Gate of Hell (1953)


When Gate of Hell landed on my doormat I was apprehensive to say the least. I knew very little about the film and the genre is by no means one of my favorites. However, with an open mind I inserted the DVD into the machine and began to watch.

Originally made in 1953, written and directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa and produced by Masaichi Nagata, Gate of Hell is a love story.

It tells the story of a samurai warrior (Kazuo Hasegawa), and an innocent girl (Machiko Kyo) who aid in the escape of the Royal family during an attempt on their lives. The samurai is entrusted the task of fooling the opposition into believing he is escorting away the Princess, when it is in fact the innocent girl. When their plan fails he asked his master if, as a reward for his brave actions, he may marry the girl, only to discover she is already married to another. He attempts to convince the girl and her husband to reconsider their decision and allow his marriage to take place.

The film was made using Eastman Color film, a very new process at the time, only introduced in 1950. The process used a varied camera and different use of negatives which were then dyed to produce vivid colours. Gate of Hell was the first film on which the production house Daiei Studios used the process, it was also the first Japanese film to be released in colour outside of Japan.

In 1954 writer and director, Teinosuke Kinugasa, was awarded the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the Grand Prix Du Festival International Du Film for Gate of Hell. In the same year he also won two other major awards, namely an Academy Honorary Award for ‘Best Foreign Language Film first released in the United States during 1954’ as well as The New York Film Critics Circle Award for ‘Best Foreign Language Film’.

If, during the course of a conversation, someone were to call me a heathen with regard to this genre I would undoubtedly agree with them. I have very little knowledge of films of this style and virtually nothing to compare it to production wise in order to give it a fair review.

I do however understand emotion and sentiment, which is the basis of this film, and this is portrayed through the screen very well. Japanese culture has a magical, mystical charm which pertains to the romantic story line impeccably.

The film is completely spoken in Japanese and has English subtitles which are clear and easy to read and, although my Japanese is rusty at best, I have no doubt that what is written is as spoken on screen meaning none of the plot is lost in loose translations.

The style of shooting I mentioned earlier, the Eastman Color Film technique, means that the picture is very bright, bold and colourful. Considering this film was made in 1953 it looks fantastic and, being released onto Blu-Ray on 3rd December by Masters of Cinema, I’m sure it will look even better than the version I watched.

Gate of Hell is a film of great depth and culture and although not one I would personally have chosen to view, I am glad I did. I found it entertaining, with a good plot, excellent locations as well as imagery and an overall good feeling of a traditional love story.

It is, I believe, in its genre, considered a classic but if you have yet to watch it and are a fan of this style of cinema, or indeed even of Japanese culture, I suggest you give it a chance. In a visual and sentimental capacity it is a delight.

Gate of Hell is being releasef onto blu-ray 3rd December 2012.

Director: Teinosuke Kinugasa
Stars: Machiko Kyô, Kazuo Hasegawa, Isao Yamagata
Runtime: 86 min
Country: Japan

Film Rating: ★★★☆☆

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