Gate of Hell and A Diary of Chuji’s Travels Restored

Published on website: May 25, 2012
Categories: Archiving , Film Capabilities , Intermediate Film , Lab and Post Production , Archiving
Scenes from Gate of Hell before and after restoration (Photo ©1953 Kadokawa Pictures)
Scenes from Gate of Hell before and after restoration (Photo ©1953 Kadokawa Pictures)
Scenes from Gate of Hell before and after restoration (Photo ©1953 Kadokawa Pictures)
L-R Kazuki MIURA, archiving specialist at IMAGICA Corp, Norimasa ISHIDA, technical advisor at IMAGICA Corp.
A restored and dyed positive from A Diary of Chuji’s Travels. (Photo courtesy of National Film Center, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo)

Gate of Hell is the first Japanese feature film shot on EASTMAN Color Negative Film 5248 / Tungsten EI25. Directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa in 1953, this movie was awarded the Grand Prize in Cannes in 1954 and also won two Academy Awards®.

The restoration was a joint project of Kadokawa Pictures and the National Film Center (NFC) of the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, who conducted research and led the project as film archivists. The intention was to faithfully restore the original 1953 look of EASTMAN Color Film.

“We found surviving materials in three-color separation black-and-white master positives, color dupe negatives, and a release print of the film,” explains Norimasa Ishida, IMAGICA Corp. technical advisor. “Sadly, the original camera negative films were lost. We compared the three materials and chose the most information-rich master for each scene. In some scenes, only the release print was available and in those instances, we had to later erase the English subtitle with Reliance MediaWorks’ partnership and support.”

After the project planning, the actual restoration process took over six months. “The most difficult part was the re-registration of the RGB separated images,” says Kazuki Miura, IMAGICA Corp. archiving specialist. “The films were shrunk by aging, and could not stabilize with the pin registration of today’s scanners.”

“One of our members came up with the idea of customizing the registration pins of the scanner by physically curving it for this project, and this achieved finer alignment and worked out well throughout the rolls,” says Ishida. “Several IMAGICA retirees were brought back for the projects as they were actually involved with the original post production. They helped us to understand the early color motion picture process.”

Originally, three-color-separation black-and-white master positives of Gate of Hell were not made. For domestic release, direct print films were used. But as the film started getting acclaimed internationally, the studio decided to create dupe negatives for further demand of the release print. “That is why the three-color-separation black-and-white master positives were very carefully created,” notes Miura. “In Japan, as the quality of intermediate films increased, three-color-separation black-and-white master positives were no longer made after a while.”

The next step was grading. Kadokawa and NFC agreed that color should be graded to reproduce the look of 1950’s EASTMAN Color Film. “Fortunately, legendary front-line cinematographer Fujio Morita (JSC) who was a camera assistant on Gate of Hellunderstood the intention of art and color of the film, and was able to supervise the grading to revive the vibrant look,” says Ishida. “Kadokawa and NFC were very happy and excited to see the restored EASTMAN Color Film.”

Miura explains that because Japanese films are not as internationally viewed as Hollywood content, it is not widely known that Japanese films are being restored on a regular basis. In addition to NFC, major domestic studios have also been investing in their heritage titles over the past seven to eight years.

“The aim of restoration varies depending on the country or archivist,” adds Ishida. “In Japan, the aim is often to revive the original look. This means researching past technologies as well as the intentions of the filmmakers — instead of making improvements or enhancements in addition to the original image, although it is possible with today’s technology.”

The digitally restored master was recorded to KODAK VISION3 Color Digital Intermediate Film 2254, and printed on KODAK VISION Color Print Film 2383.

A Diary of Chuji’s Travels is a silent, tinted black-and-whiteprint. Made in 1927 and considered one of the best films of the pre-war period in Japan, this three-part epic had been lost for a long time, but in 1991 a large part of it was found by chance in Hiroshima.

“Our first tinted film restoration project with NFC was in 2008, and we have completed about 17 tinted short films to date including animation, documentary, short film and toy film,” says Yoshihiro Matsuo, IMAGICA West Corp. film processing specialist. “The digital restoration project of A Diary of Chuji’s Travels is a sole-project of NFC, but we had an opportunity to work on the title. NFC’s intention was to restore tinted print films.”

Surviving materials were tinted nitrate positive films which were stored in NFC’s storage. The materials were seriously damaged, and dyes were mostly faded.

Not many Japanese films from the 1920s and 1930s survived, but archival groups find one from time to time. Tinted print films fell into disuse as talking pictures became more popular because tinting would degrade the quality of the soundtrack.

The restoration process involved reinforcing and manually cleaning the surviving materials. A digitally-restored black-and-white dupe negative was then made, and printed on KODAK Black-and-White Print Film 2302 for tinting. “Working with badly-damaged nitrate films was extremely difficult, but we had another challenge after printing, which was tinting,” notes Matsuo.

“As tinted films from that era are generally quite faded, we closely studied the surviving materials, especially around the perforation area where more dyes remained than image areas. We also researched past restored titles for references and then decided how much tint was appropriate for Chuji. We discovered that three different dyes were used for tinting, depending on scenes, and we tinted the film accordingly. We had never tinted a feature-length title, so in order to stabilize colors and density, we needed to modify our specially designed tinting processor.”

The question then arose, should it be tinted in black and white or restored using the film color process? “We decided to tint in black and white as we felt that this best replicates the original state of the film,” says Matsuo. “Also in black and white, the print image consists of silver so the black is cleaner and more pure. In the color film process, it is like making a color photo copy, so discrepancies in color occur. You cannot achieve uniform color in an original print.”

They were able to not only bring back the original look of the film but also restore the past motion picture techniques from scratch. “If the original title is made on film, I believe we should preserve on film because being faithful to nuance in the original media is the essential factor in preservation and restoration,” says. Matsuo. “The texture of black-and-white film, and the aesthetic impression from the combination of dyes and silver are only replicable on film.

“I feel tremendous responsibility with my work,” adds Matsuo. “We learned about tinting techniques of 100 years ago through this project, and now it is ready to pass down to the next generation. I feel I am standing in between the past and the future, and that makes me feel very proud.”