Among the Japanese films which made the greatest impressions on American audiences in the early 1950s, Teinosuke Kinugasa’s Gate of Hell offered the simplest and most conventional story, and it was the only one produced in color offering a vivid palette that left audiences gasping. Seen today, the story isn’t notably more unique than it was at the time, but it’s told with such grace and surety and with that vibrant color (courtesy of a 2011 restoration) that enhances the visual impact of some torrid emotions that it remains a lyrical, memorable melodrama.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 29 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case
Disc Type: BD25 (single layer)
Release Date: 04/09/2013
After performing heroically in a 12th century civil war battle, Morito (Kazuo Hasegawa) is offered his fondest wish granted by the powerful General Kiyomori (Koreya Senda). Morito chooses the beautiful Lady Kesa (Machiko Kyo) for his wife not knowing that she is already married to well-respected samurai Wataru (Isao Yamagata). When he learns she is unavailable, his mania for her becomes even more overwhelming resulting in his finally telling her he will kill her entire family if she won’t become his. The distraught Kesa who really loves her husband is left with very few alternatives.
The Production Rating: 4/5
Writer-director Teinosuke Kinugasa’s most clever bit of irony is something that is rarely mentioned about the relationships being pictured in the story. Morito’s brother had become a traitor to the ruling clan in attempting to overthrow the general, but he hadn’t been successful in persuading Morito to join him thus earning Morito his eventual honor. But Morito’s later treachery in demanding Kesa leave her husband for him is just as traitorous to the laws and conventions of Japan as his brother’s misplaced ambition had been: he’s just as guilty of flouting authority as his brother and for an even more selfish purpose – his own sexual satisfaction. Despite some samurai flourishes and two brief but exciting action chases (the spirited carriage chase near the beginning and a horse race around the film’s midpoint) which the director handles beautifully, the film is actually more of a think piece than an action-based film which makes its tragic conclusion both emotionally and dramatically sound and hauntingly unique.
The three actors involved in this fairly conventional but nevertheless interesting love triangle all do superbly with their roles. Kazuo Hasegawa is all bluff and bluster that is never overdone as his desire for Kesa grows to an almost unbearable degree. Isao Yamagata’s more controlled and thoughtful Wataru shows a different side of a samurai warrior than the typically aggressive slayer that makes him an appealingly complex character. And Machiko Kyo, delicate of face and figure but with a spine of steel, is haunting as Kesa. It’s nearly impossible to leave even this brief film and not consider deeply Kesa’s actions in the movie.
The film is presented in its original theatrical 1.37:1 aspect ratio and is offered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. While the film did undergo a 2011 restoration, the resulting transfer is still not a perfect video record. Color, of course, is striking throughout with reds, greens, oranges, and purples coming off best. But flesh tones are sometimes somewhat pasty, and sharpness is not always exemplary. Black levels are only acceptable, too, and not outstanding. The image is artifact free, however, and very visually appealing. The white subtitles are very easy to read. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
The PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) sound mix reflects very much the sound design of the era with little in the way of fidelity especially on the low end and post-synched dialogue which can sound somewhat flat on occasion. There is still some low hiss present which can be heard in quieter scenes though engineers have smoothed out the audio artifacts as best they could.
Audio Rating: 3.5/5
Enclosed brochure: contains cast and crew lists, the chapter listing, and author Stephen Prince’s essay on the film and its restoration.
Special Features Rating: 1/5
Timeline: which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
Winner of the top prize at Cannes and the Academy Award for foreign-language film, Gate of Hell is a lovely melodramatic gem of a movie. The new Blu-ray likely captures as close as we’ll ever see the glories of the color that took people’s breath away all those decades ago and is certainly recommended.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
Support HTF when you buy this title:
Click here to view the review