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The Nikkatsu studio seemed to have been expecting one of its routine yakuza gangster movies when it hired Seijun Suzuki to make Branded to Kill in 1967. But Suzuki’s films had become increasingly elliptical, surreal and anarchic. Branded to Kill is about a group of hired killers, some of them farcically inept, who rank themselves in a league table of brutality. The lead, Goro Hanada (Joe Shishido), Number Three at the outset, has a prodigious appetite for rough sex, fuelled by a fetish for the smell of boiling rice. Aside from his wife, who is rarely seen with clothes on, he dallies with a dangerous young woman with a suicide wish and a penchant for dead birds and butterflies.
The plot is somewhat incomprehensible, but the direction, in widescreen black-and-white, is stylish and provocative, a kind of bastard offspring of Godard and the early Bonds. Edited in a single day, the film was screened to empty houses and Suzuki was dismissed for creating films that ‘make no sense and make no money’. Nonetheless, the feature was discovered by international audiences in the 1980s and acclaimed by assorted critics, directors (including Jim Jarmusch and Quentin Tarantino) and avant-garde musicians. It has to be seen to be believed.
“Ultra cool Japanese noir mixes with Sixties surrealism to make this one of the hippest, trippiest, hitman movies you’re likely to see… Practically every shot is an artistically framed gem… There are some terrific action sequences as well…” - Paul Griffitths, Eye For Film.
“Whatever Suzuki’s purpose, the result has left a delirious piece of film-making that has almost single-handedly placed him in the list of major Japanese movie directors… Even after half a century of avant-garde experimentation and changes in film technology, there is still no other movie quite like it.” - Japannfilm.
“To experience a film by Japanese B-movie visionary Seijun Suzuki is to experience Japanese cinema in all its frenzied, voluptuous excess.” — Manohla Dargis
Screening as part of Japan 2021: 100 years of Japanese Cinema, a UK-wide film season supported by National Lottery and BFI Film Audience Network. bfijapan.co.uk