Archive of discussion on the PMJS mailing list (January, 2000)

"Gate of Hell"

Question raised by Jonathan Dresner

Discussants: Robert Borgen, Michael Watson, Tom Conlan, Robert E. Morrell, Karel Fiala

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From: Jonathan Dresner
Date: Wed, 12 Jan 2000 13:17:35 -0600
Subject: "Gate of Hell"

I showed the 1953 movie "Gate of Hell" to my students, which seems to have been a reasonable success. One thing I was wondering, though: is it (the tragic relationship, I mean; I know the Heiji Disturbance is factual) based on a known incident or story, or is it entirely fabrication? It reminds me of the morality tales in the Konjaku, but I only have access to the Ury collection, and it isn't in there.


Jonathan Dresner

From: Robert Borgen
Date: Wed, 12 Jan 2000 12:41:29 -0800
Subject: Re: "Gate of Hell"

A number of years ago, I too began to wonder about the source of the story "Kesa and Morito" (that's the name used by Akutagawa's version of the story--translated in Takashi Kojima's Rashomon and Other Stories--upon which "The Gate of Hell" is also based). I discovered that the anecdote first appears in Genpei Seisuiki (or Genpei Jousuiki, take your pick), a sort of expanded version of The Tale of the Heike. The only edition I could find of it at the time was unannotated and very "Chinesey" (i.e., difficult to read), so I put it aside. I believe annotated editions are now available, but I haven't gone back to check them out. The only significant detail I remember is that, after Morito becomes a monk at the end of the movie, he takes the name Mongaku and goes on to play a conspicuous role in The Tale of the Heike.

Michael Watson surely knows far more than I about this subject, and I hope he can fill in further details, but, since I did spend a few hours pursuing the matter once upon a time, I thought I would use this opportunity to publish belatedly the results of my inquiries.

Michael: We await further enlightenment on the subject!

Robert Borgen

From: Jonathan Dresner
Date: Wed, 12 Jan 2000 14:58:10 -0600,
Subject: Re: "Gate of Hell"

Robert (and all),

Well I'll be! I even have that collection on my shelf; that might explain why it seemed so familiar. I also await with anticipation more details, but it is good to know at least that there is some classical basis for the tale.



From: Tom Conlan
Date: Wed, 12 Jan 2000 17:18:25 -0400
Subject: Re: "Gate of Hell"

Just a bibliographic note: the best annotated version for the Genpei
(Seisuiki) that I know is edited by Ichiko Teiji and published
in four volumes by Miyai shoten. (Volume 4 was published in 1994).
Unfortunately, this volume ends at maki 24, and I have no idea when (or
if) the other 24 maki will be published.

Tom Conlan

From: Robert E. Morrell
Date: Wed, 12 Jan 2000 22:27:56 -0600
Subject: Re: "Gate of Hell"


Some years ago I also had occasion to show "Gate of Hell," and spent more
time than I should have tracking down antecedents. Not surprisingly, the
self-sacrifice of wife Kesa has a distinctly Confucian ring to it, and the
bones of the plot seems to have originated in a Han morality tale, whose
source eludes me. Then it appears again in the Gempei joosuiki (sorry,
no chapter and verse), and also in Akutagawa's quirky "Kesa to Morito"
(1918), trans. in Keene's Modern Japanese Literature, pp. 300-306.

Personally, I think it ranks among the greatest Japanese films. Would
that we had more of them.


From: Karel Fiala
Date: Thu, 13 Jan 2000 13:33:23 +0900
Subject: Re: "Gate of Hell"

The story conceiving Mongaku as Morito is present also in other versions
of the Heike, e.g. in the Enkei-bon (= Enkyoo-bon), dai 2 no maki no sue, dai 2 dan. (Some gunki monogatari experts, e. g. Mizuhara Hajime or Ogawa Eiichi, consider this version of "Heike" to be older than others. Certainly, it is older than Seisui-ki and much easier to read). However, even this story is not the oldest. Kesa gozen of Seisui-ki is according to Enkei-bon "Toba kyoobu-zaemon no onna" or "Toba Akiyama Kyoobu-zaemon Naganori no tsuma" (Shibu-hon, it gives even some data: spring 1165), "Toba no naishi" (Ryoosokuin-bon and otogi-(zoo)shi "Saru-Genji").

According to Tomikura's "Zen Tyuusyaku" the story is just a fiction,
but it is almost certain that Mongaku was of Endoo clan and was "Watanabe zaijuu"("Zoku-gunsyo-ruijuu": son of Endoo Tamenaga).
The story of "Kesa gozen" as a reason for his "shukke" "at the age of
19" is also in Nagato-bon, which is thought to have a common source with the "Enkei-bon" and has effected "Seisui-ki" to a considerable extent. The Nagato version can be recommended for reference, it might preserve an even older version than Enkei.

In the 19th century, the Czech poet Julius Zeyer found inspiration in
Kesa and Morito' s story in his romantic work on Gompachi and Komurasaki (he merged parts of these stories). The work is one of the sources of Central European Japonerie.

Karel Fiala

From: Michael Watson
Date: Thu, 13 Jan 2000 18:48:48 +0900
Subject: Re: "Gate of Hell"

The Kakuichi recited version of the _Heike monogatari_ 5.7 "Mongaku no
aragyoo" introduces Mongaku, lay name Endoo Musha Moritoo. There is a
detailed account of his "austerities" but only the briefest mention of why he became a monk: "at the age of nineteen he experienced a religious
awakening and took religious vows" (borrowing McCullough's renderings of "aragyoo" and "dooshin okoshi" from p. 178 of her translation).

For dramatic events which led him to we have to look to the longer "yomihon" versions of the Heike, to Genpei josuiki--as already mentioned--or to the earlier Enkyo-bon or Nanto-bon, Nagato-bon, etc.

The story of Kesa and Moritoo appears in the first episode of Genpei
josuiki, book 19, "Mongaku hosshin no koto." It is a longer and more
involved story than I remembered, vol. 3, pp. 19-29 of the best complete
edition available (_Shintei genpei josuiki_, 6 vols., ed. Mizuhara Hajime,
Shinjin oraisha, 1988-1991). As it in book 19, Tom Conlan will still be
able to read the episode Ichiko's incomplete edition.

Of the two editions, I find Mizuhara's edition the easier to read--perhaps
because it is kanji/hiragana rather than kanji/katakana. Both are well
annotated. Mizuhara's contains also the valuable notes of the early modern Mito-han historians.

The Japanese Akutagawa's text of "Kesa to Moritoo" (1917) is available
online, together with many other of his works:

Akutagawa's version consists almost entirely of two soliloquies (dokuhaku). It depends on readers' knowledge--or supposition--about what will happen. The last sentences describe Kesa lying in the bedchamber, candle extinguished, so that Moritoo will not realize that he is killing her rather than her husband, as planned.

In the GJ version, Kesa and Moritoo have been lovers for three years. Kesa tells Moritoo to kill her husband, saying that she will wash his hair, make him drunk, and put him to sleep in the "takadono" (tr?). Moritoo creeps in the house in the dead of night, and finds the wet hair. He cuts off the head, wraps it in his sleeve and returns home, jubilant. It is only when he hears that Wataru's wife has been killed does he take out the head, discovering to his horror that it is Kesa's....

The Genpei josuiki finds a Chinese parallel for her self-sacrifice.

Michael Watson

From: Karel Fiala
Date: Fri, 14 Jan 2000 09:23:25 +0900
Subject: Re-re: "Gate of Hell"

P.S.: There are probably more data concerning "Toba kyoobu". You should
try to check them. On the other, also the Chinese story quoted in this
context in the "Seisuiki" should be examined. It might be one of the
sources of the story and its co-occurrence with the story might be a reflection of an early version. To read the story, as it is reported in the "Shibu Kassen-joo" version of the "Heike" Tale, I could recommend you to consult Prof. Hattori's "kun-yomi" version of the "Shibu".

From: Michael Watson <>
Date: Fri, 28 Jan 2000 19:14:57 +0900
Subject: Re: Extreme kakekotoba? (+Gate of Hell)

[...] while looking through materials to add to the translation webpage I came up with another retelling of the Morito/Mongaku story I...] The main character in the Muromachi tale "Saru Genji zoshi" gives a detailed account of the Morito story. The otogizoshi has been translated by Edward Putzar as "The Tale of Monkey Genji (Monumenta Nipponica 18 [1963]: 286-312). There is also a German translation ("Das Buchlein vom Possenreisser-Genji" tr. by Nelly & Wolfram Naumann, Die Zauberschale..., 1973, 303-316.)

Michael Watson

Page edited 2001/01/27

PMJS discussions for January, 2000 included following subjects

  • "Gate of Hell" (Jigoku Mon)
  • "Kana Classic" CD-ROM
  • Extreme kakekotoba" (also archived)
  • EAJS conference (Aug. 2000)
  • AAS conference (March 2000)
  • kogo jiten (dictionaries of classical Japanese)
  • the role of aviaries / Genji screen
  • A near complete log of messages for the month can be seen here:
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