Gate of Hell (1953)

gate of hell poster 1953 movie jigokumon
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 9/10

Good looking, unexpected direction

Apathy of the story

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Gate of Hell

Studio:  Daiei Studios

Genre(s):  Drama

Release Date(s):  October 31, 1953 (Japan)/December 10, 1954 (US)

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

gate of hell morito endo kazuo hasegawa request

I got a request…

Morito Endo (Kazuo Hasegawa) helps thwart a rebellion with one of the Queen’s lady-in-waiting named Kesa (Machiko Kyō). Granted a boon, Morito asks for Kesa’s hand in marriage only to learn that she’s already married to Wataru Wantanbe (Isao Yamagata). Vowing to win Kesa, Morito cannot give up the woman he loves…even if her feelings aren’t the same.

Directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa, Gate of Hell (地獄門 or Jigokumon) is a Japanese period piece (known as a jidaigeki generally set in the Edo period). It won the grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival and an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #653).

gate of hell morito vs wataru horse race kazuo hasegawa isao yamagata

The race for the heart of someone who doesn’t want her heart taken

Gate of Hell was a random library pick-up to see what it was about. I generally like samurai-type stories, but the story seemed like it was going to be a typical story. I have to admit that the story doesn’t go where I initially thought it would go…but that led to interesting twists and a problem.

In most of these tales, it feels like the lead to a woman stuck between choosing two good men. Here, Morito goes so far off the tracks that it feels like it isn’t even a choice. He is possessive, a stalker, and Kesa doesn’t seem that into him. The problem arises from this. I realize there is some culture involved in the story, but there is a strange sense of apathy in Kesa’s character. She dooms herself without looking for other outs (like just telling people that Morito is threatening her and her family). It doesn’t come off as much as heroic as pathetic.

gate of hell wataru watanabe kesa isao yamagata machiko kyo

Well…have some more alcohol

The cast is strong. Kazuo Hasegawa comes off as completely evil by the end of the film as Morito while Isao Yamagata is understanding and likable as Wataru Watanabe. Machiko Kyō is put through the ringer as Lady Kesa, but I still have problems with the apathy of the situation (which is no fault of the actress).

The film was Japan’s first internationally released film in color, and the movie seemed to understand the spectacle of it. The movie brought the beauty and mystery of Japan to an international audience with flare. It has a brightness to the dark story and still pops on screen.

Gate of Hell is a good period piece film. It takes the person who would normally be the hero of the story and turns him into a real villain. It was unexpected in this sense and an interesting twist on the type romance. Add to the story a bright, colorful landscape, and the film really pops as it tells its tale of woe…and death follows.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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