Tuesday, August 5, 2014

BRANDED TO KILL (1967)

BRANDED TO KILL (1967) 

Label: Arrow Video 

Release Date: 18th August 2014
Region Code: B
Rating: 18 Certificate 
Duration: 91 Minutes 
Language: Japanese LPCM Mono with Optional  English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p Widescreen (2.35:1)
Cast: Jô Shishido, Kôji Nanbara, Isao Tamagawa
Director: Seijun Suzuki



BRANDED TO KILL (1967) is the this story of the rice-sniffing Yakuza assassin Hanada and his strange rise and fall within that organization. Director Seijun Suzuki manages to create both a stylish and kinky piece of cinema shot in gorgeous monochrome with a slightly surreal tonality about it. 

Our protagonist is the number three ranked Yakuza assassin Goro Hanada- played by the chipmunk-cheeked Jô Shishido. Hanada had been recruited by Yakuza boss Michihiko Yabuhara (Isao Tamagawa) to escort a man with a price on his head. Unfortunately he is teamed-up with with fellow assassin Kasuga (Hiroshi Minami) a washed-up hit man with a drinking problem. They are ambushed en route to the drop-off point and we get some sweet shoot-out and foot-chase sequences. Kasuga proves to be quite a nut and somehow manages to kill the number four-ranked assassin before dying. Meanwhile Hanada sets the second-ranked hit man on fire and thus becomes the second-ranked Yakuza assassin just beneaththe mysterious Number One Killer (Koji Nanbara)


These opening action sequences are pretty awesome and start the film with a lot of madcap energy. In the aftermath Hanada finds himself without a car but is picked-up by an exotic femme fatale Misako (Annu Mari) who drives him to safety. Back at his pad Hanada and his wife have a LOT of sex fueled by the assassin's bizarre  fetish for the smell of boiled rice - more than once we find our guy face first in a bowl of rice - the Japanese are certainly no strangers to odd fetishes and this doesn't even make the top 10 for them. 

Hanada accepts a new mission and we have a great montage of creative kills including one that Jim Jarmusch cribbed for his films GHOST DOG - it was a blast seeing the original set-up here. The next contract kill goes horribly wrong when a butterfly ruins the shot - the errant bullet kills an innocent and as punishment for his failure Hanada is hunted down by the phantom number one killer - who it turns out is not such a stranger after all. 



On top of having a price on his head Hanada must deal with his treacherous wife who tries to kill him (and sets fire to his sweet pad) and a new love interest - the death obsessed Misako. The final third has a great shoot out and a series of psychological tortures which push Hanada to the brink of sanity right up to a delirious and tragic end. This is one of the more offbeat Yakuza movies I've watched - not that I've seen many - and it's dripping with sexuality - the screen capture above is just a taste. BRANDED TO KILL is a stylish Yakuza crime thriller with gorgeous monochrome cinematography and some great action set-pieces mixed in with some surreal weirdness.

Special Features:
- Interview with director Seijun Suzuki (7:08)
- Interview with star Jo Shishido by critic and author Koshi Ueno (6:41)
- Trapped in Lust [Aiyoku no wana] (1973) A delirious roman porno re-imagining of Branded to Kill from Atsushi Yamatoya, one of Branded to Kill s screenwriters and Suzuki s regular collaborators (1:13:33)
- Original Trailers for Branded to Kill (3:10) and Trap of Lust (2:07)
- Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Ian MacEwan
- Booklet by Japanese film expert Jasper Sharp, illustrated with original stills and new artwork by Ian MacEwan

The Blu-ray from Arrow Video is gorgeous with some sweet monochrome cinematography - proof positive that a gorgeous black and white film is just as stunning as color when presented correctly in HD! On top of the excellent audio and video presentation we have interviews with the director and star plus the Nikkatsu Roman Porno re-imagining TRAPPED IN LUST (1973) as a very cool bonus feature, not up to par with the original but a fun watch just the same. 3.5 Outta 5

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