Branded to Kill (1967) Review

"Branded to Kill" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Branded to Kill" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Seijun Suzuki
Writer: Hachiro Guryu
Producer: Kaneo Iwai, Takiko Mizunoe
Cast: Jo Shishido, Mari Annu, Mariko Ogawa, Koji Nambara, Isao Tamagawa, Hiroshi Minami
Running Time: 91 min.

By Milkcan

I must say I am very glad to have seen this film. Did it make me a better person? No. Did it teach me things about the cinema I never knew? Well, no. But it did, along with “Super Ninjas”, remind me of how much mindless fun movies can be. “Branded To Kill” certainly ranks near the top of the list of guilty pleasures; it’s a gangster film noir directed by Seijun Suzuki, layered with a shade of violent, perverse quirkiness. The story involves the Yakuza’s No. 3 hitman, played by Joe Shishido, who botches an assassination job and ends up on the run for his life. Suzuki took this “cookie-cutter” script (as described by the Criterion Collection DVD release), and blended it with a dark sense of style.

Several “legendary” tales surround “Branded To Kill”: Suzuki would go on to be fired for directing the film the way he did (the studio producing the movie, Nikkatsu, claimed it made no sense). He wasn’t able to direct a film for 10 years. The main star, Joe Shishido, altered the look of his face for the part by having his cheekbones raised through surgery. Yes, surgery. And there is also the story of how the filmmakers avoided trouble with censorship laws by utilizing several clever techniques during the movie’s more risque sequences. The end product of these efforts and consequences? One of the most enjoyable and cool cult classics out of Japan!

This is not a yakuza picture with characters you feel for or even cheer for: people in the film range from cold-blooded killers, sexpots, drunks, necrophiles, and those with a fetish for the smell of rice. The actors and actresses chosen to play these parts couldn’t have been better. The gangsters can stir up some laughter; their dialogue consists of conversations about the different rankings of hitmen, who is in the top 5, the mysterious No. 1 killer, and how the life a hitman leads can take it’s toll. I particularly liked how Suzuki, through the use of hallucinations, made it apparent that these killers live in a world where everything, and anyone, is of suspicion. Above all, “Branded To Kill” has style going for it. The dark lighting and the full use of the Cinemascope bring out an unusual, intoxicating, gritty atmosphere. The film’s environments consist of various places throughout the mega-city, but are given a unique twist with some bizarre imagery. Creative camera angles, up-close shots, wide-screen shots, and shadows all excentuate the violent, sexual, and gothic artistry of the scenes. Also on note are the action sequences, which play out beautifully. They’re smart, well-thought of, bone-crushing, and nicely choreographed. To top it off, the musical score suits the film perfectly; the theme song can’t be beaten and the background music is decadent, haunting, and reminiscent of a Western.

The bottom line: “Branded To Kill” is a stylish and weird pulp masterpiece that belongs on everyone’s recommended viewing list.

Milkcan’s Rating: 10/10

By Slaxor

To paraphrase a famous quote “LSD is one hell of a powerful drug”.

I love this movie. It’s not perfect, but what parts I do love about it are.

So what’s not perfect? The middle portion. It just drags on for probably about 10-15 minutes too long.

The movie can be broke down in to three sections.

1) Our star, the No.3 Killer, goes around doing jobs and offing people – like the swank motherfucker he is – in creative ways that I still haven’t seen done to this day.

2) Our star runs in to a bit of trouble and a tripped-out love story unfolds; after it’s done unfolding and perfectly is developed, it just kinda sits there and ends up a little longer then I would have liked.

3) The question is raised, ‘Who is numbah 1?’ and the journey to find out is on.

After seeing this movie with a buddy, who was the only person out of a group to survive the middle portion, we would answer the phone when either of us called each other with the line “Who is numbah 1?” everytime, for about a month or two after seeing this. If you’ve seen the movie you would fully understand this and also get a little giggle out of it.

I would follow the trend and give this a perfect ten, but I’m docking a point for the dragged out middle portion.

Slaxor’s Rating: 9/10

By Woody

Brutal eroticism, dark humour, great action scenes, beautiful B&W cinematography, one of the coolest leading men EVER, and an absolute lack of dimensions like time and space make this one of the best, yet most puzzling, films I have ever come across.

Describing the plot of this film is pointless. Any plot description would make this sound like a generic Yakuza flick. If anything, this is not a generic movie. If David Lynch, Jean-Luc Godard, and John Woo got together to collaborate on a movie, the result would be something along the lines of this bizarre masterpiece, only not as strange.

Jo Shishido stars as Hanada Goro, one of the coolest, most fucked in the head character’s I have ever come across. Hanada, the Yakuza’s “No. 3 Killer” seemingly has it all: a bizarre rice fetish, a nymphomaniac wife, a nice pad, and an easy job. Things start unravelling, though, when he takes a job from a young gothic woman, in which he has three seconds to shoot his mark. He misses and hits a woman, and a contract is put out on him. Upon returning home, Hanada is shot by his always-nude wife and left for dead, as his house burns around him. Escaping, he goes to the apartment of the gothic girl, and…describing any more would be a fulltime job. It all culminates between a greatly staged showdown between Hanada and the Yakuza’a “No. 1 Killer”. I think.

This is a dreamlike, surreal masterpiece. Dead butterflies, bizarre, well-staged action, great music, nudity, rough sex, a rice fetish, pissing down a sock into a shoe, Shishido’s collagen cheek implants, butterflies landing on rifle barrels, some more sex, a gothic chick in Japan in 1967, a dead bird handing from a car mirror, and an absolute disregard for the rules of cinema make this one of my favorite films.

This film is perhaps best known as the film that got Seijun Suzuki sacked from Nikkatsu Studios, who told him that the film “didn’t make sense” and accused him of “uncommercial and unprofitable film making”. After winning a case against them, for violation of his contract, Suzuki was blacklisted and no one would produce or show his films. Thankfully, Suzuki was able to rebound and bring us such classics as “Zigeunerweisen”, “Mirage Theater”, and “Yumeji”.

Suzuki is one of the true masters of cinema. His direction and planning is so good that the bizarre, outrageous excess of the film eventually starts to make sense, in it’s own twisted way. The action scenes, the love scenes, everything is well filmed and well edited, and shows that Suzuki wasn’t on psychotropic drugs when he made this film. No folks, this is how he intended the it to be.

All in all, if you are looking for something different, this is the film for you. It’s funny, it’s troubling, it’s strange, and will leave you with a bit of a headache, but you won’t regret it. Worth owning.

Woody’s Rating: 10/10

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