one chapter of the Heiji Rebellion, Lady Kesa serves as both the Trojan Horse
and the Helen of Troy figures. The lady-in-waiting bravely volunteers to
impersonate her mistress in the hope she can lure away the attacking Minamoto
clan. However, her courage inadvertently causes her samurai escort to fall
recklessly in love with the married noblewoman. Tragedy is inevitable in
Teinosuke Kinugasa’s Academy Award winning Gate
screens this coming Friday as part of the Japan Society’s Monthly Classics series.
Lord Kiyomori, the warrior-monk leader of the ruling Taira clan is away from
the palace, the Minamoto forces target the emperor. Initially, their attack
seems so well timed, many turncoats join the Minamoto, including Morito Endo’s
opportunistic brother. Remaining faithful to Kiyomori and the emperor, Endo guards
the Lady Kesa’s decoy carriage, allowing the real emperor and empress to slip
out the back gate. Meeting Lady Kesa later after the tides of battle have
turned, the roughneck Endo is struck by her courage and grace.
fact, Endo is so smitten, he asks Kiyomori to arrange their marriage when the
general ceremonially rewards his loyal warriors. Kiyomori is willing enough
until he learns thee good Lady is already married to the high-ranking Lord Wataru
Watanabe. Much to his own appalled surprise, Endo continues to press for the
favor granted in haste. Kiyomori tries to arrange some cooling-down meetings,
but they have the opposite effect. Endo is obsessed with Lady Kesa and will
resort to any sort of dishonorable violence to possess her.
two years after Carmen Comes Home, Gate of Hell was the first Japanese
color film to screen widely internationally. Again, this was definitely a case
where Kinugasa got his money’s worth of Eastman Color. Ironically, the vivid hues
of the Kodak process were very nearly lost to posterity, but they have since
been restored to their original vibrancy. There are indeed some visually
striking, exquisitely crafted scenes, such as the use of scroll paintings and outfits
so lush they garnered an Academy Award for best color costume design (in
addition to the then equivalent of the best foreign language Oscar).
legendary Machiko Kyō is at her most ethereal as Lady Kesa. She seems like she
is as much orchid as she is woman, yet her character is proactive rather than
passive. In a way, the overly enflamed Endo is nearly as piteous a figure.
Kazuo Hasegawa duly expresses all the compounded insecurities of a provincial samurai
with a treasonous brother. The blue-blooded effeteness of Isao Yamagata’s
Watanabe completes the perfect storm of tragedy.
of Hell title is somewhat misleading, potentially priming contemporary
audiences for something along the lines of Jigoku.
In this case, it refers to the arch where Kiyomori hangs the decapitated heads
of his enemies. It is metaphorically appropriate for Endo, who spends a good
deal of time brooding there. This is one of the most achingly beautiful, deeply
passionate, and remorsefully angst-ridden Jidaigeki films ever. Highly
recommended, it screens Friday (1/8) at the Japan Society in New York.
Labels: Japanese Cinema, Machiko Kyo, Teinosuke Kinugasa