Film Of The Week – Branded To Kill (Japan, 1967)

Once a week we choose an Asian film available on Australian streaming services to quash your lockdown boredom!

Ever found yourself scrolling through a streaming service, staring at the same bland content that you’ve already seen countless times, desperately seeking something – anything – decent to watch? These services all operate according to algorithms that push forward content that is supposedly “most suitable” based on your viewing habits – which ends up usually just meaning “most popular.” Alas, buried deep within these servers, there lie certain… anomalies, cinematic oddities that may beguile and confound even the most seasoned cinephile. 

The work of Japanese new-wave figurehead Seijun Suzuki, which is featured on Stan, falls squarely within this bracket. A contract director for studio Nikkatsu, Suzuki could choose neither the scripts he directed nor the titles of the films. These films were (on paper) the most boilerplate of genre fare, made swiftly and on the cheap, and edited in just twenty-four hours.“Making movies was my way of making money,” Suzuki has admitted, “I wasn’t a filmmaker of passion particularly.” It is particularly remarkable then that his work has influenced a swathe of directors internationally, among them Quentin Tarantino, Jim Jarmusch, Park Chan-Wook and John Woo, and inspired the fascination of critics for decades to boot. No film elucidates the baffling majesty of his style more extensively than 1967’s Branded To Kill.

A film so inscrutable and unsuccessful that Nikkatsu terminated Suzuki’s contract after its release, Branded To KIll tells the story of hitman Hanada, played by frequent Suzuki collaborator Joe Shishido (whose face bears uncanny, chipmunk-like cheek implants). I could attempt to explain the utterly nonsensical plot, but it would do the film a grave disservice; Branded to Kill cinematically functions in spite of the story it is telling. Suzuki’s treats the script he has been dealt with contempt, instead layering each scene with bizarre imagery, crooked camera angles and perturbing encounters. For me anyway, the film works as a deconstruction of genre, appearing to satirise the phallocentrism of Hollywood film noir through its hyperbolic and absurd treatment of sexuality. Of course, Suzuki would incredulously disagree; he insisted his only aim was to entertain. 

While the otherworldly incoherence of Branded To Kill may prove the very opposite of entertaining for many viewers, no one could ever deny its uniqueness. For the adventurous soul, it may prove a completely transcendent experience. 

Branded to Kill is streaming on Stan.