Gate of Hell (地獄門, Jigokumon) is a 1953 Japanese jidaigeki film directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa. It tells the story of a samurai (Kazuo Hasegawa) who tries to marry a woman (Machiko Kyō) he rescues, only to discover that she is already married. Filmed using Eastmancolor, Gate of Hell was Daiei Film's first color film and the first Japanese color film to be released outside Japan. It was 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. The film won a Special/Honorary Award at the 1954 Academy Awards for outstanding foreign language film and the grand prize award at the Cannes Film Festival in the same year.
During the Heiji Rebellion, samurai Endō Morito is assigned to escort lady-in-waiting Kesa away from the palace once she volunteers to disguise herself as the daimyō’s sister, buying the daimyō’s father and real sister time to escape unseen. Kesa is knocked unconscious when the rebels attack their caravan, and Morito takes her to his brother’s home. When Morito’s brother arrives, he reveals that he too is part of the rebellion and suggests Morito join him. Morito refuses to betray the daimyō, Lord Kiyomani. Once he and Kesa are safe, Morito proves his loyalty to Kiyomani by personally riding to him to deliver news about the insurrection.
After the coup has failed, Morito runs into Kesa again. Infatuated with her, he asks Lord Kiyomoni, who is granting one wish to each of the loyal warriors who helped put down the rebellion, to grant him Kesa’s hand in marriage. Kiyomani informs him that Kesa is already married to Wataru, a samurai of the Imperial Guard, but Morito demands that his wish be granted. Kesa is concerned by Morito's determination, but Wataru promises to protect her.
After hearing Kesa perform koto music, Kiyomani begins to sympathize with Morito. He decides to give Morito a chance to compete for Kesa’s hand. Morito enters a horse race in which Wataru is competing, and nearly attacks Wataru at a “Forget the Race” dinner after the race is over, visibly disturbing everyone around him.
At Kesa's request, her handmaid Tone tells Marito that Kesa has gone to visit her aunt. Morito heads to the home and discovers the lie. He forces the aunt to write a note to Kesa claiming she’s sick and needs Kesa to come see her. Kesa agrees and is terrified to see Morito waiting for her. When Morito threatens to kill everyone in order to have his way with her, Kesa tells him she will fulfill his heart’s desires and details a plan for Morito to kill Wataru and claim her once she’s widowed.
Kesa returns home and behaves generously to Tone and Wataru. After everyone has gone to bed, Morito sneaks into the bedroom, dealing a decisive killing blow to a figure beneath the blankets. He is horrified to realize that he has killed Kesa. Realizing that Kesa sacrificed herself rather than subject herself or anyone else to his insanity, Morito fruitlessly begs Wataru to kill him in penance. As Wataru mourns his dead wife, Morito kneels in the courtyard, cuts off his topknot and vows to start over as a monk.
After the Japan Society sponsored a U.S. release of the film in December 1954, Bosley Crowther reviewed it for The New York Times. According to Crowther:
The secret, perhaps, of its rare excitement is the subtlety with which it blends a subterranean flood of hot emotions with the most magnificent flow of surface serenity. The tensions and agonies of violent passions are made to seethe behind a splendid silken screen of stern formality, dignity, self-discipline and sublime esthetic harmonies. The very essence of ancient Japanese culture is rendered a tangible stimulant in this film.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 92%, based on 13 reviews, with an average score of 8.3/10.
Gate of Hell won the grand prize award at the 1954 Cannes Film Festival, a 1954 Academy Honorary Award for Best Foreign Language Film first released in the United States during 1954, along with the Academy Award for Best Costume Design, Color, and the 1954 New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It won the Golden Leopard at the Locarno International Film Festival.
In the United Kingdom, Gate of Hell was released in 2012 on Blu-ray Disc and DVD as part of the Masters of Cinema line; the next year The Criterion Collection released it in the United States.