Design I

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Gate of Hell

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jul 28, 2015

The following response is not particularly insightful, cinematically speaking. But it’s the truth!

I first tried to see Teinosuke Kinugasa’s pioneering colour film when I was going to film school at USC, in Los Angeles. We were living in Montrose, CA, up there between Glendale and Pasadena. I checked a video copy out of the public library.

Between the Doheny Library and David Shepard’s Film Study Centre—not to mention the amazing range of high quality prints that they showed in actual classes—we students had tremendous access to an amazing range of really important, really great movies. Did USC not have a copy of this one? I can’t remember, exactly. It may just have been that I really liked the public library. I think it was the La Cañada branch that I’d visited, of the LA County system. My wife’s from there, and that branch was where my comparatively prosperous father-in-law still goes to get free movies.

Anyway, I had a vague film student sense of why and that Gate of Hell was important. I wanted to find out more. But alas! I am pretty sure that I had our eldest daughter with me at the time. She was the only one, at the time. Always mindful of what had happened to John Goodman and William Forsythe in Raising Arizona—”never leave a man behind!”—I put my movie down and attended in a responsible way to our infant. In she went. Off I drove. With the tape on the roof of the car. When did it slide off? When did I notice? These are the things that make life, for all of its joys and satisfactions, such a sad thing.

I never found it. I had to pay for it, naturally. Dagnab it! It took nearly 25 years for the pain to subside, and for me to actually see the film. Sadder. Wiser. Not a girl though.

And? Or so? Colour! Stylized in a manner derived from specifically, historically Japanese theatrical and visual arts sources. So much so that a Western viewer is likely to find the experience quite challenging. Look closely at the opening sequence though. These deep colours and textures are not what we’re used to, narratively speaking. They’re not the same, but they’re equivalent! This whole story of love, loyalty and honour, and of the challenge of maintaining them in perfidious times, is quite triumphantly communicated at the level of pure form. Near abstraction, in fact. Challenging, but very bracing.

But doesn’t it bug you when you have to pay for stuff, without getting to have or use the stuff you just paid for?