Friday, August 15, 2008

Branded to Kill review

Branded to Kill simply has one of those giddiness-inspiring concepts. Falling along the lines of kung-fu tournament stories, a film about ranked killers in Japan has this initial pull just through the premise’s potential.

Hanada is the number 3 ranked hit man in Japan. A girl with an odd fascination for butterflies and suicide comes to him for a simple hit, where through a chance encounter with a butterfly, Hanada accidentally kills a civilian. Breaking a core tenet of this invisible code, he has to face the punishment, the termination of his job. Basically, he’s a dead man. Attempting to dodge his pursuers while searching for the mysterious number 1 killer, Hanada stylishly makes his way through excessive sex, creative hits and stunning gunfights.

Coming thirty years before Tarantino, Miike or Woo, Suzuki manages to make this film stylish and timeless. The gunfights are visually stunning merely through simple cinematography and editing decisions. While they aren’t as unique as Tokyo Drifter, they are fast and exciting, but choreographed in a slower, more comprehensive fashion. It isn’t frenzied action like nowadays but it isn’t simple over-in-ten-seconds western dueling either. It has the long-drawn out qualities of classic Bond gunfights, but still retains this fresh cool vibe.

Jo Shishido and the beautiful Annu Mari are easily the two most salient actors in the film by brilliantly composing the peculiarity of their characters. Koji Nambara, as the #1 killer gets increasingly ridiculous and completely throws off your expectations of a hitman’s conduct.

And even though Suzuki is only credited as a director, the story behind his termination from Nikkatsu studios suggests his strong hand in the eccentricities around every corner. The bizarre character fetishes, out of place spliced animation and dark humor to sheer absurdity were all ahead of its time.

Suzuki’s technical genius perfectly compliments the elaborate plot. The memorable arena climax takes place in complete darkness, save the thin streams of light that rush in through gunshot holes. The result is a beautiful, appropriate maze and trap for the characters. Stepping into the light means certain death. But so does firing pistol.

Branded To Kill comes highly recommended. It’s unexpectedly funny, contains must-see action sequences and is just a once-in-a-lifetime film. It’s rare to see truly bizarre and sincere pulp movies as entertaining and fitting as this. See this and then Tokyo Drifter and have high hopes for Suzuki to recreate this in modern Japanese cinema and beat the pants off the crap Woo does now.


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