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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.
*** This review may contain 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.
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.
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.
Wow! What an awesome movie. The leading lady was gorgeous, the shots
were magnificent, the music was fantastic, and overall, this was a
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.
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"
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.
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.
'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.
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.
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