Friday, December 4, 2015

Jingokumon - 1953

Known in English as "Gate of Hell"

I'm not sure if I'm going to keep putting serious movies on this blog or not.  If anyone read this blog, I'd simply take a poll, or ask for comments or something.  There's not many, and in a way I figure that they could easily transition out without anyone knowing.  I have pretty much decided not to do any more reviews of new movies, or pretty much anything after the year 2000.  Sure, you might see the odd thing pop up, but I think that is going to be the exception from now on.  Like my interest in movies, this blog is going to stay firmly rooted in the years 1950-2000.

Well, if normal movies are your interest, you could read my reviews of Moebius and A Colt is My Passport.  I might have done others, but those two stick out cause they are Asian.  *two minutes go by* No, I did just check and I really haven't reviewed anything else that sticks in here.  I did watch The Living Skeleton, as well as Kuroneko and probably some other things, but I guess I didn't review those.  The point here, is kind of this:  I have a thing for classic Japanese movies.  Why, I don't know, probably cause I'm fuckin awesome.

Gate of Hell starts out in an odd way.  I guess it makes sense in retrospect, but don't judge it by the first 20 minutes.  Loyal warrior Morito is battling for the survival of the emperor or someone, and he fights a rival clan.  They disguise a local volunteer as the Emperor's wife, and protect her from the rival gang.  Turns out the rival gang includes Morito's own brother, who has turned against the Emperor.  Morito successfully protects the pretend-wife, and stays loyal.  But during this, he falls in love with the woman (Kesa) who volunteered to fill in for the Emperor's wife.

They have one brief dialogue scene pretty early on where we can see they do have a mutual attraction, and then later on they meet again.  This time they speak through Kesa's aunt for a little while, as it would be considered impolite to not address the elder woman (you have to know a little bit about Japanese custom in some of these movies).  So, we know that Morito is into Kesa, and she seems like maybe she is a little into Morito.  He respectfully goes through the proper channels to make her his bride, asking the Emperor who he protected so valiantly.  That's when he learns she is in fact already married.  Morito loses it, and decides he cannot live without her.  Rather than back down, which is the respectable and "correct" thing to do at this point, he pursues her anyways, to the point of planning to murder her husband.

The title is great.  I love it especially because, early on in the film, when Morito is guarding the Emperor and all, they kill one of the rival gang members, and hang his head above a doorway.  They refer to this as the Gate of Hell.  One would think that's where the title comes from; but indeed it is not.  See, the movie is drawing a distinction between that: death, and love.  Would you rather face death and disgrace or would you rather live without the woman you love?

Another thing I loved about this movie is that Kesa's husband is just a solidly good guy.  He's not in the movie that much, but he is so remarkably likable, so simplistic and good-natured.  He doesn't understand what Morito's all about, and why Kesa is so worried, but he is a strong, dependable, lovable man that only wants the best for everyone. Kesa is well played by Machiko Kyo, a veteran actress who was in Rashomon and Ugetsu.  She does a great job as a woman who, perhaps through a minor fault, or perhaps just through circumstance, is caught up in a horrible situation.  We are never clearly and definitively told whether she actually wants to be with Morito or not.

Spoilers.  In the end, we know that someone has to die.  Morito has almost forced himself on Kesa, and she has agreed (under strong duress) to assist with her own husband's murder at the hands of Morito.  She goes home and has an emotional, loving last night with her husband Wataru. She begs him to sleep in her bed, then takes his place in his bed.  She turns out the lights and falls to sleep....knowing that at midnight Morito will come in and stab her, thinking it's Wataru.  The plan goes exactly as predicted.  Later, when Wataru holds her body, he asks the same words that us as the audience have been wanting to know:
"Why did you not confide in me?  Why did you not trust me enough to tell me what was going on?"

It's a great moment, and it's acknowledging the situation.  If pride, if lust, if emotion and ritual and regiment was not in place, it would've been so easy for her to tell Wataru, for this whole situation to have been avoided.  But this was not the time or place.  Things went out of control too fast, and just like in Romeo and Juliet, the perfect coincidence happened to make everything turn out as worst as it possibly could.

Well shot, well acted, and a classic minimalist story,  A story that transcends to all lives, everywhere.  I give it 4 stars.

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