After being re-introduced into the life of organised crime by the Japanese yakuza, Goro Hanada’s life slowly descends into chaos. Quickly becoming “Number 3” in the rank of professional contract killers, Hanada is ordered by a mysterious woman to kill a foreign man at her side. Though when Hanada misses his shot and kills an innocent civilian, he soon becomes a wanted man and costs himself the value of his life as well as his own sanity.
Quite possibly one of the most bizarre and yet highly entertaining films I have ever seen, Branded to Kill is a film noir homage and a cult classic that takes a familiar James Bond-esque manner into its portrayal of Japan’s yakuza culture. Filmed in the late 1960s – a period in which Japan was experiencing its “Golden Era” of economic recovery, rebuilding global relations and developing Westernisation, Branded to Kill has become something of a cult treasure following its introduction to the Western world. Its noir filming style coupled with its mockery of traditional film conventions and its array of wild characters make it a number one choice for its title as an “absurdist masterpiece”.
Our main protagonist, Goro Hanada (Shishido), is a kooky one. A talented hit man, his traits include his abnormal obsession for the smell of boiled rice and a violent, dominating husband towards his wife as much as he is a lovesick puppy for new, mysterious femme-fatale Misako (Mari). His wife, Mami (Ogawa), believes her husband prefers the smell of rice over her own company, and so embarks on an affair with Hanada’s yakuza boss; torn between happiness and loyalty. Though the Hanada’s marriage is played off to be meaningless, empty and destructive from the start, the dysfunction of such a situation plays a vital role in both characters’ downfall. Hanada is an easy man to suspect as an eventual psychotic, and Mami too, but it’s enticing watching a marriage turn on its head that really captivates the intensity of the story.
Full of action and big bosses like any other gangster film, Branded to Kill makes a good point of reiterating that notion into the personal lives of its characters. Hanada, Mami and Misako especially come to feel the effect their yakuza involvement has on their lives, and ultimately the consequences they are dealt. Action-packed and driven by Hanada’s notion to become the best ‘pro’ there is in the business, he encounters a difficult romance with the dark and moody femme-fatale that is Misako – who in herself is a very question to the meaning of life itself. The collections of dead butterflies and dead birds in her car and her home are symbolic to life’s unexplainable beauty, to which is challenged in this film. Noir-style, of course, the film shows this prominently and through an intriguing filming style and dynamic story, Branded to Kill is quite possibly one of the most intriguing and challenging films to date.
You may spend the majority of this film wondering why Hanada’s wife is mostly naked in her every appearance or questioning the sanity of every single character you come across, but Branded to Kill’s quirkiness makes for a charming watch and mixes the arts of romance and humour into the gangster scene.
Not a film to underestimate, Branded to Kill has since been cited as leading inspiration for many directors we know and love today; such as Quentin Tarantino and John Woo. So you might not want to pass this one up so hastily. If you enjoyed the James Bond movies yet still love the artistic style and elegance of the noir style, as well as in the mood for a bit of quirkiness, this film is definitely for you.
Director: Seijun Suzuki
Starring: Joe Shishido, Koji Nanbara, Annu Mari, Mariko Ogawa
Running Time: 98 minutes
Release Date: June 15, 1967