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Gate of Hell [Criterion Collection] Blu-ray Review

Posted March 21st, 2013 by Brandon A. DuHamel

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  • Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
  • Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080p/24 (23.976Hz)
  • Audio Codec: Japanese LPCM 1.0 (48kHz/24-bit)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Subtitles Color: White
  • Region: A (Region-Locked)
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Discs: 1 (1  x Blu-ray)
  • Digital Copies: N/A
  • Run Time: 91 Mins.
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • Blu-ray Release Date: April 9, 2013
  • List Price: $29.95

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Overall
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The Film
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Video Quality
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Audio Quality
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Supplemental Materials
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Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures

(The below Blu-rayDefinition.com screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG at 100% quality setting and are meant as a general representation of the content. They do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)

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The Film

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Director Kinugasa Teinosuke’s 1953 film Gate of Hell (地獄門, Jigokumon) was among the first wave of films from Japan to break through to Western audiences. A striking gem of richly saturated color cinematography, this chambara tale set in feudal Japan about obsession and intrigue was both a treat for the senses and a wonderful introduction for many to a whole new culture.

It’s the 12th century and unrest at the infamous “Gate of Hell” thrusts provincial samurai warrior Moritō (Hasegawa Kazuo) right into the fray of a palace rebellion. Charged with saving the life of the emperor’s sister by deploying from the palace with a decoy, the beautiful lady in waiting Lady Kesa (Kyō Machiko), Moritō manages to help save the princess’ life and the life of Lady Kesa. Stricken by Lady Kesa’s beauty, Moritō later asks as his reward for helping to quash the rebellion that he be granted the Lady Kesa’s hand in marriage, not knowing that she is already married to a fellow samurai. Refusing to withdraw his request, Moritō embarks on a foolish and obsessive plan to win the hand and heart of Lady Kesa by force, which begins a series of tragic events.

Some of the greatest stories the cinema has ever seen involve the themes of love, lust, and obsession. Gate of Hell certainly ranks amongst one of the grandest of them all. It is a fascinating film, both for its splendid use of Eastman color film, the first film in color for studio Daiei, but also because of the way Kinugasa successfully builds the level of obsessive intensity in his actors. Hasegawa is sublime as the single-minded samurai whose infatuation with what he cannot obtain leads him down a most certainly tragic path. Kyō is so traditionally graceful that it is quite easy to see why two men would be feuding over her. She also becomes increasingly desperate and helpless in her response to the situation. This is truly a classic most worthy of this restoration.

(Editors note: portions of this review not related to this release were previously published as our Gate of Hell [Masters of Cinema] [UK] Blu-ray Review. All screen captures were taken from their respective releases.)

Video Quality

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Gate of Hell was digitally restored in 2011 by The National Film Center of The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo and Kadokawa Shoten Co. LTD. in cooperation with NHK. While the opening credits infer that this release from Criterion is from the same as the previously released UK edition reviewed here from Eureka’s Masters of Cinema series, it is evident that Criterion has tweaked the image in some way. This is not a straight transfer, but rather, this AVC/MPEG-4 1080p encodement is somewhat darker and more richly saturated in color than the Masters of Cinema. It also appears to be just a little bit more textured. It is a strong and beautiful release, but one can’t go wrong with either edition.

Audio Quality

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Criterion’s release of Gate of Hell arrives on Blu-ray with a LPCM 1.0 (48kHz/24-bit) track of the original Japanese soundtrack. It is still rather boxy and limited in dynamic range, but it works for the material at hand.

Supplemental Materials

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This is a thinly supplemented release, quite unusually, for the Criterion Collection. There are no on-disc extras at all and the always included illustrated booklet contains only a solitary essay on the film by film historian Stephen Prince, in addition to the usual film and disc credits.

The Definitive Word

Overall:

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My second time through watching this film on Blu-ray and I still marvel at the fantastic color cinematography and gripping storyline. The imagery is majestic and comes across astoundingly well in this high definition transfer from the Criterion Collection. All fans of Japanese cinema should add this one to their collections.

Additional Screen Captures

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Overall
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The Film
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Video Quality
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Audio Quality
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Supplemental Materials
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Tags: Asian Cinema, Chambara, Criterion Collection, Drama, Gate of Hell, Japanese Language, Jigokumon, World Cinema, 地獄門