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Branded to Kill (The Criterion Collection)
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Branded to Kill, 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. Criterion presents the DVD premiere of Branded to Kill in a pristine transfer from the original Nikkatsu-scope master.
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
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Top Customer Reviews
Forget that this film is Japanese, has subtitles, and was released in 1967. This film is a classic masterpiece. Heck, even the director got fired after its release. The film is fast paced and beautifully shot. The musical score is so smooth and keep in mind, we're talking no special effects. There is a scene where a man is literally on fire for over 20 seconds.
All in all, the story is straightforward. A Yakuza gangster is hired to kill 4 people. He learns that he is the Yakuza's third best killer. He does not know who the #1 killer is but he wants his spot. The women in this film are beautiful and the action is intense. Take a chance and see why this film has inspired so many over the years.
No wonder no one got the joke back in 1967, especially not director Seijun Suzuki's bosses at Nikkatsu. They were a studio which prided itself on being the #1 purveyor of cinematic yakuza mayhem, and when they saw Suzuki's middle-finger salute to a genre he thought was getting tired and repetitive, they made sure he didn't work in that town again for at least a decade. But Suzuki had the last laugh: not only did he come back in triumph (and is now currently recognized as being one of the greats of Japanese cinema), he even got the chance to sort-of-remake "Branded" as "Pistol Opera" at the ripe young age of 81.
Watching "Branded to Kill" now, it's easy to see why it drove the Nikkatsu suits up the wall. The "hero", Goro (Jo Shishido, with his chipmunk-like facial implants), is the #3 hitman in Japan, gunning for the top slot after the mob turns against him. See, he was given this assignment, and after he screwed it up (a butterfly landed on his gunsight), the rest of the mob went gunning for him. He returned the favor, in between boff-sessions with his girlfriend. Goro is one weird egg, all right: he gets sexually aroused by the smell of cooking rice. But he's nothing compared to the #1 hitman, to whom he gets handcuffed to for most of the third act in a "Defiant Ones"-like plot twist.
But you know something? The plot is scarcely even the point. In fact, Suzuki makes his contempt for the by-the-numbers script by reducing all its most important elements to throwaways and focusing on the weird, mannered elements that make the story so pungent.Read more ›
Obviously the emphasis is on style, and it's here by the truckload. The story of a yakuza whose manic drive to be Killer Number One--instead of his current Number Three status--it shows the protagonist, Hamada, nonchalantly shooting a woman, assassinating a few other guys (one with an amazingly comic plumbing technique), and, near the end of the film, vying with the real Number One for that very spot. When you hear Japanese spoken throughout the film, it's just as comic (if not more so) to hear whoever refers to their killer ranking in Japanese-inflected English: "Number One", "Number Three", etc.
The main musical theme of the film is without question an homage to the Ennio Morricone soundtracks of numerous spaghetti Westerns, and every time a gunshot is heard, it has the same echoing twang heard among the canyons of the same genre of film. The sex scenes are highly erotic--taking this far from the realm of a traditional noir--and the scenes of gunplay often verge on the hysteric.
Yet noir this is; near the end of the film, Hamada is shown in an extended sequence of overt paranoia--will the real Number One kill him even as he walks around his own apartment? And the black-and-white cinematography, the occasional odd angles of shots, and the markedly cynical bent of the entire film mark it as such, no question.Read more ›
Branded to Kill plays out like a cross between an American noir from the '50s (like Kiss Me Deadly), a French New Wave post-noir (like Breathless or Le Doulos), and a Japanese "art" film (like Woman in the Dunes). At first, you think Goro (Jo Shishido) is one odd dude (with his chipmunk cheeks, wierd rice obsession, insatiable libido, etc.), but then you meet the women in his life...both of whom, his wife (Mariko Ogawa) and butterfly-obsessed mistress (Mari Annu), are about as strange as it gets (so strange--and downright kinky--in fact, that accusations of misogyny would not be completely misplaced).
If you've been looking for something different, you've definitely found it in Branded to Kill. If the plot is as incomprehensible as that of, say, The Big Sleep, it doesn't really matter.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
This review is for the Criterion Collection DVD edition of the film.
This move is one of the most odd gangster films I have seen. Read more
I really can't understand how people see this movie as being "incoherent" or "boring". Maybe I've seen too many mst3k movies... Read morePublished on Feb. 2 2004 by lovesliescrushing
My Television has become the talk of the town thanks to those nifty "Color Bars" on this heaven sent DVD... Read morePublished on Jan. 23 2003
An anti-hero hitman who sniffs steaming rice. How much more off-the-wall can you get?
Suzuki does some amazing stuff with this movie. Read more
...I just had to chime in with a WOW. So "this is how No. 1 works"? Stunningly shot in BW, insanely scripted, and lovingly acted: I wouldn't trade this movie for all the rice... Read morePublished on June 18 2001 by Devon Athans
I think the term "incoherent" is flung around far too much in reviews, when they actually mean "implausible. Read morePublished on April 7 2001 by Dan Seitz
The term "visionary" gets thrown around alot, but "Branded to Kill" redefines it. This '67 black and white will leave your jaw hanging. Read morePublished on March 9 2001 by Christopher L Beckwith
Honestly, I was expecting a New Wave film, but what I got was a film that, stylistically, compares with the New Wave, but fails to achieve New Wave pathos. Read morePublished on Nov. 20 2000
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