Branded to Kill
The Criterion Collection
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(Feb 23, 1999)
The Criterion Collection
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THE WILDLY PERVERSE STORY OF THE YAKUZA'S RICE-SNIFFING NO. 3 KILLER, IS SEIJUN SUZUKI AT HIS DELIRIOUS BEST. FROM A COOKIE CUTTER STUDIO SCRIPT, SUZUKI DELIVERED THIS BRUTAL, HILARIOUS, AND VISUALLY INSPIRED MASTERPIECE AND WAS PROMPTLY FIRED.
Seijun Suzuki's absolutely mad yakuza movie bends the hit-man genre so out of shape it more resembles a Luis Bunuel take on Martin Scorsese. Number three killer Goro Hanada (Jo Shishido) is a hired killer who loves his work, but when he misses a target after a mere butterfly sets his carefully balanced aim astray, he becomes the next target of the mob. Goro is no pushover and easily dispatches the first comers, leaving them splayed in death contortions that could qualify for an Olympic event, but the rat-a-tat violence gives way to a surreal, sadistic game of cat and mouse. The legendary Number One mercilessly taunts his target before moving in with him in a macho, testosterone-laden Odd Couple truce that ends up with them handcuffed together. Kinky? Not compared to earlier scenes. The smell of boiling rice sets Goro's libido for his mistress so aflame that Suzuki censors the gymnastic sex with animated black bars that come to life in an animated cha-cha. Because Suzuki pushed his yakuza parodies and cinematic surrealism too far, his studio, Nikkatsu, finally called in their own metaphoric hit and fired the director with such force that he was effectively blackballed from the industry for a decade. It took about that long for audiences to embrace his audacious genre bending--Suzuki's pop-art sensibilities were just a bit ahead of their time. --Sean Axmaker
- Exclusive interview with director Seijun Suzuki
- Vintage Japanese film ephemera from the collection of John Zorn
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After being handed a basic cardboard script about a contract killer, Director Seijun Suzuki shattered all expectations of studio conformity. He presented an outrageous little yakuza film that shocked and enraged the powers that be. This blatant deviation from the typical routine got him promptly fired and blackballed in the industry for a decade.
Meet Goro Hanada, an expert assassin-for-hire. He's currently ranked #3 killer in the land, and he's quite an odd cat--a chubby cheeks sex maniac with a penchant for sniffing rice? Not quite what you'd expect. He accepts different missions as he aspires for that #1 ranking.
This film is very much a parody of the yakuza genre. The story moves fast and jumps quite a bit with a high level of surrealism and absurdity. It's crazy fun, but a bit hard to follow with your first watch.
There are several insane moments that will leave you shaking your head. Like when one of his targets gets a bullet hole in his head while washing his hands over the sink. Where'd the bullet come from?!? You later see Hanada screwing the pipe back together that leads up to the sink drain. Haha, that's a heck of a shot!
The story is continually a sporadic jumble of combustible madness, ready to explode at any moment. Brimming from beginning to end with crazy gun fights, comical buffonery, and wild sex scenes, this is a ground-breaking dose of madness that is well deserving of the Criterion treatment. Branded to Kill had a heavy influence on several filmmakers, including John Woo and Quentin Tarantino.
Rating = ***
Director: Seijun Suzuki
Producers: Kaneo Iwai et al.
Film = barely three (3) stars; subtitles = 2.5 stars. Director Seijun Suzuki's ludicrous and nonsensical movie provides an excellent (and, perhaps, definitive) "textbook" illustration of what not to do when making a film intended to be taken seriously (and to turn a profit). Things immediately (and appropriately) start off on the wrong foot with a Criterion disc menu that is all but impossible to navigate due to poor design and choice of colors. And the opening credits include a crooner whose crooning and talking is not subtitled. (Most signs and other writings are not subtitled either.) The film's first act is focused on stunning stunts of shot gunmen and totally nude (and highly mobile) actresses and female performers; the second act deals a lot with falling water in the form of rain and bathroom showers; and the final act inventively plays around with two killers bent on killing each other while sharing the same living space (a real predicament when one has to use the restroom!). Cinematography (wide screen, black and white) is second rate with the lighting of interior scenes often among the missing (especially early in the film). Acting ranges from pure ham to nonexistent. The lead actor looks like he has a chronic case of the mumps as a result of facial plastic surgery! A scene where this mumpy character talks back to a home movie is the Director's unsubtle invitation for the viewing audience to talk back to his movie. The script (if there ever really was one) is replaced by forced improvisations (screaming often substitutes for dialog). Of course, there is no discernible plot (although many scenes have their own micro plots--a movie with a collection of plot-lets). The score consists of okay jazz rifts. Sound dubbing is usually obvious but fine (the screech of tires when different vehicles careen around corners is individualized--unusual for Japanese films of the era). It's a bit of a mystery why this film has not (yet) become more of a cult classic. Perhaps it just isn't bad enough. WILLIAM FLANIGAN, PhD.