Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Unseen #18: Branded To Kill

Why’d I Buy It?: I love Seijun Suzuki. This is by many considered to be his seminal work.

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: I’ve tried a couple of times, It wasn’t as though I disliked the movie it was something more insidious, there was simply nothing happening between us, no real reaction at all. I decided I’d take the radical step of trying to watch it sober and see how that worked.

How Was It?: If you’ve never acquainted yourself with the idiosyncratic joy of Seijun Suzuki I recommend that you do so as soon as possible.

Suzuki was a hired studio gun who in the fifties and sixties suddenly went insane and started turning thse regular genre films into surrealist pop art meltdowns. In his best work like Youth Of The Beast (still my favorite of his films) Story Of A Prostitute, Gate Of Flesh and Fighting Elegy, its literally tough to believe what you are seeing from scene to scene. Branded To Kill takes such an approach to its zenith or nadir depending on your view.

Branded To Kill was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Nikkishi the studio that employed Suzuki fired then blacklisted him for the crime of making “incomprehensible films” which to be fair is not an entirely unjust charge.

Branded To Kill is Seizuki’s most influential film, with Tarantino, Kitano, Johnny To, Wong Kar Wai, Woo, Chan Wook Park and Jim Jaramusch all citing it as an influence (Jaramusch did a little more then site lifting one of the best gags for Ghost Dog).

Branded To Kill tells the story of the number three killer in the world. After botching a hit he finds himself hunted by the organization that employed him. This is the sort of story you’ve seen a billion times in a hitman film, but Branded To Kill of course takes it as an invitation to go completely insane (The way the obligatory exposition is delivered when it finally is, a montage so deadpanly perfunctory that its kind of hilarious, serves a showcase for Seizuki’s contempt of narrative).

Aggressively absurdist, Branded To Kill is like a hitman movie written by Beckett. With a plot filled with inscrutable authority figures and enigmatic missions. Its shocking minimalistic (Not something you can normally say for Seizuki) at times, with its backgrounds either black voids or modernist abstractions. This is of course except for when its not like the scene in which our hero is besieged by animated rain, birds and butterflies and the time our hero escapes from the scene of a hit Via Balloon (not a typo).

The film follows a killer whose fetish for the smell of boiled rice is matched only by the films own fetish for butterflies. He goes on missions, has rough sex with his nympho wife, falls in love (of a fashion with a fellow hitwoman) and then enters into an abstract duel with the Number One killer. It’s a jazz style movie, unbelievably freeform. Seizuki famously made most of it up as he went along, and then was rumored to have edited the entire thing in one day.

I know its uncool to side with the suits but in this case I can’t help but have some pity for them being that I would probably be unable to describe to you on a moment by moment basis just what is happening in Branded To Kill, even if I was watching it at the time.

I’m still not sure what I make of Branded To Kill. Seizuki’s a pretty bianary filmmaker to begin with, but this takes it to another level entirely. Its aggressively unpleasant to watch, perversely (yet flippantly) psychosexual, and jarring. Yet there’s something there. Branded To Kill is one of the few films that’s truly singular, there really is nothing else like it in existence. For better or worse its one of a kind.


Elwood Jones said...

I've got this one in my to watch pile aswell, so will have to check it out, when I finally get some time to watch anything at the moment.
Still thanks anyway for pushing it alittle closer to the top of the watch pile.

Evil Dead Junkie said...

No Prob.

If you like it definitely check out Youth Of The Beast. Its a great flick.

Erich Kuersten said...

I love this movie but you really need to see it a few times to appreciate it, and Seijun's work as a whole... then you'll be ready for the "sequel", PISTOL OPERA! Even dyed in the wool Branded to Kill fans can't handle that one, including me. It's like watching paint dry, which isn't to say it's bad

Evil Dead Junkie said...

Uh oh that's in The Unseen's pile too.


Anonymous said...

Its Nikkatsu, not Nikkishi.

This movie is really fantastic, though it takes a couple of watches to understand the plot, that isn't really the point of the film.