Written by: Michael Den Boer on July 24th, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, 1967
Director: Seijun Suzuki
Writers: Hachiro Guryu, Takeo Kimura, Chusei Sone, Atsushi Yamatoya
Cast: Jo Shishido, Koji Nambara, Annu Mari, Mariko Ogawa, Isao Tamagawa
BluRay released: August 18th, 2014
Approximate running time: 91 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Rating: 15 (UK)
Sound: DTS-HD Mono Japanese
BluRay Release: Arrow Video
Region Coding: Region B
Retail Price: £12.82
Synopsis: Joe Shishido plays Hanada ‘No. 3’, the third-best hit man employed by a mob boss. Hanada agrees to help an old friend, Kasuga (Hiroshi Minami) by taking on a bodyguard job with him for Boss Yabuhara (Isao Tamagawa). They are ambushed while on their way to a house in the country, when alcoholic Kasuga loses his cool and is fatally wounded. After making his way through a gauntlet of killers, killing both Ko No. 4? and Sakura No. 2?’. Hanada then moves up in rank to No. 2?After the job he meets Misako (Mari Annu) a man-hating woman, who he hitches a ride with. She hires him to kill a foreign man and when a butterfly lands on his rifle, he is distracted and misses his target. During this botch hit, he kills an innocent woman ruining his reputation and the Yakuza have marked him for death. Then his crazy wife (Mariko Ogawa) turns on him and with no where to hide he goes to Misako for help. Hanada feeling trapped at Misako’s place returns to his home to kill wife. In the meantime, the Yakuza have kidnapped Misako while Hanada was out and he finds himself the prey of phantom #1 killer.
In 1967 prolific director Seijun Suzuki would direct Branded to Kill a modern-day Samurai tale set in a world where everyone is crazy. Just like Jean-Pierre Meville’s masterful Le Samourai released the same year as Branded to Kill both films explore surreal landscapes within the crime thriller genre. Though Branded to Kill is simple story of a Yakuza hit man, but in the hands of an auteur like Seijun Suzuki who’s style is so fragmented and his strange compositions, mixed with his odd editing of scenes only confused the Nikkatsu studio bosses. After they saw Branded to Kill, they fired director Suzuki for making ‘incomprehensible’ films. In turn, Seijun Suzuki successfully sued Nikkatsu for financial compensation, though his actions resulted in him being blacklisted by the entire film industry.
For many viewers the first thing about Branded to Kill that immediately grabs you is its nontraditional narrative, that often verges into the surreal. With this being said, it is not as hard to digest the story at hand, especially once you embrace its colorful cast of characters. Also it is the journey of this film’s lead character Hanada, that this film resonates the most. Though he is a hit man, his ambitions to be the top of his given field have a universal feel to it that most viewers should identify with. After all, how many people are truly satisfied with they are in life. It is human nature to strive for something better then what we have.
And while the outer shell of this film’s plot has many elements that one would associate with the Yakuza film genre. These are nothing more than window dressing that is used to further Seijun Suzuki’s agenda to create something that audiences would find entertaining. In fact one could easily argue that Branded to Kill is a ‘tongue and cheek’ satire of the Yakuza film genre. There are also moments in which this film pokes fun at Spy films like the James Bond films, which were also at the height of their popularity at the time this film was unleashed on unsuspecting audiences.
From a visual stand point, Branded to Kill is Seijun Suzuki tour de force. Some of the choice moments include, the scene in which Hanada meets his mistress for the first time on a rainy night (this scene is inter-cut with a sexual encounter that Hanada has with his wife, which includes sex on a spiral staircase), the scene in which a now wounded Hanada, shows up at his mistress place that is covered with wall to wall butterflies and a shootout on a peer, in which Hanada immerges from the water to surprise his assassins.
Performance none of the cast disappoint, with the film being anchored by Jo Shishido (Youth of the Beast, Gate of Flesh) as a hit man, who gets aroused when he sniffs rice. Other notable performances include Mariko Ogawa in her one and only film role as Hanada’s wife and Annu Mari (Mini Skirt Lynchers) in the role of Hanada’s Mistress.
Ultimately Branded to Kill is an extraordinary film that was made by a filmmaker, who was light years ahead of his contemporaries. And will many have tried to imitate it, none have been able to match its boldness and inventiveness. If ever there was a desert island film, that film would be Branded to Kill.
Branded to Kill comes on a 50 GB dual layer BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen. This release comes with one audio option, a DTS-HD Mono mix in Japanese and removable English subtitles have been included. Audio / video wise this release is on par with Criterion’s Blu-Ray release for this film.
Extras for this release include trailers for Branded to Kill (3 minutes 10 seconds – 1080 Progressive Widescreen, in Japanese with English subtitles) and Trapped in Lust (2 minutes 7 seconds – 1080 Progressive Widescreen, in Japanese with English subtitles), two interviews, the first one with director Seijun Suzuki (7 minutes 8 seconds – 1080 Progressive 1.33:1 aspect ratio, in Japanese with English subtitles) and the second one with actor Jo Shishido (6 minutes 41 seconds – 1080 Progressive 1.33:1 aspect ratio, in Japanese with English subtitles) and a feature length film titled Trapped in Lust (73 minutes 33 seconds – 1080 Progressive Widescreen, in Japanese with English subtitles) a roman porno re-imagining of Branded to Kill.
Though these two interviews are different than the ones that appeared on the aforementioned Criterion release. Content wise they cover the same ground both participants talk about working with each other, how the project came about and how it ended Suzuki’s career at Nikkatsu.
Trapped in Lust is a much welcomed extra not only for fans of Branded to Kill, but for fans of roman porno cinema. And though there are many elements that link this film back to Branded to Kill, it is not a remake and has enough new things that its beings to the table that it stands well on its own. Instead of trying to find out who #1 man is? The protagonist in Trapped in Lust is an amateur hit man who wants to be taken seriously by the underworld crime syndicates. Wanting to impress them he takes on a contract to eliminate a high ranking official. Unfortunately for him he pride gets in the way and it is quickly discovered that he is the one responsible for the hit. Which then puts his life in danger. Besides the usual roman porno perversions this film has a few other weird quirks, most notably a hit man who has a doll / ventriloquist dummy named the Mario ‘the prettiest man in the world’ that assists him.
The audio / video presentation for Trapped in Lust is on par with roman porno’s that have been released Impulse Pictures.
Rounding out the extras is reversible covert art, a twenty eight page booklet with about Branded to Kill and Trapped in Lust, both written by Jasper Sharp and a DVD that contains the main feature Branded to Kill. Overall Branded to Kill gets a first rate release from Arrow Video, highly recommended.
Note: The last screenshot is taken from the film Trapped in Lust.