I’d never seen a film with a bolder use of color than Gate of Hell directed by Kinugasa Teinosuke. During the Heiji Rebellion, al hell breaks loose when Lord Kiyomori is traveling. Rebels lay siege to the lord’s castle. During the coup Moritoh, a loyal samurai, asks for a volunteer to pose as the lord’s sister while the sister and father escape. Kesa, a lady-in-waiting steps up and this beauty impresses the samurai and he’s smitten.
After defending the lord’s castle, Moritoh returns to his home with Kesa in tow and finds his brother has gone over to the side of the rebels. Loyal to the Lord rather than his brother, Moritoh warns Lord Kiyomori of this rebellion. To reward Moritoh, the lord offers to satisfy any wish the samurai has. He asks permission to marry Kesa, however she is already married. He’s offered a chance to ask for anything else, but Moritoh’s so obsessed with this honorable woman, that he spends the rest of the film pursuing Kesa.
Kesa’s married to Wataru, a wonderful man who cherishes her. She has no desire to leave him. Moritoh challenges Kesa’s husband to a competition. The story ends with a surprising turn. At least it surprised me as a Western viewer.
The film begins at high speed in the rush of battle and then moves to a meditative pace, while keeping the audience engaged till the last scene. The film won the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film and Costumes. The kimonos are gorgeous and it’s worth it just to watch to see them.