In Gate of Hell, a samurai is rewarded for his courage with anything he desires, but what he desires is the wife of another samurai.
Gate of Hell was one of the most popular Japanese imports of the 1954-55 American film season and winner of two Academy Awards and the Cannes Grand Prize. I first saw it as a teenager and was captivated by its gorgeous color and beautiful cinematography.
According to Jasper Sharp of Japan Cult Cinema, "Still today the film looks as stunning as ever, with its opening battle scenes partially shrouded behind billowing veils and banners, and the majestic flight of the troops from the burning imperial palace providing some of the most remarkable images, as well such memorable set pieces as a horse race and Moritoh's tense night time confrontation with Wataru and Kesa at the film's climax".
Appearing around the same time Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon (1950), Kimisaburo Yoshimura's The Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari, 1952), and Kenji Mizoguchi's Ugetsu (Ugetsu Monogatari, 1953), Kinugasa's film is part of what is often termed The Golden Age of Japanese Cinema.
Adapted from a play by the twentieth century writer Kan Kikuchi, based on a story from the Heian period (794-1185) - the same era in which Rashomon and The Tale of Genji are set - Kinugasa's film opens in the midst of the spectacular battle of the Heiji War.
A revolt against the Emperor has been put down and Moritoh (Kasuo Hasegawa), a brave warrior is granted any wish he desires. Moritoh asks for the hand of Kesa (Machiko Kyo) but this request proves impossible to grant, since Lady Kesa is already married to Wataru (Isao Yamagata). Moritoh refuses to take no for an answer and becomes obsessed with obtaining Kesa as his wife, even if it means threatening the life of her husband to achieve his ends.
This film held my interest but I found the plot predictable and the acting exaggerated (Moritoh looks more ridiculous than frightening). According to Sharp, "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".
Perhaps this could have been a truly great film, but, to me, it is simply a very good film that falls short.
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