Branded to Kill, the wildly perverse story of the yakuza's rice-sniffing "No. 3 Killer," is Seijun Suzuki at his delirious best. From a cookie-cutter studio script, Suzuki delivered this brutal, hilarious, and visually ins... more »pired masterpiece-and was promptly fired. Criterion presents the DVD premiere of Branded to Kill in a pristine transfer from the original Nikkatsu-scope master.« less
"I was inspired to seek out Branded to Kill as it's one of Jim Jarmusch's favorite films, and he's one of my favorite filmmakers. You could say that his interest in Japanese pop culture first came to the fore in Mystery Train, the darkly comic tale of two Japanese tourists on a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Elvis. But it's Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, which mostly clearly takes its inspiration from Seijun Suzuki's bizarre, yet strangely beautiful Branded to Kill. Certainly, the external trappings are different (Suzuki's film is in B&W, it's set in Japan, RZA most definitely did not compose the soundtrack, etc.), but the central characters are cut from the same inscrutable cloth. Arguably, Ghost Dog also takes its inspiration from another non-American noir released in '67--Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai with Alain Delon as, you guessed it, a bird-loving hitman of few words (a film that, in turn, inspired John Woo's The Killer).
Branded to Kill plays like a cross between an American noir from the 1950s (Kiss Me Deadly), a French New Wave post-noir (Breathless, Le Doulos), and a Japanese "art" film (Woman in the Dunes). At first, you think Goro (Jo Shishido) is one odd dude (with his chipmunk cheeks, weird rice obsession, insatiable libido, etc.), but then you meet the women in his life... Both of them, his wife (Mariko Ogawa) and butterfly-obsessed mistress (Mari Annu), are about as strange as it gets (so strange--and downright kinky--that accusations of misogyny would not be completely misplaced).
If you've been looking for something different, you've found it in Branded to Kill. If the plot is as incomprehensible as that of The Big Sleep, it doesn't really matter. It's all about the look and feel of the thing, best exemplified by the set pieces, which can be quite spectacular (and were constructed more out of ingenuity than cash). Recommended as much to fans of Jarmusch and Melville as to fans of Takeshi Kitano, another helmer who's mastered the art of the silent, sympathetic hitman. And you'll never look at a butterfly the same way again--or a bowl of rice, for that matter.
Trivia note: Masatoshi Nagase (Mystery Train, the Suzuki-inspired Most Terrible Time of My Life) also appears in Pistol Opera (2001), Suzuki's sequel to Branded to Kill (released when Nagase was a year old!)."
What's It Worth?
Kathy Fennessy | 11/21/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Honestly, I was expecting a New Wave film, but what I got was a film that, stylistically, compares with the New Wave, but fails to achieve New Wave pathos. But that doesn't mean "Branded to Kill" is a bad film, it just means you have to look at it from a different perspective: The film is fluff, substance is style. It's lack of cohesion seems to be an intellectual bluff rather than a conscious, "artistic" convention. Therefore, the film should be compared to the films of Roger Corman and the Blaxploitation era. "Branded to Kill" seems like the Asian precursor to films like "Hard Boiled" and "The Killer". BTK's action scenes are inventive and frenzied. They are not "realistic", but they fit within the film's tone, which is unrealistic anyway. Everything is over the top, and the film has that "go for broke" feeling of the New Wave. You have to admire Suzuki's moxy, which suits the era and environment in which the film was created. In the interview on this disk, Suzuki says his films were meant to be strictly entertaining. That they are. "Branded to Kill" is one of the most entertaining films I've ever seen, besting even some of Roger Corman's films. It's both maddening and exuberant, and a great example of perverse cinema."
Ridiculous Sublime Yakuza Masterpiece
Christopher L Beckwith | 03/09/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The term "visionary" gets thrown around alot, but "Branded to Kill" redefines it. This '67 black and white will leave your jaw hanging. Yes, partly in incomprehension, but also in stunned awe. A stylistic tour de force that is still news and way hipper than anything you'll see at the mall multiplex. The coolest classic around."
Another winner from Criterion
Thomas Aikin | San Diego, CA | 05/27/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I bought this DVD on a whim after doing some background research. Somehow the typical Japaneseyakuza action film cut-up and combined with surrealism and a Noirish sheen appealed to me. I certainly wasn't disappointed. I was Actually, I was amazed at how many levels "Branded to Kill" worked. Its over the top black humor (at time almost slap stick)was delightful. The characters were complex and the plot engaging though deliberately made hard to follow. I've haunted by the complexity of the ending for a few days now. Visually the film is a masterpiece, and heavily debted to the French New Wave. I disagree with the Widescreen Review of the picture and sound quality as the picture looks to be faithful recreation of the original. I think the washed-out contrastless black is quite beautifully done and portrayed. This film was certainly a big influence on Tarantino and I'm pretty sure it is QT behind the camera on the exclusive interview of Seiuchi Suzuki (a great bonus). Highly recommended for fans of gangster films, Japanese film-making, noir, and new-wave all rolled into one."
Never seen anything like this; Yakuza existentialism
Kathy Fennessy | 05/20/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Japanese Noir? If such a thing is possible, I guess this is it. Although I think that the more recent Beat Takeda movies are closer to the classic American form that Suzuki's stuff. Am I detecting the influence of the French New Wave in this film? Existentialism seems to manifest itself in different ways throughout the film particularly in the numbering of the yakuza killers. I was amazed by the really strong erotic content but found some of the violence cartoonish (not neccessarily a bad thing). If you buy this, and I strongly reccomend that you do,don't try very hard to figure it out as you go along. Just ride along with it and it will take you to some very dark, and bizarre, places."