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A hit-man, with a fetish for sniffing boiling rice, fumbles his latest job, putting him into conflict with his treacherous wife, with a mysterious woman eager for death and with the phantom-like hit-man known only as Number One.
Stunning compact stuff by Suzuki in his best period.
Suzuki doesn't have a minute to spare in what Nikkatsu probably intended as another flipside programmer for their double-bills. He has to get things going fast so we get a procession walking through a sweeping panorama of purpleorange skies and we get flashes of a brief swordfight and then someone is shouting "Bring me back my wife Oshige!!" and we cut to three years later. General Suzuki knows what he's doing though, Nikkatsu wants a potboiler from him and he'll give them what they want except it's going to be his way. He leaves the mass of the movie to battle it out in a field as two rival yakuza factions rival for control of the building of a dockyard, the usual ninkyo eiga tropes take place there, yakuzas club each other to death in shouty overactivity and among them stands the noble yakuza who wants to do good and falls in love with a shy geisha (we're in Toei territory here, the kind of film that made Koji Tsuruta and Ken Takakura huge stars in 60's Japan, before Fukasaku rolled in with his anarchic yakuza fiends who had nothing noble about them), while he sends the rest of the movie on a flanking march through scrubby oak and thorny undergrowth deep in the rear.
When the flank catches up with the rest of the movie, we're among obviously artificial mounds of snow near a train station exchanging sword blows with a mysterious figure dressed in black suit and cape like a villain escaped from a Nemuri Kyoshiro movie, and we then discover exactly whose wife Oshige really is and the movie explodes with genuine emotion. For my taste, rebellious/frustrated Suzuki of subsequent movies exchanged the iron discipline of a strict genre movie for something that looked impressive but often meandered directionless with nothing to do, and while most critics are looking at the obviously stylized and "artsy" of Branded to Kill for their praise, Suzuki was doing some of his best work at around this point. Hollywood very rarely saw film-making of this quality in the early 60's.
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