Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Branded to Kill (1967)

By Eric Jessen 7/7/09

Branded to Kill is a jumbled mess of originality. There is an incomprehensible story, one ridiculous killing after another, naked women everywhere, and a camera that jumps from one strange sometimes awkward but sometimes brilliant angle to the next. It's like Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samurai or Goldfinger or one of John Woo's better movies gone totally insane and out of control. But of course, I thought it was fantastic. Yes it needs some tidying up (or maybe that would ruin it), but I must commend director Seijun Sezuki for making a movie that jumps out of the screen. It pops. It still today, 42 years later, seems inventive and radical. I thank Sezuki for influencing directors like John Woo and Quentin Tarantino. What would we do without creative violence in movies like when “killer No. 3”, our protagonist assassin, kills one of his targets from a basement by shooting up a sink pipe? How can I forget a hilariously ridiculous scene when two killers hug, then both shoot each other simultaneously in the gut, one falls to the floor, then the other executes him, flips his jacket over his shoulder, saunters away and then collapses, but just before he dies pulls his jacket over his head?
Branded to Kill is in every way absurd, and yet very exciting. Some scenes look blatantly fake and cheap, while others are handled with great directorial precision. The first half looks like a mash up of a low budget original and a well funded remake. Speaking of the first half, it was totally bewildering. The killings come so fast. Then “Killer No. 3” is in his house with his wife and she's running around naked screaming “Horny!”(She was never not naked.) Then they're having sex on a spiral staircase (which just looked uncomfortable) and then all of a sudden she is trying to kill him. Finally the wife did some explaining, and I came to my senses. The killings were all part of killer 3's assignment, and he learned the purpose from his wife just as we did. It was all because of some diamond smuggling stuff, which doesn't even matter. I realized that, of course, assassins wouldn't find out why they are killing. Their life is just one brutal killing after another with some meaningless sex in between. If they ever found out why they were killing they would be liable to squeal. (By the way, the wife turns out to be a spy, so Killer 3 kills her by shooting her in her naughty parts.)
I started looking at Branded to Kill in a different way. It's actually quite smart. It's not just exploitive of violence and naked women. Sizuki knows what he's doing. There is a thematic method to his madness. He is studying the mind of the killer. As in Le Samurai and in John Woo's The Killer.
After the wife's explanation I was in for more bewilderment. But I guess that's this movie's charm. Killer 3 falls in love. We know this because he sees butterflies (literally), with a woman named Misako. He is supposed to kill Misako but can't. Misako understands their situation perfectly. Killer 3 threatens “I can kill you with one shot” and then Misako replies “you won't until you sleep with me.” Later Misako is killed by strange men, or so it seems. Killer 3 tries to revenge her death, but then somehow gets tangled up with the mysterious “Killer No. 1” (there are many numbered killers, 1 being the best). The movie ends with a show down in a dark gymnasium where, go figure, everyone dies.
Some people may hate Branded to Kill because it doesn't really have a story and can be confusing, but that doesn't mean it is not worth seeing . Just sit back and enjoy the creativity. A beautifully weird killing can be a work of art. And a movie like Branded to Kill can be a jumbled mess of brilliance.

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