Gate of Hell was the first Japanese colour film to released internationally. It was awarded the Palme D’or at the 1954 Cannes film festival, arguably the most prestigious award in film history. It was directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa who made quite a few films in his native Japan but it seems like all of his films bar Gate of Hell are currently unavailable in English speaking regions. He actually started in Silent film not unlike the notable Japanese filmmaker Yasujirō Ozu.
The film’s story is about a simple as you can possibly get. It tells the story of the samurai warrior Moritō who prevents an attempted coup. A lady in the court disguises herself as the lord’s wife and this allows the royal family to escape. The lord offers Moritō any wish he wants. He asks to marry the women who disguised herself as the lord’s wife, however it’s revealed that she is already married. Moritō refuses to withdraw this request and this setting in motion starts a series chain of events that can end up no way but tragic.
Martin Scorsese a couple years ago released to lists of which included 20 films and he split them up in 2 categories. The first list was colour English speaking films and the other was international. Gate of Hell was on the international list and understandably, the use was colour is almost hallucinatory, the yellows, greens, purples, blues almost literally jump out of the screen at you. In some ways the film is almost only worth watching for the use of colour, the plot is so simple but that’s not a criticism, just an observation. The colour technology used was Eastman colour, which at the time was very new and radical.
Jean Cocteau the great French filmmaker, poet, artist and writer wrote a preface for the French release said something along the lines of “the greatest use of colour ever in film”. This may be a slight over statement but you can clearly see what he meant. The film has been lovingly remastered by the always wonderful Eureka Entertainment as a part of their Masters of cinema range, it’s has no extras except a booklet but the film speaks for itself.
DVD/BD Release Date: 03 December 2012 (UK)
Director: Teinosuke Kinugasa
Cast: Machiko Kyô, Kazuo Hasegawa , Isao Yamagata
Buy: GATE OF HELL [JIGOKUMON] (Masters of Cinema) (DVD & BLU-RAY DUAL FORMAT)