Gate of Hell (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
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A winner of Academy Awards for best foreign-language film and best costume design, Gate of Hell is a visually sumptuous, psychologically penetrating work from Teinosuke Kinugasa (A Page of Madness). In the midst of epic, violent intrigue in twelfth-century Japan, an imperial warrior falls for a lady-in-waiting, even after he discovers she is married, he goes to extreme lengths to win her love. Kinugasa�s film is an unforgettable, tragic story of obsession and unrequited passion that was an early triumph of color cinematography in Japan. SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES � New high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition � New English subtitle translation � PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film historian Stephen Prince
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After remaining faithful to his lord, and distinguishing himself in combat, Moritoh Endo is permitted to name his own reward. He requests to marry Lady Kesa, the wife of the Imperial Gate Guard, but this wish is refused. For the rest of the movie, he obsesses about her, and tries to win her by force, which of course ends tragically.
Machiko Kyo as Lady Kase does stand out, but overall there is nothing exceptional about this movie. The quality of the video is not that great either.
Unfortunately, I'd have to say that the movie was somewhat of a disappointment.
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.Read more ›
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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.
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.
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. ***
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!