The Greatest films of all time: 48. Gate of Hell (1953)(Japan)


Japan with a history in filmmaking since the inception of cinema, never rose at a world race level and was not much recognized at an international level, until the 1950’s that is considered the golden age of Japanese cinema. With Rashomon of Kurosawa in 1950, this rich cinema became known to the world, so that any non-commercial film from Japan was the subject of accolade of western critics. Although none of these films could match or even parallel with the Kurosawa’s masterpiece, the Japanese films in the 50’s such as Ikiru, Ugetsu, seven Samurai, Godzilla, and specially Tokyo Story harvested many awards worldwide, and even the latter dethroned Citizen Kane in the Sight and Sound’s 2012 director’s poll. But only “Gate of Hell” by the Japanese veteran actor and director, Teinosuke Kinugasa came out of this land of rising sun, as another shocking masterpiece hard to resist not to praise.


The film, the first Japanese film in color out of the country, was also the first to win the palm d’Or or the grand prize award of the 1954 Cannes Film Festival. It also won the best foreign language film in 1955 Academy honorary award, best costume design and best color awards of that year of the Oscar. “Gate of Hell” also won the 1954 New York Film Critics Circle Award for best foreign language film and the Golden Leopard at the Locarno International Film Festival. “Gate of Hell” stands out as another Japanese cinema masterpiece since Rashomon, not for all the above awards and recognitions, as often these could be meaningless, but as another wakeup call for what cinema as an art medium could achieve, that had already been lost in the west to commercialism and popularism of the time.  


The film, a celebration of colors by Eastman for the first time in Japan, opens up with a modern time recitation of the Heiji rebellion of 12thcentury Japan, invading the emperor palace. A lady-in-waiting, Kesa, the wife of a samurai, Wataru, escapes the raid and lands at the house of another samurai, Morito, who remains loyal to the emperor unlike his brother and kills a traitor. Morito first not knowing Kesa being married, falls in love with her and when he is offered any prize for his loyalty and bravery, he wishes Kesa as his wife. Following the theme of Rashomon mixed with a tint of the American “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” of 1927, “Gate of Hell” is a shocking storyline for any culture, even the western.

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