“Gate of Hell”(4K Digitally Restored Version) was screened at 30th Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) presents Special Night Event at Kabukiza Theatre on October 26th. At the end of the screening, both Japanese and foreign audience members gave a giant round of applause for its beautifully revived colors. This topics takes a closer look at how to restore.
On October 27th, TIFF Co-Hosted/Allied Events held a seminar titled Seminar about digital restoration of classic film – Featuring “Gate of Hell” – as the Subject Matter at Roppongi Academy Hills 49 Auditorium. “Gate of Hell” won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 1954 and Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and Costume Design in 1955. The seminar explained how the degraded film was restored through digital techniques and provided a valuable opportunity for the participants to watch the restoration process.
Movie Film Degeneration— That’s why we keep them on film
Yoko Arai (IMAGICA Corp. Archiving & Restoration Group, Production Department, Movie Production Division) stepped up onto the podium to discuss the current state of movie films.
“Most movie theaters no longer screen movies on film. Members of the younger generation might not even be aware that is how movies were once screened on films. However, back then it was the norm, and the film itself was considered the piece of work.
There are three symbolic occurrences that led to the degeneration of movie films— the bankruptcy of Eastman Kodak in 2012, Fujifilm shutting down the production of shooting and screening films in 2013 and the declining number of movie theaters playing movies on films (3392 out of 3472 movie theaters in Japan screened on digital. * As of end of Dec. 2016, according to survey by Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan, Inc.)
The business sphere of IMAGICA is a very extensive one. However, in the recent years, digital restoration of films is apparently becoming its main business.
“Films are known for their susceptibility to damage just from using them. Damage surfaces in various ways as the film ages—shrinkage, scratches, cracks, and fades. Although films are originally flexible, these damages occur as they age. We must act quickly before the damage extends any further.”
Film Restoration Process —First comes Manual Work and then Digital Restoration
The films are firstly restored manually before the digital restoration. The technicians begin by inspecting and repairing the original film. It involves repairing chipped films and returning shrinking films to their flexible state.
“However, there is a limit to these kinds of physical repairs, so once it is finished, the technicians move onto the digital restoration. From here on I will explain about the digital restoration process. Films are analog, so they must be converted into a machine-readable format.
The resolution, bit depth, and frame rates (24 fps).
Film digitalization involves converting those elements into digital data. I have been working in this field for over ten years, but we were still using analog television when I first began, so it was common to play in SD (Standard Definition). After came HD (High Definition) television and Blu-ray standardization, and HD resolution became a common format.”
Complete restorations like “Gate of Hell” require advanced digital technology.
“Higher definition means heavier data, and the current 4K and 8K formats are very heavy. Because digital restoration are performed on computers, the data size directly affects the difficulty of the operation. However, we wanted to succeed in restoration a 4K format. Movies are often filmed on a 35-mm film, which is said to require a 4K definition when digitalizing in detail. When I first began doing this work, we could not handle anything larger than SD, but in the recent years, it has become possible for us to work with 4K digital restoration.”
Returning Movies to Films for the Next Generation in This HD Era
The subject of this seminar, “Gate of Hell” (4K Digitally Restored Version), was screened at 30th Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) presents Special Night Event at Kabukiza Theatre and is also available on Blu-ray.
What is the aim of digital restoration?
“One the film is digital restoration, we record films to burn the data back onto a film.
We start with a damaged film, restoration the film manually, digitize, digital restoration, color grade, create a digital master, and burn it back onto a film. You might wonder why we are burning it back onto a film after digitizing. It is because films last longer— they will last a century if it is kept at the correct humidity and temperature. If you think of how hard disks, commonly used for simple data storage, last about ten years, I think you’ll understand that films are more than able to last for much longer. IMAGICA suggests keeping data in both film and digital formats. Our wish is to deliver images as they are to the present and future audiences.”
KADOKAWA’s Digital Restoration Project
Next on the speaker was Masakazu Itsukage (KADOKAWA CORPORATION, Home Entertainment Department Senior Manager). He spoke about the original copy preservation and restore projects at KADOKAWA from the standpoint of copyright holders.
“In 2002, Daiei Film transferred its goodwill to KADOKAWA (*then, KADOKAWA Shoten), and KADOKAWA succeeded the Daiei Film rights. “Gate of Hell” (1953) was Daiei Film’s first Technicolor film. We have about 1800 films in our library.”
2KADOKAWA began the Original Copy Preservation Project in 2004 and has been restoring and preserving original film copies with funding from KADOKAWA Culture Promotion Foundation. It involves transferring the original films from a warehouse in the filming studio in Chofu to a different warehouse in Sagamihara with a much better environment storing environment, as well as inspecting and cleaning the films.
“We ranked the films according to their level of damage and began working firstly on those that could not be played at all. Back then, it was not digital but manual restoration. This was Phase 1— our aim was to restore for preservation with the funding from KADOKAWA Culture Promotion Foundation. However, the funding was limited. Therefore, we founded a cross-departmental library project in 2014 as our Phase 2, to not only preserve but also play the films. We digitalized while marketing, preserving, and operating the films under the KADOKAWA Cinema Collection label, mainly screened at a film festival held twice a year but also making them available on for playback via DVD, TV, and streaming.”
Passing on to the Next Generation—Keeping the Films as They Were
KADOKAWA works on many projects with the aim of passing down the videos on to the next generation, including a film festival held twice a year, streaming, TV broadcasting, making films available in Blu-ray and archived film screenings. They also revitalized Daiei works as an interdisciplinary project and have received funding from J-LOP (VIPO) and JAPAN FOUNDATION. 4K digitalization advanced as a part of these efforts.
“Restoration refers to the following as defined by National Film Center (The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo). It is to identify unique specifications of degraded and damaged films, perform comparative research with the same work on a different medium, and use available materials and techniques to restore the work as closely as possible to its authentic state based on personnel interviews and references. My understanding is to recreate the precise conditions of the film’s first screening.
“Gate of Hell”—4K Digital Restoration Process
Let’s take a look at how “Gate of Hell” was digital restoration in 4K.
“In 2011, analog TV broadcasting was replaced by digital TV broadcasting. NHK believed that it was best to repair and broadcast films to highlight the HD audio and visuals since viewers complained about how films appeared differently on TV. NHK took an interest in our suggestion, “Gate of Hell”, and granted funding. This repairing process was filmed as a documentary was also aired on NHK.”
The first step was to build a structure and choose a work. The next was what to start to restore.
“It would have been best to restore the work from the original negative, but “Gate of Hell” negative had been lost, so we used three color separated films which were the next closest in terms of the time of its production. Next was deciding on who we were going to work with. “Gate of Hell” was Eastman Color’s first work, and Toyo Genzojo (now, IMAGICA) offered support in building a new color development factory, so we selected IMAGICA as the restoration lab and requested assistance from the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo Film Center which is the only Japanese institution in International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF).”
Jean Cocteau, a judge at Cannes Film Festival, called it “the pinnacle of beauty”.
So we needed expert eyes to restore the film in 4K.
“The next in importance are the supervisors. We had Fujio Morita, an assistant cameraman in the original work, supervise the visual and Mototsugu Hayashi, an expert on Daiei audio, supervise the audio. The “Gate of Hell” 4K Digitally Restored Version became possible with the help of many individuals and the power of IMAGICA. “
IMAGICA’s Philosophy of Restoration
After the talks, “Gate of Hell” was played on the screen, and Kensuke Nakamura (IMAGICA Corp. Archiving & Restoration Group, Production Department, Movie Production Division) demonstrated the restoration process using the actual tools. This was the first time to reveal the process, and the attendees watched in awe his precision as the images came back to life.
At the end of the seminar was a screening of the “Gate of Hell” in HDR specifically produced for this occasion. Using its original film format to their advantage, the technicians were able to bring out vivid colors never before seen. A large crowd had accumulated in front of the HDR monitor at the venue. Arai concluded by saying, “The most important thing is to preserve the video as they were filmed. However, there are further possibilities with 4K digitalization. We want to take on new challenges to have more people find an interest in classic works. To do so, we will work together with KADOKAWA and other professionals to perform reconstructions and solve problems, so that we can pass down the film to the next generation in good shape.”
The restoration work of “Gate of Hell” resonated with and materialized KADOKAWA’s feelings to shed light on past images and became the first step in unleashing the endless possibilities of imaging. That night made us think of the bright future of imaging.
“Gate of Hell”
Vivid colors breathe life into an extensive and tragic love story set in the Genpei period (the end of 11th century to the end of 12th century) having been passed down since Heiji (the mid-12th century).
Set in the late Heian period (794-1185), a samurai serving Taira no Kiyomori, Morito (Kazuo Hasegawa), meets a beautiful woman, Kesa (Machiko Kyo), on the battlefield. Morito learns she is a married woman but is unable to give her up. He makes countless approaches but is rejected, making him want her even more. Morito displays his rivalry to her husband (Isao Yamagata), but her husband, being a gentleman ignores him. Morito begins threatening Kesa that he will murder her husband and relatives if she does not accept him.
Director/Screenplay: Teinosuke Kinugasa
Cast: Kazuo Hasegawa, Machiko Kyo, Isao Yamagata, Yataro Kurokawa, Kotaro Bando
Director of photography : Kohei Sugiyama
Editor: Shigeo Nishida
Color Advisor: Sanzo Wada
Awards: Grand Prix at the 7th Cannes Film Festival
Best Foreign Language Film and Best Costume Design at the 27th Academy Awards, and others
＊The COVER STORY is the one before the merger to IMAGICA Lab.Inc.. The company name in the text is when we have interviewed.