Branded to Kill was Seijun Suzuki’s last and wildest of his films for Nikkatsu, before being let go by the studio and ending up embroiled in a lengthy lawsuit against his former employer that he ultimately would win. If Tokyo Drifter was a wild and colorful experiment in aesthetics that would stretch the “b-movie” yakuza genre to its limits, Branded to Kill was even further afield. An absurdist, stylized romp through the criminal underworld with a rambling plot, off-kilter humor, and steamy sexuality, the film could be compared to the likes of John Woo, David Lynch, and Luc Besson.
The story follows a yakuza hitman, Hanada, known ranked third in the underworld and with a fetish for the smell of boiling rice, played by Joe Shishido, his cheeks freshly plumped up by plastic surgery. When one of his jobs goes wrong and he kills the wrong person, Hanada ends up marked for death by the crime organization that hired him, his sex-crazed wife, the mysterious beauty with a death wish who hired him, and the top killer in the country, known only as Number 1.
Branded to Kill, with its quirky visual style, oddball humor, and eccentric characters is absolute fun from beginning to end; a truly unique and trendsetting gangster film from Suzuki.
This high definition transfer of Branded to Kill was created on a Spirit Datacine from a fine-grain master positive by Criterion Collection. It arrives on Blu-ray in a 2.35:1 framed AVC/MPEG-4 encodement that looks clean and film-like with a subtle layer of grain and little in the way of harmful source damage apparent. The black and white image has good detail, although it does look a bit soft at times and overall contrast isn’t as strong as I would like it to be.
The original monaural soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from the original soundtrack print. It arrives in a strong LPCM Mono (48kHz/24-bit) iteration that will likely yield intelligible dialogue for those fluent in Japanese. There is only very subtle clipping that can be heard, but otherwise it is more than effective.
The supplements are a bit thinner than usual for a Criterion release, but still offer a quality amount of information.
- Seijun Suzuki and Masami Kuzuu (1.78:1; 1080i/60; 00:12:10) – In this interview, recorded in July 2011, director Seijun Suzuki and assistant director Masami Kuzuu recall the production and release of Branded to Kill.
- Joe Shishido (1.78:1; 1080i/60; 00:10:57) – This interview with Branded to Kill star Joe Shishido was recorded by the Criterion Collection in July 2011.
- Seijun Suzuki (1.33:1; 00:14:06) – This interview with director Seijun Suzuki was recorded during a retrospective of his work at the Japan Foundation and Los Angeles FilmForum at the Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles in March 1997.
- Trailer (2.35:1; 1080i/60)
- Booklet: Apart from the usual film credits and information on the transfer, the booklet contains only one essay on Suzuki and the film by Tony Rayns. It is an insightful and interesting read.
The Definitive Word
Branded to Kill should move to the top of your list if you like gangster films. This one is funny, sexy, and stylish with lots of replay value.