In 1953 Teinosuke Kinugasa's Gate of Hell aka Jigokumon was one of the breakthrough Japanese films on the international market, winning the Grand Prix at Cannes and two Oscars (though, shockingly, neither was for Kôhei Sugiyama's remarkable photography) but received a rather more muted reception in its homeland. That's perhaps understandable since the execution is much more impressive than the not always convincing plot, particularly a crucial development in the third act that rather strains credibility and leaves you wanting to shout "Just tell him!" at the screen. The first third of the film is rather deceptive too, beginning as a vividly stylised saga of dynastic struggle as a proud rural samurai plays a crucial role in thwarting a coup during the Heiji War. Asked to name his own reward, he asks to marry the court lady in waiting who acted as a decoy for the Emperor's sister, and refuses to take no for an answer when he learns that she is already married to the head of the Imperial Guard. The condescending amusement of the court and rival samurai and the decency of the woman's husband only fuel his desire further until tragedy is inevitable...
It's a film that occasionally manages to wrongfoot the viewer, not least in the final scene, but as drama it's never quite as compelling or convincing as it could be. Kasuo Hasegawa's intransigent would-be husband and Isao Yamagata's kindly husband offer an effective study in contrasts, the former tightly wound, the other blinded to the danger by his own unselfishness but, surprisingly, Machiko Kyo is more problematic as the woman caught between them, all too obviously hitting her marks and striking poses at times while the rest of the cast seem more unforced. But ultimately it's the camera rather than the cast that makes the film such a remarkable experience - the film's use of colour is absolutely extraordinary, with a bold strong colour palette that's dramatically compelling in its own right. It's hard to disagree with Martin Scorsese, who described the film as one of the ten great achievements in colour cinematography in world cinema, and thankfully Masters of Cinema's Blu-ray/DVD combo has a stunning transfer of the breathtakingly excellent 2011 restoration of the film. On one level you could argue that the film is a triumph of style over content, but the plot is still strong enough for the style to enhance the content even if the film's striking visuals remain the main attraction.
The disc has no extras apart from a detailed booklet, but it's such a visual feast it's unlikely you'll be disappointed with the disc.
`Gate of Hell' is a story about loyalties. All those who transgress their loyalties, and are beaten or unmasked, are sent to `Hell' through its `Gate'.
In this movie, the loyalty operates at the social (clan) as well as at the personal level. Rival subjects of the emperor break loyalties by fighting each other for a privileged position at the court. On the other hand, unrestrained passion and sexual harassment of wives of other clan members are also considered as an unacceptable conduct. One of the participants of the yearly `ceremony of conciliation' among the clans is simply thrown out of the ceremony for his aggressive behavior. Finally, there is also the loyalty of a wife to her husband.
Teinosuke Kinugasa's movie shines through its magical mix of color and light, with dark scenes for unrestrained passion and light ones for beauty and self-sacrifice: every frame of every shot is simply a formidable Japanese print. It shines also through the masterful directing and the restraint acting of its main female character. Ultimately, it shines through its treatment of such almighty important themes as the battle between `good and evil' / `war and peace' resulting in `life or death' for its protagonists.
While Carl Theodor Dreyer's `The Passion of Joan of Arc' was a pioneering feature film because of its camera movements and bold focalizing, while Dziga Vertov's `Man with a Movie Camera' was a pioneering movie because of its brilliant shooting angles, its split screens and its rhythmic `one by one frame' editing, Teinosuke Kinugasa's `Gate of Hell' is a pioneering movie because of his magnificent play with light and color, turning it into a grandiose spectacle.
He shot an eternal masterpiece. A must see.
on 16 December 2012
I have eagerly awaited the DVD release of Gate of Hell for a long time ever since I developed an enthusiasm for Japanese Samurai Films and although I cannot say the the film reached my expectations it is nevertheless a beautifully directed, acted and well crafted story of one man's relentless obsession. The film boast eye-catching visuals and sumptuous costumes and set design reminiscent of Masaki Kobayashi's "Kwaidan" (also on DVD from Eureka). The film opens grippingly with people running right, left and centre as an attempted coup is imminent: costumes fly, curtains and disorder ensue, in order to avoid the capture of the lord's wife a decoy palanquin is sent out containing a servant girl escorted by guards. Moritoh Enda is a guard who escorts her to safety only to fall into a fixation with her; the coup is averted and as those who remained loyal are given rewards. Enda requests the servant but finds out she is married; but that does not stop him as he pursues her with a relentless obsession. The first two acts are dynamite they establish the history, plot and themes all in only a gripping 1hr only in the third act composed of 30 minutes as the film builds to a climax does the film weaken with strange and unbelievable psychological motivations of the characters and an anti-climax which delivers zero excitement and wavers from the expectant ending. A much better ending could have been formulated, but although I was greatly disappointed by the ending it's merits drown out it's problems: Kazuo Hasegawa is brilliant as the obsessive samurai his face is expressive and acting is believable, the plot is very good up to a point and the film must be seen for Teinosuke Kinugasa's direction which boasts arresting visuals, backgrounds, colour and costumes. Eureka keep these samurai classics coming, if you liked Gate of Hell be sure to watch Eureka's Japanese horror titles (Onibaba, Kwaidan and Kuroneko) and Samurai films (Harakiri) which are all excellent films.
on 14 January 2013
Another terrific presentation from Masters of Cinema. Excellent dual format quality with a superb accompanying booklet. I am never disappointed by this company. The film is in ravishing colour and worth watching just for that. The clothes shimmer with light and colour. As other reviewers have noted the opening twenty minutes is filled with frantic activity as the castle is attacked and people are either fleeing or fighting. This is directed beautifully and sets the scene for the later obsessive and pigheaded pursuit of another man's wife by the protagonist. The direction appears a little stagey in that the director often uses a fixed camera (and backdrops a la Kwaidan) however, the acting is superb and the (spoiler alert) descent into madness, murder and regret is brilliant. A great example of Japanese cinema.
on 19 December 2012
I will start by stating "I love samurai movies".All the honour, respect and properness of their lifestyle fascinates me. Gate of Hell is a great story of one mans obsession and the price he and others pay for it. This Blu ray version is beautifully coloured, making it a visual delight to watch. It certainly doesn't contain the super blood soaked sword fights of the more later made movies but that being said....if you like the older style of movie in this genre I think you should give this Masters of Cinema copy a look...
It is one of the most powerful and moving films I ever saw. When it was shown at Cannes in 1954, it won the "Palme d'Or", beating amongst others the Oscars covered "From here to eternity". It also received the Oscar for the best foreign language film, as well as the Oscar for the best costume design. And all those prizes were absolutely deserved.
The story takes place in Japan in 1159, during a period of troubles at the imperial capital. A valiant although hot headed young samurai Morito Enda accomplishes a great exploit and as result is asked to name his reward. He asks to marry a woman he met during the fighting, Lady Kesa, a woman he never met before and with whom he only briefly spoken the same day. But then he learns that Lady Kesa is already happily married, to a very decent and honorable man. Therefore his lord can not grant his wish and asks him to request something else. And at that moment the film really begins...
"Gate of hell" is an excellent film, not very long (86 minutes) but well filled with drama. The story is excellent, all actors perform at the top of their abilities and technically this thing is a splendor! The colors are by moments simply incredible, as every opportunity offered by traditional Japanese nobility costumes was used. The director, Teinosuke Kinugasa, also kept a very strict control on all the aspects of this film and as the result he created a small but splendidly brilliant jewel.
About the story, I will not say much more, but just be prepared that this film will not only impress you, but will also break your heart. I saw it first in black and white on TV, ages ago in communist Poland and even then it completely impressed me - and now, after all this years, after finally watching it in color, I was left speechless, simply speechless.
This is a great masterpiece of world cinema. To buy, watch, keep and treasure! Enjoy!
on 6 March 2013
Similar reasons to Ugetsu Monogatori. The colours were beautifully restored. Kyo Machiko was her expressive self. I recognized that Kiyomori's conference was actually filmed a at Miya Jima. They even showed the famous Torii in the water.. The digitized version is so clean and free from flashes and blips. Excellent job.
on 10 July 2015
A land mark of colour cinema and Kodak were so impressed with the artistic use of the newly introduced Eastman Colour that they requested a print for their archives..
on 23 September 2015
its an amazing film. loved it. they way he uses colours, is out of this world. this is a very good film that should not be missed.
on 1 November 2015
Movie about Japanese reality - Japanese who even now cannot say No . Cultural experience of Japanese culture