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!