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Gate of Hell [Masters of Cinema] [UK] Blu-ray Review

  • Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
  • Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080p/24 (23.976Hz)
  • Audio Codec: Japanese LPCM 2.0 Mono (48kHz/16-bit)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Subtitles Color: White
  • Region: B (Region-Locked)
  • Certification: 15
  • Run Time: 91 Mins.
  • Discs: 2 (1 x Blu-ray + 1 x DVD)
  • Studio: Eureka Entertainment
  • Blu-ray Release Date: December 3, 2012
  • RRP: £20.42

Overall
[Rating:4/5]
The Film
[Rating:4.5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:3/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:2.5/5]

Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures

(All TheaterByte 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)

The Film

[Rating:4.5/5]

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.

Video Quality

[Rating:4.5/5]

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, Gate of Hell arrives on Blu-ray from Eureka’s Masters of Cinema series in a sumptuous AVC/MPEG-4 1080p encodement that is richly saturated, clean, marvelously detailed, and full of texture and a fine natural grain structure. It doesn’t get too much better than this for early Japanese color films in high definition.

Audio Quality

[Rating:3/5]

The Japanese LPCM 2.0 mono (48kHz/16-bit) soundtrack is serviceable, but hardly any sort of reference. Limited by both age and the technologies of the day, it is rather dull and boxy in sound and lacking in dynamic range. Still, it gets the job done.

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:2.5/5]

Only the informative, 24-page booklet with new essay from film critic Philip Kemp, vintage writing on the film by Carl Theodor Dreyer and and rare archival imagery is included alongside the standard DVD of the feature film. No on-disc featurettes or commentaries are included in what is an otherwise barebones release.

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:4/5]

Kudos to Eureka for licensing this fine restoration of a riveting Japanese film and bringing it to Blu-ray for all of us Region B capable folks. The imagery in Gate of Hell is beyond reproach as is the acting. A fine film indeed.

Additional Screen Captures

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Overall
[Rating:4/5]
The Film
[Rating:4.5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:3/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:2.5/5]


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