Gate of Hell – The Criterion Collection #653 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 10, 2013 by  

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!

Image are courtesy of © Kadokawa Pictures, Inc. 2013 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Gate of Hell – The Criterion Collection #653


DURATION: 89 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:37:1 aspect ratio,Color, Japanese Monaural with English Subtitles


RELEASE DATE: April 9, 2013

Directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa

Based on the play “Kesa’s Husband” by Kan Kikuchi

Written by Teinosuke Kinugasa, Masaichi Nagata

Produced by Masaichi Nagata

Music by Yasushi Akutagawa

Cinematography by Kohei Sugiyama

Edited by Shigeo Nishida

Production Design by Hiroshi Ozawa

Art Direction by Kisaku Ito

Set Decoration by Kosaburo Nakajima

Costume Design by Shima Yoshizane


Kazuo Hasegawa as Moritoh Enda

Machiko Kyo as Lady Kesa

Isao Yamagata as Wataru Watanabe

Yataro Kurokawa as Shigemori

Kotaro Bando as Rokuroh

Jun Tazaki as Kogenta

Koreya Senda as Gen Kiyomori

Masao Shimizu as Nobuyori

Tatsuya Ishiguro as Yachuta

Kenjiro Uemura as Masanaka

Gen Shimizu as Saburosuke

Michiko Araki as Mano

HYoshi Minami as Tone

Kikue Mori as Sawa

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.

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 set in 1160 during the Heiji Rebellion (a short civil ware  between rival subjects, the Taira and Minamoto warrior clans of Emperor Go-Shirakawa).  Minamoto attacked the Imperial residence and in order to protect the emperor and his wife, Lady Kesa (portrayed by Machiko Kyo, “Rashomon”, “Ugetsu”, “The Teahouse of the August Moon”), an empress-in-waiting, volunteers to be a decoy and to escort her will be the samurai Morito Enda (portrayed by Kazuo Hasegawa, The Tale of Genji”, “Chushingura”, “Jujiro”).

After the Minamoto tries to attack them, Morito and Lade Kesa manage to escape and he tries to seek refuge at his brother’s home.  But he quickly finds out that his brother has joined up with the rebels.  While his brother and his friends try to get Morito to join them, Morito has no intention.  Instead, Morito goes to warn Kiyomori and tell him about the traitor’s plans, but also ends up killing a traitor.

Fast forward and Morito runs into Lady Kesa and her aunt.  He realizes how smitten he is with her.

While Kiyomori awards his loyal soldiers with governorship or prized possessions, Morito goes to Gen Kiyomori (portrayed by Koreya Senda) and tells him that he wants him to grant his marriage with Lady Kesa.  For Kiyomori, he wants to make it happen but is told that it’s not possible.

It is revealed that Lady Kesa has married a man named Wataru Watanabe (portrayed by Isao Yamagata), an imperial guard.  It is also revealed that Wataru and Lade Kesa are quite happy with each other.

Meanwhile, as Kiyomori and his staff tell Morito to let it goes because she is married, he does not want to let it go because he loves Lady Kesa so much.

Knowing that, Kiyomori will grant his wish to contact her to see him, so he can arrange a meeting between both Morito and Kesa.  And he can ask her how she really feels about him.

When the two meet, he is quite happy to see her, but she is not so happy to see him.  He confesses his love to her and she tells him how happy she is with Wataru, but Morito insists that he would do everything and anything for her.  But she is thankful for him helping her and their meeting ends.

It is revealed that a horse-racing festival is to take place and for Morito, he is willing to compete against Wataru (who is considered to be the best horseman).  Determined in beating him (as he feels he is a better man than Wataru), Morito hatred towards him grows.

But the more that Morito starts to think about Lady Kesa, the crush then becomes an obsession.

But what happens when Morito’s obsession with Lady Kesa grows to the point that he is willing to murder Wataru and others in order to make her his woman?


“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.


“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!


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