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  • 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.
  • I saw this last night on TCM, which, BTW, is a rare treasure in this medium called 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 be culturally driven, we have 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". Well you proved to be no Solomon, Moritoh.

    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.
  • lreynaert20 August 2013
    10/10
    Loyalty
    '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.
  • In 1160, in the Heiji Era, Lord Kiyomori (Koreya Senda) travels with his court to the Temple of Itsukushima and his Sanjo Castle is invaded by two other lords, in a coup d'etat. The loyal samurai Moritoh Enda (Kazuo Hasegawa) asks the court lady Kesa (Machiko Kyô) to pose of the lord's sister to create a diversion while the lord's real sister and his father flee in the middle of the people.

    Then Moritoh travels to meet Lord Kiyomon and fights with him to defeat the enemies and the coup fails. Lord Kiyomon rewards the warriors that helped him and when he asks Moritoh what he wishes, he requests to marry Kesa. The lord grants his wish but soon he learns that Kesa is married with Wataru Watanabe (Isao Yamagata), a samurai from the imperial guard. Moritoh harasses Kesa and threatens her, promising to kill her husband, her aunt and her if she does not marry him. Kesa's decision leads the trio to a tragic fate.

    "Jigokumon" is a Japanese classic released in Brazil by the best Brazilian distributor on a totally restored version on DVD. The dramatic story of love, obsession and tragedy is developed in slow pace and has great performances and stunning cinematography with wonderful colors and camera angles. The tragic conclusion based on the code of honor of Moritoh that will live in disgrace is frustrating for Westerns that would prefer the conclusion with a decapitation or seppuku (harakiri) instead. My vote is eight.

    Title (Brazil): "Portal do Inferno" ("Gate of the Hell")
  • During WW II there were no Japanese films ever shown in the United States and this

    was the first film presented to the American Public in 1954. It is outstanding in its color presentation of the country of Japan and the photography and character studies received great awards and acknowledgment The story involves a married woman, Machiko Kyo, (Lady Kesa), who is a very beautiful lady who is desired and lusted after by another man. This man does not care about her being married and will stop at nothing to get what he wants. However, there is more to the story, and it depicts conditions in Japanese households and their way of living and thinking. Machiko Kyo appeared in "The Teahouse of the August Moon",'56 and starred with Marlon Brando. This is a worthwhile film to watch and enjoy. A truly great Classic Film.
  • I saw this film in 1970 or 1971 in New York and have remembered it ever since. We came in late to a double feature and didn't see the title--I have been unsure of it all these years. It features impressive battle scenes, a heart-wrenching love story and beautiful cinematography. It is also the first film I ever saw that depicted medieval Japanese culture in all its glory. The beautifully photographed compound of the shogun is, by itself, worth the price of admission. There are many interior shots, showing beautiful rooms with sliding screens that figure in the plot. Now I would dearly love to see Gate of Hell again, but apparently it is not available on DVD. Criterion, here is a worthy quest for you!!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    In a time when movies are becoming more and more alike, Gate of Hell provides an intelligent way-out to imagination and, at the same time, to more complex and unorthodox endings. The classical Romantic triangle links to a Greek-like tragedy (it's loosely based on The Rape of Lucrece), where the main characters suffer the circumstances of carnal passion triggered by a vulgar political event. Contrary to a confrontation to be solved within the male stamina, Kinugasa's subtle tactful touches the theme of guilt and punishment embroidered in a suspenseful plot that reminds us of Dostoiewski's tragic hero. The ultimate and unrequited fidelity on the part of the unfortunate Tesa represents the silence of submission women are supposed to play in repressive societies. Her untimely death is more than the prize for trustworthiness, but the quintessential proof of dependability on 'macho's rights'. Shot in a resplendent Eastmancolor, Gate of Hell, the first Japanese movie to be filmed in color, extracts poetry from the misery of Man and the tragic destiny of tormented souls that recognize how oppressive feelings can be, as Kurosawa's Rashomon had discovered a few years before. This film is a big A.
  • Enid-320 February 1999
    It has been over 40 years (!) since I first saw this film, and I still see it, whenever I can. In my opinion, not only is it a masterpiece, but its use of colour may well be the the best of any film ever made.
  • Wow! What an awesome movie. The leading lady was gorgeous, the shots were magnificent, the music was fantastic, and overall, this was a great movie.

    Although it is in Japanese, and I saw it with subtitles, it is still the best movie I have seen all year.

    This movie totally held my attention, and delivered everything I could have wanted, but not in the way that I expected. Wow! Easy to see why this movie won an Oscar for best foreign film. I would say that it is as good as any movie I have ever seen. I loved it.

    If you are looking for something different from a film, give this one a look. You will not be disappointed.

    Desert-Buddha
  • A samurai falls in love with a woman whose life he saves. He is offered a reward for his bravery, and he asks if he can be married to that woman. Unfortunately, she is already married and the samurai's request cannot be fulfilled. He is steadfast in his desire, and tries forcibly to take her from her husband. The elements of many cheap thrillers exist in that scenario. Gate of Hell doesn't do too much to distinguish itself, although it's certainly not a thriller. Basically, the whole film is an excuse for its admittedly great climactic sequence, where the samurai invades the home of the woman and her husband at night. I really like how this sequence ends, but there are some questions left unanswered - annoyingly so. The husband even asks them aloud, and there really isn't a satisfactory explanation. Other than that sequence, most of the rest of the film is kind of tedious. Fortunately, the absolutely beautiful cinematography - was this Japan's first film in color? - always manages to be impressive. The costume design actually won an Academy Award, a much deserved one, if I may say so myself. It also won an honorary Oscar for Best Foreign Film, the year before that category was made official. Furthermore, it was the first Japanese film to win the Palme D'Or at Cannes. 7/10.
  • dwjjunk6 July 2001
    Being a fan of the "Samurai" genre, I was taken in by this film. I actually found this video at the local library. The visuals are wonderful, sword-play is very realistic, acting is excellent. The plot comes on strong, but becomes very predictable by the end. Still, worth checking out.
  • morangles2920 September 2012
    Some thirty years ago, I was lucky enough to see this film in Paris. We left the theatre well past midnight and we were marvelling at the intensity of the movie. Black and white version, Japanese with subtitles. Uneasy, one would say. Yet, it gave us and still gives me so many years later a wonderful feeling of beauty. Roughly following the script of the French novel 'Princesse of Cleves', it describes the tragedy of being faithful to one's oath. Married and intending to stay true to her husband, the heroine refuses the loving entreaties of the samurai who saved her life. Realizing that she will stay with her husband though she may have only feelings of friendship toward said spouse,the hero decides to 'free' her by killing said husband. Naturally, this being a Stoicism tragedy: The husband discovers belatedly his wife really loves/loved him, the samurai discovers too late that been faithful comes with a price etc etc...

    It is beauty, pure beauty. Such a change from nowadays ridiculous re-writings like some coming blockbusters.
  • I saw this film when new in 1954 in London, and still remember much of it today. It is a sad and poignant story, beautifully photographed and effectively directed. Costumes and scenery have an authentic air about them. It starts with a battle scene with the young women travelling in a small carriage under threat and in danger. It follows with her life being saved by the heroic action and bravery of a young warrior. He claims her for himself as a reward for his bravery but soon finds that she is already spoken for. Nevertheless he pursues her and insists on what he feels are his rights. This leads to friction in her family and eventually causes the tragedy of her death. It is a lesson in how selfishness can lead to unhappiness in another's life. I feel it is a film not to be missed and would watch it again if it were shown on UK TV. or was available on DVD
  • Supposedly the first Japanese film shown in the US after the war, this film was highly regarded by many critics and won a well-deserved Oscar for costume design.

    It starts out as a war movie, but that is only a backdrop to what is really going to happen. In an uprising, Lady Kesa (Machiko Kyô) pretends to be royalty to fake out the rebels and allow the real queen to escape. She ends up in the home of Sir Moritoh (Kazuo Hasegawa) and is there until the rebellion is crushed.

    Sir Moritoh asks for her hand as a reward for his service, but finds out she is married to Wataru (Isao Yamagata), the head of the palace guards.

    This is the real story: a fool in love with another man's wife who will not give up his pursuit. I imagine that a lot of us can see ourselves in Moritoh. Cue Elvis, the King, singing "Fools Fall in Love." Lady Kesa is forced in the end to don disguise once again to save her love in this tragic tale.

    Not only were the costumes beautiful, but the cinematography was outstanding also.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Viewed on DVD. Restoration = ten (10) stars; color photography = nine (9) stars; costumes and set designs = nine (9) stars; subtitles = three (3) stars; choreography/stunts = two (2) stars. Director Teinosuke Kinugasa's tale takes place when the age of the Samurai soldier class was just beginning (late 1100's). His film begins with rousing scenes (and a matching orchestral score!) that have the look (photographed in gorgeous color) and feel (great editing) of an epic film. Unfortunately, the excitement is fleeting (it lasts for just about one reel--less than 10 minutes): the photo play rapidly dissolves into stagy, melodramatic nonsense. The score is also down sized from an orchestra to a single Shamisen or Koto. Red-flag warnings that the best has come and is going/gone include: frequent voice-over expository (NEVER a good sign); limply choreographed sword fights (stunt extras make a big show of sword pointing, but rarely are shown to follow through); and a ridiculous chase scene (stunt performers are "shot off " their horses with arrows that only appear after the fact (when a "dead" rider is shown crumpled on the ground)). The performance of the lead actor (who has a pathological sex-object fixation) is pretty much limited to fuming facial expressions. While the lead actress (the sex object) pretty much plays a "dumb brunette." Neither appears to have received much guidance from the Director. Interior sets, costumes, and makeup add much to project an aura of period authenticity. Costuming includes the use of colored horse blankets to help the audience separate the good guys who used to be the bad guys from the bad guys posing as good guy who use to be the really bad guys (or was it the other way around?). All of whom, of course, are played by the same stunt actors. The scenario delivers a surprise ending which is tragic but nonetheless pretty dumb. Cinematography (narrow screen, color) and interior lighting are excellent. Subtitles are in great need of adult grammatical editing. They are usually too long, too complicated/abstract, and too short in their screen flash rates. (Constantly having to press the pause button on your player to read/check translations is a royal pain!) Great in several (mostly technical) respects, but not a great movie overall. WILLIAM FLANIGAN, PhD.
  • rmax3048233 February 2014
    Warning: Spoilers
    A Shakespearean story of passion and honor. Watanabe and Kesa are a happily married couple of the ruling class in 1330s Japan. He's a peaceful, kind, good-natured gentleman. She's quiet, obedient, and plays the koto with delicacy -- my kind of woman. But then there's the warrior Morito. He's headstrong and bullying. He develops a passion for Kesa. He constantly natters Watanabe, trying to chivvy him into a sword fight but Watanabe is too dignified and equally self confident.

    The public favors Watanabe and when he loses a horse race to the grimly determined Morito, his friends try to make excuses for him. "You refused to whip your horse, didn't you?" But it's infra dig. "No, he was the more skilled rider." Morito forces Kesa into a plot to kill Watanabe, so they can be together, but she loves her husband. I don't think I'll get into the plot any further.

    The thing is a visual pageant. You've rarely seen colors come alive in quite this way. Not lurid, like a slasher movie, but very carefully matched against one another. A crimson banner rises into a crisp blue sky. Damme, the Japanese and the Chinese have a taste for things like colors and composition.

    Morito's bull headedness come across as overdone. It's a weakness in these kinds of films. The bad guy tends to shout and rave loudly. Not always. The sword fights are graceless, quick, and bloodless. Kurasawa handled them with more style.

    It may be a little test of endurance to get into it at first. The opening has a narration explaining some of Japanese history that turns out to be of little relevance to the main plot. The story has nothing to do with politics. It pits reason and common sense against misplaced emotion. Try it for half an hour, then decide.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This is a great classic film that I just had the opportunity to watch. It was made in 1953 about events in the 12th century in Japan -- but the themes of love and sacrifice hold true for all places and all times, even into the present day.

    It's very tempting to see the main character as a victim of female oppression and repression. However, what I got was the incredible will of Kesa, the main protagonist in the film. She might speak and walk softly, but her heart and soul are made of the strength of iron from inside. The basic plot concerns itself with a general, Endo Morito, who for his part in suppressing a rebellion against the government, is offered "anything he chooses" by his lord as a reward. What he desires is Kesa, a lady-in-waiting to the Empress. However, Kesa is already married to Morito's colleague, Watanabe Wataru. Watching Kesa and her husband interact, it's quite clear that she loves him dearly and he loves and cherishes her as well.

    However, Morito becomes more and more obsessed with "possessing" Kesa for his own. His (and Watanabe's) lord puts some pressure to entice Kesa to leave her husband (and have him divorce her) and accept Morito as her new groom. She resists, wishing to remain faithful to her loving husband.

    Morito ends up at the house of Kesa's aunt, and he threatens to kill Kesa's husband and her aunt if she does not yield to his desires. It is at this point where Kesa decides to die for her husband to save his life and honor. She pretends to assent to Morito's demands; the plan is for Morito to come at midnight and kill Watanabe in his bed. He leaves and Kesa gives her aunt a keepsake and bids her sadly farewell.

    Later in the evening, there is a truly poignant scene where Kesa exchanges sake with her husband. She plays the koto and Watanabe asks gently, "why is your song so sad?" She says "it's nothing." She cannot tell him of her plans, but she knows that his life will be saved. Kyo Machiko, as Kesa, has expressions that are full of unspoken emotion. She quietly arranges to exchange beds with her husband and take his place. And she calmly lays down her life for her husband; Morito steals into the house and slashes her with a sword, thinking that she is her husband and that Kesa will at last belong to him. He is horrified when he finds out what has actually happened -- he has murdered his beloved.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    You really have to watch the Japanese sending up this style of acting themselves before you realize where the "restraint" comes from -- every gesture, every lip quiver, every zip across the koto strings comes straight out of the Big Kabuki Book Of Business for stage actors, and half the fun lies in watching how the ancient, eternal themes take form in THIS moment, THIS lunatic jealousy, THIS lust. OK, that's overstated, especially since the sendups I refer to come in Tenchi Muyo -- but whether the role is Ayeka or Lady Kesa (an interesting name, by the way), this movie is fun to watch. If it seems strange to Americans, bear in mind it was made in 1953, and unlike almost all of Akira Kurosawa's films was made with Japanese sensibilities in mind, not American.
  • tawallace23 April 2006
    Warning: Spoilers
    Over 30 years ago I was a Michigan high school student and the local PBS station held a Japanese film week. The Gate of Hell was my introduction, along with Harikari and the Seven Samurai, to Japanese cinema.

    I had the opportunity to view the film on TCM recently and, although the story of sacrifice remains just as vivid as I remember, I can't help but notice the film is in desperate need of restoration. This film was noted for its use of color and the colors have faded. Dark areas are missing details, the film element is full of scratches and the sound is uneven. It is perhaps unfortunate that it was filmed on EastmanColor - a film stock not noted for longevity.

    I will only comment on the plot to point out that you should pay attention to the role of the husband, it is often overlooked. He alone embodies the spirit of a samurai. Lady Watanabe's sacrifice is noble but does her husband no honor, the Lord toys with Moritoh and Lady Kesa a bit too much for his amusement, and Moritoh realizes too late that he is of course simply a fool.

    Do see this film it you have a chance.
  • Despite my love for Japanese films, I felt very underwhelmed by this picture. The plot was interesting (about a man who MUST have a married woman and demands her hand when he is offered ANY reward for his service to the Shogun), and the color cinematography is great BUT overall, the film felt a little too sterile--as if the actors were over-restrained in their performance. This is really a shame, as despite a great ending and an interesting premise, just doesn't elevate itself to greatness. I gave my videotape to a friend and asked his opinion and he, too, felt the film was a bit dull and sterile at times. This seemed to be an attempt to make a great film that just needed more polish to raise it above mediocrity.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This movie starts a bit frustrating and ends in one of the most marvelous final half hours I've seen in film. Considered lost for a time, not because the negative disappeared but because the magnificent colors captured on early Eastman Kodak stock had faded, Gate of Hell by Teinosuke Kinugasa is a visually sumptuous story that starts too big and ends up with laser-like focus on its core drama.

    It's Japan during the Heiji Rebellion, and the emperor of Japan is under attack. In order to provide a distraction, the emperor's guards enlist a young woman to pretend to be the empress and head in the opposite direction, attaching a soldier to playact as her bodyguard. If this sequence was a lot cleaner in demonstrating this dramatic series of events, I'd have gotten into the film a whole lot sooner. However, the sequence is so full of names, many of which are names of characters we never actually meet in the film, and are used to provide setting. I imagine that it would play easier to an audience that had some level of understanding of this period in Japanese history going in (like, for instance, naming a series of Civil War generals would make sense to me but not to a typical Japanese audience). So, this may just a cultural thing, but I felt lost in the opening twenty minutes. The frustrating thing, though, is that with the whole movie having been watched, I feel that this specificity in the setting wasn't that necessary. The point is the drama between three people, not the specific historical figures that surrounded them.

    The second section picks up some time after the rebellion has been quelled. The warrior, Morito, has risen in prominence because of his loyalty to the emperor (especially considering his brother chose to join the rebellion), and he's given the choice for what he wants in return. He asks for the girl he helped save, Kesa, unknowingly that she's already married. Because the promise had been made to give Morito whatever he wanted, the emperor's agent feels like he has to at least present Morito the chance to woo Kesa.

    The relationship that Kesa has with her husband, Wataru, is respectful and loving. They even get drunk together in the film, but there's a formalism that separates them in ways that Wataru doesn't realize. Both know of Morito's challenge, but Wataru feels no apprehension at the prospect because he's so confident in his wife's love for him, but Morito is unwavering in his quest. After a public competition between the two at a race where Morito beats Wataru, but his victory only further enrages Morito.

    The final large section of the film takes place all in one night. Morito tricks Kesa away from home and forces her, under threat of murdering her aunt, to conspire with him to murder Wataru. This is such a masterful sequence of suspense and tension, and it's filmed in such a restrained style. We know exactly what's supposed to come, and it's all dependent on Kesa finding the balance between protecting her aunt's life and trying to find a solution that protects her honor. Her solution is tragic and heartbreaking.

    Throughout the film, the movie is gorgeous to look at. One of the very first Japanese films made in color (thanks to the cheaper alternative to Technicolor's three strip color process provided by Eastman Kodak), Kinugasa uses bright primaries to highlight marvelous costumes and sets. The scenes filmed outside pop with bright greens, and the final sequence at night balances dark blacks and blues to evoke the ultimate sadness of the action at play.

    Maybe with a repeat viewing, the opening of the film will bother me less, but even with that frustration, this movie is highly worth the time. It narrows its focus over the course of the film to squarely zoom in on its core story, and once there it grips you and never lets go.
  • Gate of Hell (Japanese: Jigokumon) (1953) Director: Teinosuke Kinugasa 7/10

    Jidaigeki film, Gorgeous costumes, set design, Lyrical koto. Stubborn man seeks married girl. A testament to honor.

    Tanka, literally "short poem", is a form of poetry consisting of five lines, unrhymed, with the 5-7-5-7-7 syllable format. #Tanka #PoemReview
  • gavin694210 September 2016
    In 1159, during an attempted coup, one of the court's ladies in waiting disguises herself as the lord's wife, and a loyal samurai conveys her from the city. This diversion allows the royal family to escape. After the coup fails, the samurai asks his lord to let him marry the woman as his reward.

    This film is notable for its being in color, one of the first movies in Japan to be this way. It also happens to be a pretty decent samurai story. Thanks to some fine folks, Criterion was able to release a cleaned up version in 2011. One wonders if they could go back and improve it even more in 2016 with those fancy 4K scans.

    Regardless, for fans of the samurai film, it is important to remember two things: not all samurai films are Kurosawa, and not all samurai are completely honorable.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Very colorful but realistic for a 1953 movie, it starts off with the story of an attempted coup by two lords when the ruling monk leaves on a religious retreat. Morito is a lower-level samurai who stays loyal to the monk even when he finds his brother does not. Kesa, a lady-in-waiting, volunteers to impersonate the Empress in her wagon, to distract the rebels while the real Emperor and Empress hide away. The rebelling lords are defeated, with their heads placed upon the movie's title "gate of hell", and Morito and other loyal warriors are generously rewarded by the monk. Morito asks for Kesa's hand in marriage, but Kesa is already married to another lord, whom she loves, and she does not love Morito. But Morito is obsessively determined to have Kesa anyway, even willing to resort to brute force. To make matters worse, everyone else around view the situation as a game and are unaware as to how dire the situation has become.

    A tragic story, not of love but obsession and stupidity.
  • Great find at my public library: eye-poppingly gorgeous restored print of Kinogasa Teinosuke's 1953 "Gate of Hell (Jigoku Mon)" out in Criterion edition, UPC: 7-15515- 10451-7

    Has everything visually that drew me to classic Japanese cinema when I was a kid. The color and pattern sense of 12th century clothing and home décor and the use of light and shadow one was more likely to see in a b&w film than in most Technicolor films of the early 1950's.

    The story is based on a contemporary historical account of the Heiji Rebellion of 1160 and its aftermath, intertwining images from a picture scroll depicting the rebellion with the live action of the movie. The plot centers on the lives of three people caught up in what would have been a love triangle if the lady in question had agreed to it. Instead, she is the victim of Travis Bickel-like stalker who won't take "no" for an answer.

    May not be for all tastes: not as much chambara (sword fighting) as some people like in their jidaigeki (historical dramas), and a little over the top on the melodrama, but still worth seeing, especially from the technical standpoint of benchmarking a great job of color film restoration. Not garish, but jaw-droppingly accurate.