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


IMAGICA in Japan recently

restored several major titles,

including such classics as Gate

of Hell (Jigokumon) and A Diary

of Chuji’s Travels (Chuji tabi nikki:

Goyo hen).

Gate of Hell is the fi rst

Japanese feature fi lm shot on

EASTMAN Color Negative

Film 5248 / Tungsten EI25.

Directed by Teinsuke 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 fi lm 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 fi lm,” explains

Norimasa Ishida, IMAGICA

Corp. technical advisor. “Sadly,

the original camera negative

fi lms 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 fi ner 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

postproduction. They helped

us to understand the early

color motion picture process.”

Originally, three-colorseparation


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-colorseparation


master positives were very

carefully created,” notes

Miura. “In Japan, as the

quality of intermediate films

increased, three-colorseparation


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

Hell understood the intention

of art and color of the fi lm,

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 fi lms are not as

internationally viewed as

Hollywood content, it is not

widely known that Japanese

fi lms 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


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-andwhite

print. Made in 1927 and

considered one of the best

fi lms 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 fi rst tinted fi lm

restoration project with NFC

was in 2008, and we have

completed about 17 tinted

short fi lms to date including

animation, documentary,

short fi lm and toy fi lm,”

says Yoshihiro Matsuo,

IMAGICA West Corp. fi lm

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 fi lms.”

Surviving materials were

tinted nitrate positive fi lms

which were stored in NFC’s

storage. The materials were

seriously damaged, and dyes

were mostly faded.

Not many Japanese fi lms

from the 1920s and 1930s

survived, but archival groups

fi nd one from time to time.

Tinted print fi lms 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

fi lms was extremely diffi cult,

but we had another challenge

after printing, which was

tinting,” notes Matsuo.

“As tinted fi lms 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 fi lm 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


The question then arose,

should it be tinted in black

and white or restored using

the fi lm color process? “We

decided to tint in black and

white as we felt that this best

replicates the original state of

the fi lm,” says Matsuo. “Also

in black and white, the print

image consists of silver so the

black is cleaner and more pure.

In the color fi lm 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 fi lm but also restore the

past motion picture techniques

from scratch. “If the original

title is made on fi lm, I believe

we should preserve on fi lm

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 fi lm, and the

aesthetic impression from the

combination of dyes and silver

are only replicable on fi lm.

“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.”


Across top: Scenes from Gate of Hell before

and after restoration (Photo ©1953 Kadokawa


Bottom: L-R Kazuki MIURA, archiving specialist

at IMAGICA Corp, Norimasa ISHIDA, technical

advisor at IMAGICA Corp.

Right: 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)

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