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.
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The number-three-ranked hit-man, with a fetish for sniffing boiling rice, fumbles his latest job, which puts him into conflict with a mysterious woman whose death wish inspires her to surround herself with dead butterflies and dead birds. Worse danger comes from his own treacherous wife and finally with the number-one-ranked hit-man, known only as a phantom to those who fear his unseen presence. Written by
When Nikkatsu studio executives saw the finished product, they thought it was too terrible to be released, so they shelved it. Director Seijun Suzuki along with others in the film business, film critics, and students protested in unfairness since by contract Nikkatsu was supposed to release the finished film theatrically. It went to court, with a ruling in favor of the director. Nikkatsu had to pay for damages and have the film released. Suzuki's contract with Nikkatsu was terminated, and with the bad reputation, was unable to work on a feature film for the next 10 years. See more »
Suzuki dispenses with narrative convention in this acid-jazz noir-ish nightmare
Much has been made of how weird and off-beat Branded to Kill is. However it is important to consider it as part of Suzuki's progression through film-making. Before you can break the rules, you have to master them. Suzuki did so in several of his earlier pictures, from Underworld Beauty to Tattooed Life. And every time he was called to deliver a run of the mill yakuza flick, he infused it with his personal style. More and more he fractured the visual language of cinema every time, until he got rid of it or transformed it into a psychotic beast for Branded to Kill, revealing what lies beneath.
A plot synopsis would read something like this: Jo Shishido is killer Number #3 with ambitions of becoming Number #1. Who is Number #1? Does he even exist? That is until he's called to transport a client safely. The borders between realism and surrealism blur hopelessly at that point and what follows is a nightmarish concoction of beautiful set-pieces that lead up to his final confrontation with Number #1.
Saying that Branded to Kill is weird is an understatement. In turns fascinating, confusing, nonsensical, surrealist, psychotic, thrilling, poetic, nightmarish, confusing, tiring, mind-numbing and exhilarating, it defies description as much as it defies sense. The boundaries of time, space and logic are blurred and all you can do is experience the ride. It doesn't try to make much sense and apparently Suzuki made it up as he went along. The result was to be fired by Nikkatsu Studios for delivering a picture that "made no sense". I don't blame them really. Studios are businesses and Branded to Kill is not a movie with massive appeal. Ahead of its time in that aspect.
Filmed in beautiful black and white, with a languid jazzy score and a film-noir ambiance, Branded to Kill will certainly appeal to people with strange tastes. Don't go in expecting a yakuza action flick (although there are several gunfights and enough action to go along) or you'll be sorely disappointed. As an indication of the uncharted territories Branded to Kill's treads, I'll guesstimate that fans of Eraserhead-era Lynch, Koji Wakamatsu and Singapore Sling's style will appreciate it. I can't say "like it", because ultimately that's between the viewer and Branded to Kill to sort. Either way, it has to be experienced at least once. Just sit back and let the surreal absurdity of it all wash over you...
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