Branded to Kill: Criterion Collection
January 4, 2006
Seijun Suzuki cut his teeth on pop musicals, comedies, action and war films. Over time, he became impatient with his status as a B-movie director while some of his peers were making A movies. Often stuck with substandard screenplays, the frustrated director decided to mess around with the style of his films, in particular Branded to Kill (1967) despite Nikkatsu studios warning him to tone it down. The studio president hated the film and it was removed from distribution and Suzuki was no longer given projects. It took years of legal wrangling to clear his name.
Goro Hanada (Shishido) is a professional killer, a hitman who likes to sniff steamed rice. He’s ranked number three among killers and looking to make his way up to the top spot with a bullet but the competition is fierce. His world is turned upside down when he accidentally kills the wrong person on a job and becomes an outcast in his profession, much to the chagrin of his wife Mami (Ogawa) with whom he has a weird, psycho-sexual relationship. Hanada hooks up with Misako (Mari), a mysterious femme fatale with a dead butterfly fetish and whose future aspiration is to die (“I’m already a corpse anyway,” she says at one point).
Suzuki finds inventive ways to stage Hanada’s hits, like one rival, mortally wounded assassin who covers himself with his own jacket before expiring or when Hanada kills his target through a bathroom sink pipe (which was referenced in Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai) or another shown mostly from his point-of-view.
Filmed in moody black and white, Branded to Kill is an atmospheric gangster film – the Japanese version of film noir with its extensive use of shadows and hard-boiled characters. The film starts off as a fairly standard crime film but as it progresses, Suzuki incorporates more and more unusual stylistic elements coupled with increasingly bizarre behavior by his characters that stretch the conventions of the genre. Branded to Kill is Japanese New Wave cinema at its most extreme with Suzuki flying in the face of the mainstream with his experimental tale of the rise and fall of an assassin.
There is an interview with director Seijun Suzuki and assistant director Masami Kuzuu about working on Branded to Kill. The studio had no projects so Suzuki and several of his screenwriting friends wrote a script that he shot. They talk about the casting of the actors and tell several filming anecdotes.
Actor Joe Shishido talks about how he had plastic surgery to further his career as a leading man. He is quite a character in this entertaining interview as he talks about his career.
Also included is a 1997 interview with Suzuki at a retrospective of his films. He talks about working for Nikkatsu. His solution to dealing with scripts that weren’t good enough was to make the final film, “fun and entertaining.”
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.