|Gate of Hell d. Teinosuke Kinugasa|
Gate of Hell (1953)
d. Teinosuke Kinugasa
Criterion Collection #653
The first three films to make it out of Japan were Kurosawa's Rashoman, Mizoguchi's Ugetsu and this film all in 1952/1953. The Seven Samurai followed in 1954. That's as solid an example of a specific art scene making an international breakout within a defined time period as you are likely to see in any era. In 1952, nobody knew shit about Japanese cinema, by the end of 1954 it was a thing that people liked.
The significance of Gate of Hell is that it is in color- the first internationally distributed Japanese film in color. Seen in color, the attention to mise en scene/cinematography which defined the first wave of exported Japanese films is in high relief, so to speak. The color in Gate of Hell is eye popping- the purples and reds in particular and the color really overwhelms the film itself, which is a retelling of a tale of obsessive love told against the backdrop of 12th century Japan. 12th century Japan looks almost exactly like 15th and 16th century Japans that I've seen in other films. I love how the Japanese used blocks of wood for pillows! Did that ever stop?
Besides being visually breathtaking, Gate of Hell is a typical "jidai-geki" or historical film- one of the two genres of Japanese cinema (the other being gendai-geki, or contemporary film.) An unrequited love between a warrior and a married women leads to tragedy, the end. Director Kinugasa is a one hit wonder in the Criterion Collection, so there is nothing else by him to watch.