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3.9 out of 5 stars13
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 9 March 2002
When "Branded to Kill" was released in 1967 it caused quite a stir in Japan. Critics condemned it, the director Suzuki fell out of favour with his boss, the director of the movie company Ninkatsu distanced himself from it and considered it a mistake to have released it. While the presence of the yakuza is minimal in the movie, due to the focus organised crime one can place it in this genre.
And this is likely why the film inspired such uproar. 1967 was still the age of the 'noble yakuza' movie (with as central heroes Tsuruta Koji and Takakura Ken) resembling the samurai films with their honourable wandering swordsmen. They dealt with noble gangsters keeping to the old rules and passing through life with honour who were pushed to the limit by crude (usually western or Chinese) gangster brutes that tried to destroy the Japanese traditional ways. Only later, when Fukasaku Kinji appeared on the scene with such films as "Tarnished Code of the Yakuza", "Yakuza Graveyard", and "Cops VS Thugs", nihilism and decadence became the trademark of the yakuza movie, with Sugurawa Bunta as its leading protagonist.
"Branded to Kill" is a contes cruel, a dark and violent movie with touches of black humour. A professional hitman (no.3 on the national list of best killers) becomes obsessed with a strange girl that hires him. These elements, the tormented hero and the dangerous female, are very prevalent in Japanese cinema in general, as well as the haunting opening song (usually sung by the protagonist himself) about the contents of the movie. When no.3 accidentally shoots the wrong person only his death is adequate atonement for his foul-up. There's a price on his head, and no.1 is the man who's going for him.
From that moment on the movie becomes a roller coaster of gunfights, intrigue, despair, violence, sexual obsession, and existential torment. Unlike Tsuruta and Takakura the protagonist is a lamentable anti-hero that tortures the dazed girl and himself, and tries to stay out of the clutches of no.1. The climax of "Branded to Kill" is absolutely one of the best in any crime movie, and attentive viewers might recognise scenes that have later been copied by later American crime movies.
It is my sincere hope that with the release of these Japanese yakuza movies on DVD we'll soon see the masterpieces of Fukasaku Kinji as well (his recent Battle Royalle, although no yakuza movie, is now also available on DVD). He is one of the most interesting directors of the 70's, and should receive some recognition in the west.
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on 22 June 2006
Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima cranked up the concept of reality T.V a few notches in 1970 when he invited a few of his media pals along to a hijacking of a government building where he then performed seppuku (Ritual self disembowelling) as a protest against the erosion of traditional Japanese values. Japan in the late 60's saw an upsurge of such demonstrations against western influence - an uprising which had seen riots outside the Budokan Sports Arena a few years previously when the Beatles appeared there. Somewhere during this volatile chapter of cultural osmosis director Seijun Suzuki got fired by the Nikkitsu film company for making his masterpiece BRANDED TO KILL.

This maverick film maker was already on thin ice with his fiercely conservative paymasters when his 1966 film TOKYO DRIFTER took the Yakuza (Japanese gangster) genre into new (and thus feared) directions but BRANDED TO KILL was the one that finally broke the chopstick - Rendering the director unemployable for a decade.

BRANDED TO KILL charts the fall and fall of No3 Killer, (Jo Shishido) a down at heel hitman, who bodges an assignment when a butterfly lands on the end of his rifle just at the crucial moment. For this gaff he is now subject to the murderous attentions of the mythical No1 Killer.

Looking like a giant Gopher in a mohair suit and Raybans, No3 Killer finds himself in a bizarre vortex of shadows and monochrome as he attempts to save his girlfriend from being incinerated, get the better of superior Killer No1 and to survive to become No1 himself. His bizarre quirk of using boiled rice as a form of Viagra does nothing to make his journey anymore straightforward.

Surely one of the most beautiful black and white films ever, BRANDED TO KILL is a collision of American `Noir' and giddy Japanese oddness. A genuine cinematic experience - everything within the frame appears to be sculptured from mercury.

Cultural Osmosis is rarely an easy thing, but when it works, the result is often something like the offbeat gorgeousness of BRANDED TO KILL.

Adrian Stranik
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on 3 November 2007
Probably the most bizarre, unusual, avant-arty movie I've seen come out of the 60s. Far ahead for its time and demanding of yours - the viewer must be prepared to pay attention. Well worth a look.
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on 24 April 2016
Thought I would enjoy this more than I did. Felt like I was drugged for some of this. Completely baffled me in parts but some bits were very stylish. Interesting watch if not sure why
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on 20 January 2013
This is truly a very bizarre film. It's surreal, it's like a dream, a nightmare. This is a film that could only be made by a genius like Seijun Suzuki. It's so weird and crazy that led Nikkatsu firing Suzuki.....!!! The cinematography is stunning, the music is fantastic and adds a lot to the atmospere, but above all is the extraordinare perfect direction by Suzuki. Be prepared and pay attention because the movie is diverse! Branded to kill is a really unique and surreal thriller.
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on 19 September 2015
This deliriously violent piece of yakuza surrealism throws genre conventions out the window and instead breaks rules in the best ways imaginable.
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on 20 April 2003
What is it about this film that made me want to see it again and again? I'll tell you, it is quite simply one of the most visually stunning and original films I have ever seen - yes, it is that simple. To those who argue that this film is a case of style-over-content, I would say to them that in this case, style IS content. Unmissable.
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VINE VOICEon 30 November 2007
Given a sequel three decades after the original, a Pistol Opera was viewed by some as a confused & overly experimental film ironically in the same way the original Branded to Kill was. Jarring with a brilliant sense of frenetic energy, the film works on a premise that removes establishing shots as scenes are witnessed fresh without the comfort of knowing. Character action & motivation initialize each moment and desire evolves as key throughout. As a whole it has a sense of fusion akin to its jazz soundtrack; once the viewer becomes accustomed to its language it feels far more natural and less forced than conventional cinema can. The central focus of this film revolves around the hitman, No. 3 Killer Hando, played with a gleeful psychosis by the gerbil faced Jo Shishido. Manipulated by all, he finds himself agreeing to make an impromptu hit for a suicidal temptress named Misako (Mari Annu). When all turns sour, the bigger picture of misinformation becomes clearer, only for Hando to find himself the target of the mysterious No. 1 Killer. The themes of manipulation highlight the auteur at his best. Filled with iconic imagery, a plumb-line of observation links minutia of detail such as Misako?s car accessorized with a dead needle-staked bird, with her pinned butterfly filled apartment and her attempt to poison prick Hando. Happenstance & desire mix with the elemental worlds of water, sex and temptation. While the perverse is treated with the kink of humour it deserves and the seriousness of shock it cannot live without.
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on 14 March 2002
Starts out as a cool gangster / action film. Becomes an intense thriller.
This film lives next to Get Carter on my shelf and is as high in my esteem. If you've ever liked a gangster movie, you must try this.
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on 1 April 2015
Low budget, but pure artistry on the go. (Ed Wood would have been in raptures.) Seijun Suzuki takes us by the hand into a beautiful world of innocence, instant art, driven by action, sex blended with a sensual surrealism that captured the soul and feel of the 60's. Like the smell of rice, being Japanese, just made the whole experience even sweeter.
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