Hanada (Number 3 Killer) lives his life day by day being a yakuza assassin. He and his wife live in their high-class, trendy apartment. One day, a mysterious woman by the name of Misako confronts him with a kill or be killed contract offer. Hanada pursues her and desperately wants to make love to her in his small bedroom, littered with dead butterflies pinned to the wall. Hanada takes her contract, but when the crucial moment comes up, (ironically) a butterfly messes everything up for him. An innocent victim has been killed and according to the yakuza way, he must pay for his mistake with his life. With a story filled with violent gun battles, back stabs, and deceit, Hanada ultimately confronts the ultimate killer, Number 1. In one of the most intimidating and intriguing stand offs ever, Seijun Suzuki's Branded to Kill is not easily forgotten.
Not only is Branded to Kill one of the pioneers of it's genre, but it marked the first time a director was fired because he was too creative for the producer's own good. Seijun Suzuki was fired by his employers after he completed this film. The masterpiece got the rebellious director fired (He was warned if he made another confusing film that doesn't make any sense, he be booted.) Thirty or so years later, Mr. Suzuki took his employers to court and successfully sued them! Up to this day, the stunning and masterful director continues to direct films along with the new generations of rebels and visionaries.
Well, that's enough of the history behind this movie, on to the actual review!
Our hero (I use the term lightly), Hanada, a.k.a. Killer Number 3, enjoys women, killing (which he's damn good at), and the smell of boiling rice. Wait you say, boiling rice? Did I just read that right? Indeed you did little grasshopper, boiling rice. Along with his skills in killing and lust for the ladies, he gets turned on by boiling rice. Not even some of the recent movies can compete with that on weirdness. One of the biggest fortes of this film is the characters. Hanada is no doubt one of the strangest, but at the same time, coolest assassins to ever grace a movie. His obnoxious and very loud wife makes you feel that he only married her soley for the purpose of sex. In one of the longest and bizarre sex scenes, Hanada gives it to his wife and then smacks her around and orders her to make some boiled rice and then proceeds on more sex. You know Hanada is one sick puppy, but he just so lovable (not to mention the overblown cheeks)! The very dark and very mysterious Misako entices our little Hanada and teases him like mad. Sure, nothing is revealed about her past, but in a sense that's better because then you get to think up your own sick past for her. She's strangely deconstructive in behavior, but weirdly attractive at the same time.
A Branded to Kill review would not be a good Branded to Kill review if you don't mention Killer Number 1. Throughout most of the movie he's this faceless bad ass that you just cant wait to see on screen. When he finally does, he doesn't fail to meet expectations. In one of the most thrilling collection of stand-off sequences (and sometimes funny as well), Number 1s ingenuity and panache is clearly displayed. There's a reason why he's Number 1, and you'll see it. When the surprise comes in before the finale, you feel just as cheated and deceived as Hanada.
Another outstanding factor in this masterpiece is the stunning action sequences. Seijun's directing of the chaotic and violent scenes are near perfect! I'm not exactly a huge fan of his rough and rebellious editing skills, but in some of the gun fight scenes, you can't help but go My god, that was sweet as pecan pie. You'll be cheering on for Hanada's skills every time you see a gun in hand.
Artistically, this film is beautiful. It was filmed in black and white, and I wasn't expecting much. The choreography skills took complete advantage of every shade between the black and the white. This is probably the only time a black and white movie can look so colorful! Each scene captured the essence of the environment and reproduced it to such a stunning degree, that you could almost smell the dead butterflies or the hot boiling steaming rice. The film closes with a scene that is present in many films. But unlike those other films, the one in Branded to Kill, paired with the clever lighting and pure insanity, makes the cliched finale something to cheer about.
Seijun Suzuki's Branded to Killâ is nothing short of a masterpiece. Even though the film dates back to the 1960's, not even some of the modern day yakuza films can compare to the beauty, artistry, style, colorful characters, gun fights, bizarre factors to this movie. This film comes highly recommended.
Simply amazing (except for the mono audio). The picture quality is crystal clear and even though the sound is in mono, it still sounds pretty damn good. The subtitles are easy to read and just right. The best part of the DVD is the special features. Again, Criterion shines with an exclusive interview with Seijun Suzuki (with subtitles). There's also a picture gallery of Jo Shishido, where you can check pictures of him before and after the infamous cheek implants. This DVD is a must buy for any old school Japanese film fans!
This Region 2 disc offers a nice, fairly sharp transfer with strong blacks and is clear from any obvious scratches. There’s no complaints with the English subtitles which are clear and grammatically correct, and the soundtrack shines in all of its mono glory. The review copy we received didn’t include any of the special features, but the release will contain an interview with Seijun Suzuki (which is exclusive to this UK release), an essay written by film critic and historian Tony Rayns, as well as a Trailer Reel.