Branded to Kill
(Koroshi no rakuin) (1967)
Directed by Seijun Suzuki

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * ½

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After Hanada (Jo Shishido), the Number Three Killer in the Japanese underworld, botches a murder, he becomes involved with the mysterious and deadly woman who hired him to commit it and runs afoul of his employers, who send their Number One Killer to put an end to his life.

Seijun Suzuki's Branded to Kill is a generally well made and consistently engaging work, but it is not as visually distinctive or as inventive as are some of the director's other projects. While the viewer is likely to be enthralled both by the violent world and strange characters with which Suzuki presents him, for whatever reason, the director is never able to bring these various details together into a truly satisfying whole.

Taken individually, the movie's action sequences are almost all exciting and well choreographed, and its moments of tension, as when Hanada is trapped inside his apartment by the Number One Killer and reduced to a state of sweaty, drunken fear, are potently evocative. Even Suzuki's depictions of flashes of brutal, often desperate sensuality are pervaded by a tangible sense of both alienation and anger. The movie is, in fact, filled with a variety of affecting incidents, and, even though the director is never really able to unify them successfully, their quick succession does prevent the viewer's attention from wavering.

While Branded to Kill is never as well crafted or as suffused with an intoxicating loveliness as are some of Suzuki's other works, such as Tokyo Drifter and Pistol Opera, it is still a memorable and evocative film. The moments of beauty with which the movie is enlivened, and its odd peculiarity, as the scene in which Hanada is shown walking beside sheets of animated rain, while not among the most stunning the director has created, are genuinely appealing and do give the film a distinctive quirkiness that always holds the viewer's interest. By so engaging the viewer, by drawing him into a strange, almost dreamlike world of terrible wrathfulness and crippling fear, Suzuki is able to raise the events narrated in the movie above the mere doings of nasty, forgettable thugs and to imbue them with a real epic quality. The viewer, having been transported to this peculiar, rarefied world of utter cruelty and terrible beauty, is so separated from that of ordinary experience that he is further submerged in and entranced by the fear and the wrath manifested by the director's violent characters. Branded to Kill is, consequently, an entertaining, even captivating film.

Review by Keith Allen

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