much because it is pregnant with so much significance. Don't rush to judgment - think about it. There are secrets to the ending.
Postcript: The Blu-Ray quality is marvelous - don't even think about seeing the movie in any other format. I also love the glorious poster artwork on the cover of this Criterion Edition.
on December 30, 1999
I first saw this at a revival in the early eighties and couldn't believe how beautiful it was. Then I got this video and was suprized that it wasn't nearlly as beautiful as I remembered. The reason wasn't a bad memory, but the original prints used for showings have rotted in film vaults, and have become blurry, faded, and scrathy. I was very disappointed that Home Vision didn't present this digitally remastered and restored with new computer subtitles (the subtitles are quite crude). That's the reason I didn't give this five stars other than that, this is one of Japan's greatest masterpieces. The ending is pretty sad but has a beautiful ending. The degree that Moritoh will go to get Kesa is trully horrifying and Moritoh transforms from a herioc samurai warrior and hero of the film to a maniacal barbarian and villian. Recommended, but maybe the more picky film viewer who has an outburst everytime a scratch line goes down a film should perhaps wait until this is restored to the experiance it once was.
on February 6, 2014
The self-anointed 'dean' of Western critics of Japanese film, Donald Richie, famously said that GATE OF HELL (Japanese JIGOKUMON) was a "limp film with flaccid performances by Hasegawa Kazuo and Kyo Machiko" (he inverts the names of the actors as they do in Japanese -- think similarly Bartok Bela in the Hungarian usage). I don't know if he was having a bad day when he saw the film or if he was coming down from one of his benders when he wrote his critique, but he could not have been more wrong. I refer you to M. Hart's review for a précis of the storyline. I want to concentrate on the quality of the film itself.
If anything Hasegawa's performance as the samurai Moritoh is anything but flaccid. Indeed his style is rather overripe for many Western viewers but I believe the director Teinosuke Kinugasa wanted to contrast his behavior with that of the sad-faced Lord Wataru, wonderfully underplayed by Isao Yamagata (I am not inverting Japanese names in this review). Moritoh is all snarling fury and barely suppressed rage while Wataru is all reasonableness and dignity. The object of their devotion, Lady Kesa, is stunningly played by Machiko Kyo who gives perhaps her greatest performance or at least one of her greatest. Having seen this film something like eight times, I find that I am ever more riveted by the subtlety of her every gesture and expression. Indeed I watched this film a couple of days ago and I discovered an ambiguity in her reaction to the blandishments of Moritoh that I had never caught before. Multiple viewings of this film will similarly reward you.
If you want some background on the history and culture of Japan that will greatly help you understand the context of this film, and any Japanese film for that matter, you might want to read George Sansom's 3-volume history of Japan. It is an older work but a fairly thorough one. A more recent, and shorter, history is JAPAN: ITS HISTORY AND CULTURE by W. Scott Morton and J. Kenneth Olenik. Also recommended is JAPANESE CULTURE by Paul Varley. These books clarify the Heian Era in which this film takes place and will explain references to the Taira clan, the role of Buddhist monks as rulers, and the the controversial role of the emperor Go-Shirakawa.
Oh, and like everyone else who watches GATE OF HELL, you will be stunned by the truly amazing color palette and cinematography provided by Kinugasa and Kohei Sugiyama. Please give this film a try -- you won't be sorry.
on June 22, 2013
I won't go into a plot retelling which you can read elsewhere. A capsule summary of this award-winning film could be: Fatal Attraction - Samurai Style. Only this time it's a man who desires a married woman and will not give up his pursuit of her. Also unlike the Douglas-Close film, there's no happy ending and that's as far as I'll push this simple analogy. This is not your typical Samurai film for those who want spectacular sword fights but instead we're presented a story of blind obsession and uncontrolled rage set in feudal times where one warrior's relentless attempt to break the rules of society ends with tragic consequences.
This new restoration on Blu-Ray is a breathtaking visual tapestry. Colors are eye-popping with the hues of blue standing out the most for me and details in the varied costumes are finely delineated. The mono sound is clean. Considering this film was made in 1953, we have the best version now available. One reviewer here recalls 'the color in the film I saw in the theater was brighter. Maybe due to younger eyes?' He may be right as I also recall brighter colors when seeing it on TV years ago where I made a VHS tape for a Japanese co-worker. This may be due to older TVs with picture tubes having richer color than flat screens as RCA boasted about using 'rare earth phosphors' for our color TV. Regardless of our older eyes and memory, this glorious restoration will impress you as it does for us. At times I was so absorbed in observing the intricacies of the rich pageantry, I had to roll back the film to re-read the subtitles to follow the story.
As others have cited, there's no commentary or extras on the disc except for an essay by Stephen Prince in the booklet. I own his fine book on the films of Kurosawa called 'The Warrior's Camera' and he's provided great Criterion commentaries for some of those films. It's our loss he didn't provide one for this film because not only would he tell you about the film's history and the period it's set in, you would learn why camera placement & movement and editing are important in telling a story. But for me paying $15/half price on Amazon for this keeper, I can't really complain.
Gate of Hell (Teinosuke Kinugasa, 1953)
The 1950s in Japan were a great time for costume dramas. Witness Gate of Hell (Jigokumon), Teinosuke Kinugasa's multi-Western-award-winning (Oscar: Best Foreign Film and Best Costume Design, New York Film Critics' Circle: Best Foreign Film, BAFTA Best Film, Cannes Grand Prize) flick about obsessive love and its inevitable end.
Moritoh (Genji Monogatari's Kazuo Hasegawa) helps put down a revolt, and is rewarded with anything he desires. What he desires is the beautiful Kesa (Ugikusa's Machiko Kyo), but he finds out that Kesa is already married to another samurai, Wataru (Isao Yamagata of The Seven Samurai). This knowledge doesn't faze Moritoh in the least; he sets about trying to win Kesa's love by proving himself a better warrior than her husband.
It is a good film, but it could have been a better one. Midnight Eye's summary of the film says that "Kinugasa himself was fully aware of his picture's dramatic weaknesses, and blamed intervention from his producer, an under-developed script and a rushed working schedule due to a release date fixed in advance. Whilst impressive in its performances, and the ambition and scale of its production, with a little more attention to plotting, one gets the feeling that it could have been a truly great film." This is quite the case. While it is undeniably a stunning picture, even by today's standards-- the rather primitive film stock (this was Japan's first color film) does nothing to mask the intricacy of the set design, the brilliant, almost expressionist color scheme, or Kinugasa's excellent eye when it comes to action scenes-- the plot is presented in almost stop-motion fashion, with one excellently-acted scene after another, but nothing to tie them together.
This does not, by any means, mean you should avoid this movie. Any film containing Machiko Kyo, possibly the single most beautiful actress working in filmdom in the 1950s, and certainly one of the handful of the most talented, is well worth watching. Hasegawa makes Moritoh into a figure who is less frightening than pathetic, a man who is driven solely by his demons, who has entirely lost his soul to obsession, while Yamagata plays Wataru as a blissfully ignorant chap who is given every opportunity to see tragedy rushing towards him, but refuses until it's on his doorstep staring him in the face. It could have been great, but because it's not doesn't mean it's not good. ***
When it comes to filmmaker Teinosuke Kinugasa, his name may not be as familiar with Kurosawa, Ozu or Nagase to the Western world but his accomplishments have been noticed within the last century.
From his silent films such as"Kurutta Ippeji" or "Jujiro", the latter was the first Japanese film to be released commercially in Europe and was praised for its camera work, during a time when German Expressionism was being celebrated.
It wasn't until the '50s in which Kinugasa, who had traveled around the world and met other filmmakers outside of Japan, he began to use color and also use of widescreen.
And in 1953, Kinugasa would release the film "Jigokumon" (Gate of Hell) which would eventually receive critical praise, winner of "Best Film" at the 1954 Cannes Film Festival and also winning an Oscar for "Best Foreign Film".
While other countries have experimented with Technicolor, "Gate of Hell" was among the first to showcase Japan in color and its beauty would captivate viewers at the time.
Unfortunately, for a film that was so well-revered, it was virtually a lost film. According to Stephen Prince in his essay of the film titled "A Colorful History" (included in the Criterion Collection insert), Prince said "the fragile photochemical process used to make it caused its colors to fade, and viewers could no longer see the spectacular designs Kinugasa and his team had created."
Fortunately, because Daeie had made separation masters of "Gate of Hell", a full-color duplicate negative of the film was made and the film's Eastmancolor was reproduced. In 2011, a 2K restoration was undertaken by the National Film Center of the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo and Kadokawa Shoten Co. Ltd. in cooperation with NHK.
And now, this restoration will be released on Blu-ray (and DVD) courtesy of the Criterion Collection.
"Gate of Hell" is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:37:1 aspect ratio) and it's important to note that the film features the original Eastman color look which is vibrant and well-saturated. But because it is the first Japanese color film, the film does have a bit of softness at times. But nothing to be disappointed about. The fact that people are able to see a film that was once virtually lost, can now see the film in color but also how affective Teinosuke Kinugasa was when it came to decorative art, lighting and more.
According to the Criterion Collection, the new digital master was created from the 2011 2K restoration undertaken by the National Film Center of the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo and Kadokawa Shoten, Co., Ltd. in cooperation with NHK. For the restoration, a new digital transfer, supervised by cameraman Fujio Morita, was created in 4K resolution on an IMAGER scanner at Imagica from a 35 mm duplicate negative and several 35 mm master positives, the original camera negative no longer exists.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
"Gate of Hell" is presented in monaural LPCM. Dialogue is very good and I detected no hiss, pops or any problems with the lossless audio.
According to the Criterion Collection, the original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit form 35 mm positive and negative soundtracks. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube's integrated workstation.
"Gate of Hell - The Criterion Collection #653" comes no special features.
"Gate of Hell - The Criterion Collection #653" comes with five-fold insert with production credits on one side and the essay, "A Colorful History" by Stephen Prince.
"Gate of Hell" left an impression on many people for its time because of its use of color. While most Japanese films were black and white, always being an innovator, Teinosuke Kinugasa experimented with Eastman color and also widescreen. And what people saw was a visually stunning film for 1953 and an amazing use of color that showcases the beauty of Japan's clothing to also a glimpse of Japan's environments for the feudal era.
So, "Gate of Hell" is an important film from the Criterion Collection as this film that has long been forgotten because of its film state, has been restored. Being one of the earliest Japanese color films, the film would also go on to win at the Cannes Film Festival and an Academy Award, further showing that people enjoyed "Gate of Hell" for its cinematography but also its tragic story.
Kinugasa's storytelling is rather poetic in a tragic kind of way.
From showcasing an artwork of the Heiji Rebellion to help narrate of what was happening in Japan at the time, featuring beautiful costume and production design and effective lighting, "Gate of Hell" manages to showcase the beauty of the film but also showcasing the nature of people of that era.
One man obsessed with a married woman that he loves, but she does not feel the same way for him. As a virtuous woman, she pledges her love for her husband but is willing to protect her and her husband's honor by not mentioning anything in regards to Morito.
Call it an early Japanese love triangle, the films efficacy is thanks to its talents, primarily Kazuo Hasegawa and Machiko Kyo.
Hasegawa's Morito goes from being a heroic warrior but his unattainable love for Lady Heska starts to consume him that he will not stop to make Lady Eska his and decides that he will kill anyone who would dare stop him from being with her.
Meanwhile, Machiko Kyo was amazing as Lady Kesa. From her emotional demeanor to playing a traditional Japanese instrument, it just felt right. But we get to see the growing sense of uneasiness from Kesa, knowing that Morito desperately wants to be with her, but knowing that she loves her husband and tries to keep herself virtuous with honor.
But how far will Morito go in order to make Lady Kesa his and what about her husband? And how far will Lady Kesa go to protect her honor?
Suffice to say, the film ends in a non-banal way that cinema fans should be happy with. It's not one that people can easily predict and that's also part of the charm of "Gate of Hell".
As for the DVD, because there are no special features, no booklet but the DVD insert, "Gate of Hell" will more than likely be a cheaper Criterion Collection Blu-ray and DVD release. Picture quality is good for an Eastman color Japanese classic, no banding or artifact issues and lossless audio features no problematic issues, pops, hiss or anything negative.
Overall, a tragic film about unrequited love and ones believe in love and honor, "Gate of Hell" is in essence, wonderful Japanese cinema showcasing a love triangle during feudal Japan. One of the great Teinosuke Kinugasa films which also happens to be the first Japanese color film made by Daiei Film and the first to color film to be released outside of Japan.
"Gate of Hell" is highly recommended!
on January 26, 2013
It was History-in-the making when this played first-run theatres in 1954. I saw it at the Towne Cinema in Toronto and was equally as proud that
as Member of the Toronto Film Society we actually had achieved an audience for foreign and subtitled films, as I was of the staggering cinematography with colours that punched you in the eye. The direction of the mass attacks made American Westerns look puny.
Underneath it all is that continuing layer of Japanese honour and revenge.
on April 22, 2006
I saw this last night on TCM, which, BTW, is a rare treasure on the medium of the "idiot box". Isn't it remarkable that this movie is 53 years old, and it still sparkles? What an accomplishment! It had the ingredients of a truly great film - complex characters that are developed fully and efficiently, great story-telling with attention to details, and good acting - a little stylized, but keep in mind that that impression might be due partially to Westerners unfamiliarity with Japanese culture, and partially to how the definition of "good acting" has evolved.
I love the film's nobility and moral rectitude. Those were the days when (and we were in a culture where) "doing the right thing" was the expected norm. It was seen in Moritoh's loyalty at the price of - at least it seems at the time - expediency, which was preceded by Kesa's unflinching sense of duty and willingness to lay down her own life. This is the beauty of Kesa's "soul" that Moritoh found out all-too-late he failed to see, which manifested itself as bookends in the plot, but is in fact the moral center of the movie. Such ideals are no longer frequently or fully embraced these days. Look at how we glorify criminals in shows like The Sopranos and Thief. I also liked how the plot falls together: Kesa's readiness to sacrifice herself at the outset of the story made her self-immolation at the end of the film ring true. The little details: remember the talk of chestnuts when Moritoh first saw Kesa with her aunt? We saw later on those very chestnuts hanging on the swaying trees during Moritoh's unfortunate night time visit. When Wataru and Kesa took what turned out to be their last walk in the garden under a full moon, it was all peace and serenity. The very same setting is transformed sinister and ominous just moments later, with the moon now hidden by clouds, as Moritoh slowly emerges out of the darkness in the background - a truly masterful and memorable scene in the history of cinema.
The theme of "folly" pervades the movie: we see a lot of it just from one character, Lord Kiyamori - and he's a top dog and a leader! His son had to advise him to act quickly to quash the uprising when we first see him. He then failed to reward Kesa, who is every bit as deserving as Moritoh of recognition. Even if you chalk that failure up to the times and the culture, you can't excuse his Jephthah-like stupidity and arrogance in giving Moritoh pretty much carte-blanche in his wish for a reward. What's more, we have his incessant and insensitive teasing - instrumental in precipitating the tragedy, in that it made the proud Moritoh all the more determined to have Kesa. Was Wataru cowardly, foolish, or both, when he "threw" the race? Lest you missed it, there's the cruel irony of Moritoh's comment after his brother's treachery resulted in his execution, "My brother was a foolish man". Moritoh proved to be no Solomon.
I thought it was a little frustrating to watch Kesa's helplessness when Moritoh blackmailed her. Surely there's another way out, woman! But I suppose that's part of the tragic theme: all the characters had strengths as well as tragic flaws. At the risk of second-guessing the director of a great movie, I felt that he could have kept the identity of the person in bed a secret until the moment of truth, but I'm sure I need to remind myself that this is not meant to be a thriller. I'd like to watch this movie again, maybe along with a movie it reminds me of: Kurosawa's Ran.
on May 16, 2013
Gate of Hell in Blu-ray. I can now retire the DVD I created from AMC years ago. Been waiting for a true rendition seemingly forever. I first saw this film in D.C. when I returned from Japan in 1954. I had seen Rashomon in Japan, when I saw Machiko Kyo in the cast, I had to see it. I was not disappointed. Her character was very different. Her portrayal showed how talented she was. The colors, as stated by others, are stunning, yet, it may be my memory but, I seem to recall the color in the film I saw in the theater was brighter. Maybe due to younger eyes ?
One thing that is very noticeable in the film, is the swordplay at the beginning. It is not the set choreography of later samurai films. They flail at each other in wild, normal fashion until someone gets hurt.