Dir. by Seijun Suzuki
According to the DVD cover, Seijun Suzuki took a routine yakuza eiga script and made Branded to Kill from it. Nikkatsu studios took one look at the product and fired him. Well, I can see that. But don’t think that means Branded to Kill isn’t good! It’s just… different. And here at Fire & Sword we’re about support and love for those who are different. We’re also about really high body counts!
Branded to Kill follows the fortunes of Hanaba (Joe Shishido), the No. 3 killer in Japan. He is an ice-cold killer and a tactical genius, his one weakness is the smell of steamed rice. He and the missus (Mariko Ogawa) live a life of domestic bliss. He is hired to carry out an assassination, but fails. The price of failure is death. Meanwhile, Hanaba has fallen for Mariko (Annu Mari), a gang-girl with a flat affect and a fetish for dead birds. Then things get really bizarre.
The film borders on the surreal. When not is combat (or sniffing rice) Hanaba is often on the verge of delirium, as if he’d just received all the saps to the head and drugged drinks that afflicted Philip Marlowe and Mike Hammer combined. Suzuki doesn’t shy away from the odd bit of visual effects to suggest Hanaba’s trip through nutso-Nippon. Hanaba veers from self-destruction to a ferocious will to conquer with lunatic intensity (reminiscent of Beat Takeshi’s suicidal yakuza in Sonatine)
Suzuki’s vision is stylized beyond all connection to reality. Killers have official rankings (based on numbers or style, one wonders). Messages are delivered via 16mm film reels. Suzuki crafts a stand-off scene that would make John Woo’s head spin. And Hanaba has an awesomely cool broom-handle Mauser with a shoulder stock and automatic fire.
While Branded to Kill is probably too long (a little bit of Suzuki’s madness goes a long way), it is a film of distinctive qualities. Suzuki made forty-two films for Nikkatsu, perhaps it was the sheer volume that drove him to the extravagance of Branded to Kill. It is truly a unique film, funny, deranged, and memorable.