Today I watched Seijun Suzuki’s Branded to Kill (1967)
Branded to Kill is certainly Seijun Suzuki’s most well known film, it got him fired from Nikkatsu for the absurdist nature of the story which let to him being black balled from the Japanese studio system. The story is densely packed and circulates around Hanada, the number three ranked assassin. This may be the first time that a ranking of killers has appeared, this trope has gone on to inspire many similar concepts.
Joe Shishido plays Hanada with an otherworldly sense of cool that slowly breaks down after he fails a nearly impossible job. His failure marks him for death and of course the killer who comes after him is the mythical Number One who uses a unique form of psychological warfare. There is also a love triangle between Hanada, his wife, and a dark, death obsessed woman named Misako. The dense nature of this plot is made possible by a quick, yet inconsistent pacing that adds to a nightmarish atmosphere.
While Suzuki has claimed in interviews that he simply added what he though would make the film entertaining, there is still a certain ideology in the dark, violent tale portrayed in this film. The nature of the plot confronts issues of ambition while Suzuki’s surreal elements seem to focus on death, destruction, and sexual violence. This is the core work in the Nihilistic Cool philosophical strain, highly critical of human nature and reveling in that dark nature.
The low budget creativity on display here is downright inspiring, as the director crafts such a unique and thrilling atmosphere with extremely limited means. The plot flows between quick fire violence and silent reflection with ease Naozumi Yamamoto’s jazzy musical score matches the pacing perfectly. Branded to Kill embraces the cliche of film noir and early gangster cinema and goes on to create a few of its own, parodying everything along the way. This is a timeless piece of cinematic weird, Suzuki breaks all the rules with the deft skill of a true master and it is an absolute masterpiece. 5/5