Branded to Kill (1967)
Spine No. 38
the directing: Seijun Suzuki
the writing: Hachiro Guryu
the acting: Joe Shishido, Koji Nanbara, Annu Mari
Every description of Seijun Suzuki’s Branded to Kill begins with some statement of how the film got him fired. Not so cleverly, I have done the same for you here. Yet, this action is an important indicator for getting a worthy perspective of the times in 1960’s Japan. Ultimately, it is up to the viewer to decide whether or not Suzuki was ahead of his time, but there can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that this film pushed cultural boundaries to their limits.
A year after Tokyo Drifter Suzuki stayed within the realm of Japanese crime with Branded to Kill. Hanada (Joe Shishido), the No. 3 contract killer in Japan with a need to sniff boiling rice, is set on a course of various targets with the ultimate goal of becoming No. 1. After messing up a job, Hanada becomes a target himself, involving betrayal, numerous gun fights, his growing love for Mariko (Annu Mari), an insane woman with a death wish, and a game of death with the mysterious No. 1 (Koji Nanbara).
Suzuki’s style is unlike anything before or after him in that it constantly changes from film to film. Making comparisons to his previous films can often be hard to do for this reason, but not necessarily impossible. Like Tokyo Drifter the audience is given close to none exposition. Therefore, we are either expected to keep up or already know the situation. This may sound like poor filmmaking to the contemporary audience, but this style is very much a writer’s dream. This allows explanation through actions, images, and settings, thus making the dialogue much more realistic and to the point. Either Suzuki believes that or just doesn’t care.
A film made up of sex, guns, and violence, Suzuki succeeded in creating the film he wanted. Branded to Kill is entertaining in its absurdity, giving the audience the rare ability to stop caring about “why?” It is unfortunate Suzuki was fired from his studio, resulting in his hiatus from the feature spotlight. The film world needs filmmakers to be “out-there,” different and unpredictable, or dare I say “crazy.” Not knowing adds to an inspiring filmmaker’s inspiration. Seijun Suzuki gave us that.
The Bonus Features:
the essay: “Reductio Ad Absurdum: Suzuki Seijun’s Branded to Kill” by Tony Rayns
the interviews: 2011 interviews with Seijun Suzuki, assistant director Masami Kuzuu, and Joe Shishido/1997 interview with Seijun Suzuki
The Rayns essay is interesting as it delves into the events leading up to and after Branded to Kill. We get a quick backdrop of Suzuki’s early life and how he entered the film industry. But the majority of the focus is given to his relationship with film company Nikkatsu, which at no point seemed to have any positives. Makes you wonder how one could make forty films with a company they seem to loathe. By the end of the essay Rayns transitions to the film itself, touching on Suzuki’s stylistic approaches. Although the essay is much shorter than I would have liked, Rayns is able to successfully share a plethora of valid information in a diminutive amount of space.
Suzuki and Kuzuu share the first 2011 interview as they talk extensively about Branded to Kill. Fortunately for Tony Rayns, both men back up many of the points he made giving much credibility to each side. They talk about the film’s making of, actors, politics, and overall reception. For me, the most intriguing part of the entire interview was how these two filmmakers were able to humble my mind. Often when you watch a film like Branded to Kill, one looks for the hidden message or the overall social critique. Plainly put, these men made the decisions they made for the distinct reason of making their film exciting and funny. Other than that, they stand firm on the notion no other higher or deeper reason was involved.
Joe Shishido’s interview proved to me that coolness does not evaporate over time. He talks about acting, working with Suzuki, and his cheek implants – he even pulls a gun out at one point during the interview. Highly entertaining, and somewhat informative of the film itself, but mostly highly entertaining.
Fourteen years prior to his first interview, Suzuki looks back at his career as a whole. There are some things that are being restated from the prior interview, but I would argue this interview shows more of the director’s character – he laughs much more. Suzuki’s interview eventually focuses on Branded to Kill, talking about memorable stories and his casting choices. Overall it is a nice portrait of the director with an exceptionally down to earth snippet of him at the very end.
Worth the Criterion: Yes. For one it is tough to find a non-Criterion version of this film, but mostly Branded to Kill is a great buy. The well-crafted bonus features only add to the experience and let’s be honest, this is the movie behind the legend. This film will be the reason Seijun Suzuki is forever inked onto the illustrious pages of film history.
Worth the Link: Yes.