Blu-ray
Recommended
3.5 stars
List Price
$29.95
Amazon
$19.99 (33%)
3rd Party
$14.95
Usually ships in 24 hours Buy Now»
Overall Grade
3.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
4 Stars
HD Video Quality
4.5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4 Stars
Supplements
1 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
Recommended

Gate of Hell

Street Date:
April 9th, 2013
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
April 16th, 2013
Movie Release Year:
1953
Studio:
Criterion
Length:
86 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Unrated
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

Obsession is a destructive force if left unchecked. Teinosuke Kinugasa's sumptuous color film from 1953 is a cautionary tale. A look inside the mind of an obsessive personality and what happens when infatuation claims the entirety of someone.

It's 12th Century Japan. The land is in an upheaval. A bloody revolution is taking place. Moritoh (Kazuo Hasegawa) is a trained warrior and wants no part of the revolution. He considers his own brother a traitor, because he switched sides at the last minute. Even though it might appear he's chosen the losing side, that's what his brother thinks anyway, Moritoh is determined to stand his ground. His fanatical pride doesn't allow him the luxury of changing his mind. At the beginning this sort of personality trait is admirable, but Moritoh never does anything to curtail his obsessiveness. It will eventually lead to his destruction.

There aren't many characters in 'Gate of Hell.' At a brisk 89 minutes there isn't much time to fit a lot of people in. That's okay though, because this story is about three people in particular. Moritoh is the driven young warrior who doesn't take no for an answer. He soon meets Lady Kesa (Machiko Kyo) who is a noble woman in her own right. In order to save the queen during a rebel invasion Lady Kesa disguises herself as Her Majesty and leads the rebel horde off in the wrong direction. Moritoh discovers her carriage before she's ambushed by the blood-thirsty enemy and hides her at his home. The third character comes in a little later on. Wataru (Isao Yamagata) is Lady Kesa's husband. He stands for dignity, honor, and above all, he really loves his wife.

The tricky triangle is set; now to watch it play out.

Moritoh pines for Lady Kesa. Soon his affections turn sour. Once he realizes she has a husband he's unable to curtail his emotions. If anything they become stronger. It doesn't help matters that Moritoh has the ear of the lord in the area. He requests the lord arrange a marriage for him and Lady Kesa. Her being married is seen only as an obstacle to overcome.

There's so much to like when watching 'Gate of Hell.' Moritoh's descent into his own obsession-caused madness is straight out of Shakespeare. There are moments where the movie feels like an adaption of 'Romeo and Juliet' only this time around Juliet isn't a willing participant.

What's also important to note is the time period and the fact that this was a completely male-dominated society. Lady Kesa had little say over what happened to her. Though her husband treats her like an equal, Moritoh looks at her as little more than property that he covets and will steal if possible.

The cinematography here is sublime. Being the first colorized Japanese film to be released outside of the country, director Teinosuke Kinugasa along with his cinematographer Kôhei Sugiyama, create a dazzlingly vibrant picture full of wonderful colors. This is one of those old movies that you watch for a few minutes and quickly come to the realization that this was meant to be seen in high definition.

While the look of the movie plays an important role, watching these three characters struggle and fight for what they think is right is truly intriguing. It's hard not to feel for Lady Kesa who seems lost in a sea of machismo and custom. It's difficult to sympathize for Moritoh because of inability to get control of his base emotions. It's even hard to commiserate with Wataru because he seems almost resigned to his fate, whatever it might be. That said, there isn't an uninteresting character in the bunch.

Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

This is a Criterion release. It comes in a standard clear Criterion keepcase. The spine number is 653. There isn't a booklet included this time. Instead it's a fold-out which contains an essay entitled "A Colorful History" by film scholar Stephen Prince. It also contains notes about the transfer along with the usual credits and special thanks. The disc is a 25GB Blu-ray. It's a Region A release.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

Noted in the notes about its transfer, located in the fold-out, this transfer created from a restoration that was undertaken by the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo in 2011. This is a very solid transfer that depicts the gloriously colored surroundings as they were meant to be displayed. Aside from a few minor nitpicks this is another great Criterion release.

The color, oh man, the color! It's impossible not to get sucked in by the amount of beautiful color contained in this movie. There are robes of gold, red, purple, orange, green, you name it and the color probably exists at some point in this movie. The transfer treats all the color with love and care as they appear bold and expertly defined on screen. Colors, even bright ones like purple, never seem to bleed. The movie has a hazier focus structure, yet the colors stay in their appropriate places.

The color, oh man, the color! It's impossible not to get sucked in by the amount of beautiful color contained in this movie. There are robes of gold, red, purple, orange, green, you name it and the color probably exists at some point in this movie. The transfer treats all the color with love and care as they appear bold and expertly defined on screen. Colors, even bright ones like purple, never seem to bleed. The movie has a hazier focus structure, yet the colors stay in their appropriate places.

I had very few problems with this transfer. There are a few places where film judder is noticeable. Some black areas that felt a little overbearing, but other than that this is a near-pristine transfer from Criterion, which shouldn't be a surprise.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

'Gate of Hell' is provided a lossless Japanese 1.0 LPCM mix. Front and center this mix does an admirable job with one speaker. It provides steady, clear dialogue. Sound effects are minimal here. Fight scenes feature little, to no added effects. The movie is more about sight than sound, although the sound that's there is produced well through this mix. There is some audible hissing from time to time, but that's to be expected with a release from the '50s. Overall, I found this mix to be satisfying, and ultimately the best that this release could offer given its source.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

The back of the case states that this release has been given a brand-new English subtitle translation, which would lead me to believe that its more accurate than it has been in the past. However, that's the only special feature – if you could really call that a "special feature" – on this disc. Sadly, Criterion hasn't provided any features, which is odd since they're usually so good at doing so. The other special feature is the pamphlet.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

There are no Blu-ray exclusives provided.

Final Thoughts

'Gate of Hell' is an arresting journey of obsession and its pitfalls. The characters are just as rich and varied as the colorful menagerie going on in the film. Criterion has done a great job with the video transfer. The audio is only piped through one channel, but it gets the job done. The complete lack of special features is pretty disappointing though. All in all, 'Gate of Hell' is recommended.

Technical Specs

  • BD-50 Blu-ray Disc

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.37:1

Audio Formats

  • Japanese Uncompressed Mono

Subtitles/Captions

  • English

Supplements

  • A booklet featuring an essay by film historian Stephen Prince

All disc reviews at High-Def Digest are completed using the best consumer HD home theater products currently on the market. More about our gear.

Puzzled by the technical jargon in our reviews, or wondering how we assess and rate HD DVD and Blu-ray discs? Learn about our review methodology.

List Price
$29.95
Amazon
$19.99 (33%)
3rd Party
$14.95
Usually ships in 24 hours Buy Now»

Related reviews