20 August 2014

Blu-ray Review - Branded To Kill (1967)



Genre:
Crime, Action, World Cinema,Cult
Distributor:
Arrow Video
rating: 15
Director:
Seijun Suzuki
cast:
Jô Shishido, Kôji Nanbara, Isao Tamagawa
buy:Branded to Kill [Dual Format DVD & Blu-ray]

Seijun Suzuki is often called the Japanese Samuel Fuller. He is best known for his surreal Yakuza films in the late 60s such as Branded to Kill and Tokyo Drifter. He made 40 films for the Nikkatsu studio between 1956 and 1967 and they got increasingly surreal with time. The studio eventually fired him, but he won a lawsuit for wrongful dismissal and was blacklisted but has been making films since the 80s. He is better known as a director in the west, but is also known in his native Japan as an actor due to numerous roles on TV and film.

Branded to Kill is his best-known film due to American directors like Jim Jarmusch and Quentin Tarantino citing it as a big influence on their own work. It’s about a Number Three hit man Hanada who gets a hard-on from sniffing boiling rice (I’m not making this up) who messes up his latest job. His wife turns against him after his career goes down the drain and he meets a femme fatale who likes dead butterflies and birds that tries to kill him but falls in love with him instead. The mysterious number one hit man is planning to assassinate Hanada.

It’s a rip-roaring absurdist surreal bit of Japanese New Wave of the 1960s. Suzuki’s influences were Manga, Pop Art, Early Godard and Film Noir. Suzuki has always said he just tried to make his films as entertaining as possible; it’s full of satire and humour as well. It partly satirizes the conventions of 50s noir and, even to an extent, the early Bond films. The film’s cinematography is breathtaking; Suzuki even used animation to get past the censors by animating on top of the prohibited imagery.

The film was hated, and on its release it was called “incomprehensible” by the critics and even the boss at the studio who never got the film, even at its script stage. Despite that, the film has become a cult classic in the 40+ years since its release; Jim Jarmusch described it as “Probably the strangest and most perverse 'hit man' story in cinema." Arrow Video has released the Blu-Ray debut of Branded to Kill in the UK, it has a beautiful HD transfer and features short interviews with Suzuki and the film’s star Joe Shishido, and even a 70s porno remake. 


★★★★★

Ian Schultz


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