Any country with a developed film industry makes two types of movies: export films designed with world markets in mind, and native films that are not intended to leave the country. Branded to Kill was my introduction to Japanese pop cinema, the kind that never made it to the States. After this movie, the director was fired by Nikkatsu studios for making incomprehensible, unprofitable movies. I don’t know if Branded To Kill was profitable or not, but it certainly takes more than one viewing to comprehend.
As a story, Branded to Kill is simple enough, but the way it is told breaks so many rules of standard filmmaking that distributors must have been baffled. Hanada lives his life day by day being a yakuza assassin. He and his wife live in their high-class, trendy apartment. One day, a mysterious woman by the name of Misako confronts him with a kill or be killed contract offer. When he botches up the job due to an untimely butterfly landing on his gun-sites, his own girlfriend is secretly hired by the mob boss to kill him.
Put quite simply, Branded to Kill is a bloody marvellous looking film and arguably the pinnacle of the director’s strikingly eclectic style. Criterion gives us a wonderful widescreen picture in glorious black and white, with delicious shadow detail and sharp and sparkling edges. You probably never knew black and white could EVER look this good. Not only is Branded to Kill one of the pioneers of it’s genre, but it marked the first time a director was fired because he was too creative for the producer’s own good. I don’t know about you, but this is very intriguing to me and one of the reasons why I viewed this film in the first place.
The Killers in this movie are simply awesome. Throughout most of the movie they’re this faceless badass that you just cant wait to see on screen. When one of them finally does, he doesn’t fail to meet expectations. The action scenes are stunning and if there’s a sense of humor here, its a conceptual one. Branded to Kill is a stylish, inventive and thoroughly modern piece of 60s Japanese noir. At turns sexy and psychologicaly creepy, in Suzuki’s hands, an otherwise pedestrian production was turned into a film with a refreshingly modern twist bordering on brilliant.