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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Jigokumon (aka Gate Of Hell) (1953)

In 12th century Japan, a lady in waiting (Machiko Kyo, RASHOMON) masquerades as her Queen during an attempt to overthrow the ruling clan which allows the real Queen to escape. A loyal samurai (Kazuo Hasegawa) carries her to safety and becomes infatuated with her. But after he discovers she is married, his infatuation turns into a deadly obsession. Upon its original release, it quickly became one of the most critically acclaimed films from Japan: winner of the Grand Prize at the Cannes film festival, the New York Film Critics award for best foreign film as well the Academy Award for best foreign film and for its costume design. Its stunning use of color (it was the first color Japanese film to be seen outside of Japan) was almost always remarked on. Even as a cinema neophyte before I started seeking out international cinema, I had heard of GATE OF HELL. But it seems in recent years to have fallen by the wayside while other Japanese films and film makers have moved into the spotlight. Certainly the director Teinosuke Kinugasa's reputation is nowhere near that of Kurosawa, Ozu, Ichikawa or Mizoguchi. The praise of its use of color is justified but as cinema, its simple tale is compromised by an ending that doesn't make sense to contemporary Western sensibilities and the heroine's husband's (Isao Yamagata) sensible and logical plea of "Why didn't you confide in me?" renders the pseudo Shakespearean tragic finale unsatisfying. Still, it's a film that demands to be seen.

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