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Category:    Home > Reviews > Martial Arts > Samurai > Drama > Japan > Portrait Of Hell (1969)

Portrait Of Hell (1969)


Picture: C+     Sound: C-     Extras: C     Film: B-



Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1951) is such a world cinema classic that anything its author Ryunosuke Akutagawa wrote that became adapted as a feature film should generate occurrent interest.  Such is the case with Shiro Toyoda’s Portrait Of Hell, a 1969 drama about set in Japan’s Heian era a thousand years ago when a powerful minority ruled through terror, a lesson that history seems to be repeating lately.


However, this becomes more than a tale about elitism and an ugly life, but about character and the title refers as much to the repression as it does the return of the repressed for the dictator in the story.  Part of this comes out of the conflict between the evil Lord and a painter who quarrel about what he paints.  The Korean painter wants to paint what he sees as the truth, but the Lord wants censorship and propaganda.  That includes not portraying those whose lives he is ruining.  The film runs 95 minutes and has some moments of brutal violence, but still has its points where it drags on.  Otherwise, it is worth a look.


The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image was not shot in TohoScope, but Panavision and that alone makes this Toho production unique.  The colors are fine from the restored print, yet there are some limits with the detail.  Otherwise, cinematographer Kazuo Yamada delivers some beautiful camerawork typical of Toho at this time.  However, the Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono sound is a larger problem in that it is shrill and problematic throughout.  This is as bad as several of the Dolby 1.0 Mono tracks from Criterion in being down a few generations and having sudden highs and lows that are out of balance.  Extras include text cast and crew bios, text program notes and both the theatrical teaser & trailer.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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