BLU-RAY REVIEW: BRANDED TO KILL / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: SEIJUN SUZUKI / SCREENPLAY: HACHIRO GURYU, TAKEO KIMURA, CHÛSEI SONE, ATSUSHI YAMATOYA / STARRING: JÔ SHISHIDO, KÔJI NANBARA, ISAO TAMAGAWA / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Little Tarantino was definitely taking notes when he got his magpie eyes on Japanese cult classic Branded to Kill. With its hitman in a sharp suit and shades, its jazzy score and frequently surreal visuals, this monochrome abnormality is just the kind of thing the Kill Bill director would dig out from the bottom of his memory box when piecing together a super-cool contemporary homage to Japanese cinema.
Branded to Kill was released in 1967, the same year as both Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai and John Boorman’s Point Blank, and there must have been something in the water as this trio smoothly slipped their way onto screens. It angered (and no doubt terrified) its producers but has since been heralded by filmmakers who have been influenced by it ever since.
Jô Shishido is Hanada, the ‘No. 3 Killer’ at the centre of the story. After edging his way up the Japanese hitman league table to number two, he then messes up a job and thus becomes not the hunter but the hunted. To complicate matters, he falls for Misako, a morbid femme fatale.
The black-and-white visuals and shady characters scream noir, while the frequent slappings dished out to female characters (often in the bedroom) make it tough to stomach at times. The eclectic score oozes cool and it all looks the business, but with disorienting angles and befuddling editing, Branded to Kill can be frustrating. It is certainly not lacking in action, either when bullets are flying, sex is steaming or when Hanada is relishing a post-coital rice sniffing. It’s an odd little fetish for a main character and just one more interesting touch that makes the film stand out from the average piece of straightforward crime cinema. With some striking imagery and memorable character traits, Branded to Kill has much to recommend it, but despite all the bullets flying and bodies piling up, its idiosyncrasies never allow it to fully satisfy.
Extras: Interview with director Seijun Suzuki / Interview with star Shishido by critic and author Koshi Ueno / Trapped in Lust, Original Trailers for Branded to Kill and Trapped in Lust