Gate Of Hell is quite a film, to say the least. Sure, there's the fact that it was the first color Japanese film, but it's also a film where despite a deceptively simple premise, it holds a great deal more in intellectual value, and also having a lot to say about the nature of human beings when obsession and desires consumes every last facet of our lives, even if it threatens to destroy the object of desire.
During a traitorous rebellion, the royal family needs to be evacuated, so to fool the invaders, a woman named Kesa, volunteers to be the Ladyship's double, while being escorted by some samurai, including one named Moritoh.
The rebellion ends up being crushed, and Moritoh is considered to be a hero and he is offered anything he wants as a reward. He wants to marry Kesa, but this particular request cannot be honored, as she is already married to a man named Wataru. This infuriates Moritoh, and he refuses to take no for an answer and seeks endlessly to win her love while also deviously plotting to get Wataru out of the picture.
The story is familiar, and on the surface, is simple.. But, it's the way that the film presents it, and the way that is written and performed, that makes the story a great deal more than what it would seem at first thought. There are many themes to be processed: obsession, desire, greed, and other dark themes, but it is also surprising in themes like devotion, true love, sacrifice, and other themes. It covers a wide spectrum of human thoughts and emotions, both dark and malicious, but also how goodness and devotion to the one you love can stand in the face of terrifying evil that threatens to destroy everyone. The story is quite compelling, and also tragic and emotional.
The acting is superb, especially from Machiko Kyo as Lady Kesa and Kazuo Hasegawa as Moritoh. Machiko Kyo is a sympathetic and wonderful character, while Kazuo Hasegawa does an amazing job of playing the menacing Moritoh as his mental state slowly deteriorates when the object of his desire rejects him over and over again until there is nothing but the obsession as his goal in sight. These two are what made the film what it was in terms of storytelling, as they successfully balance between good and evil elements of human nature.
Gate Of Hell is a superb drama that definitely deserved the numerous awards that it won when it first released. This makes it ever more questionable as to why it took so damn long for it to get released on a home video format (So much so, that they had to restore all the colors and footage because the footage was so faded and old from not being used for so long). Whatever may be the reason for this, we finally get to see the masterpiece in all its glory. It's not just a beautiful color film, but it's also an exceptional drama and among the greatest Japanese films ever made. If you love a good drama, Gate Of Hell is something worth seeing.