Everett Collection
Keith Staskiewicz
April 05, 2013 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Gate of Hell

Current Status
In Season
91 minutes
Limited Release Date
Kazuo Hasegawa, Machiko Kyo

We gave it a B+

Japanese cinema burst onto the scene in the early 1950s, buoyed by the same postwar interest in foreign movies that made Italian neorealism popular. The multiperspective Rashomon heralded a great film culture, and pretty soon there was a steady taiko drumbeat of influential films marching out of the island nation. One such film, Gate of Hell (1954, 1 hr., 31 mins., Not Rated), was a worldwide success at the time. The first color film from Japan to be released outside its borders, it won the Palme d’Or at the 1954 Cannes Film Festival. But in the intervening years, the period drama about a 12th-century samurai driven to nasty lengths by his love for a married woman lost its spot in posterity. The overlooked film isn’t quite as powerful as other classics of that time, such as Ugetsu and Tokyo Story, but it’s an exquisite example of high-production-value filmmaking. The sumptuous, Oscar-winning costumes and colorful sets look as vibrant as ever in a new Criterion edition, which aims to restore the movie to its proper place in history. Unfortunately, the nearly nonexistent EXTRAS (new English subtitles — that’s it) appear to be an exercise in Japanese minimalism. B+

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