Director: Seijun Suzuki
Possibly Suzuki's most infamous film, Branded To Kill certainly retains its searing punch after repeated viewing. Curiously, it is also his least Pop Art and quivers with a heightened otherness. While proclaiming the stylistic hallmarks of his neo-Kabuki cinedrome of violence, it stands out in his oeuvre due to its unsettling importation of Gothic sensibilities and an atypically atonal score by Yamamoto into what otherwise would be standard hitman fare. Its story is of a bizarre psycho-sexual relationship between Hanada Goro—he is aroused by the smell of hot rice—and the necrophiliac Annu—she sleeps on a bed of dead birds. Hanada is No. 3 hitman in the Tokyo underworld but a special assignment looks like earning him the place of No 1. Branded To Kill is actually a psychological symphony across a range of genres and styles. After mimicking a noir killer-for-hire scenario, it shifts into a desolate front guard gun battle in gaping tunnels and surreal bunkers, resembling Robert Aldnch's hyper-existential Attack! (1966). A long sexcapade follows at Hanada's hotel with his wife' in a polysexual splattering of orgasms across a fractured domestic environment. This section is quintessentially Japanese in its erotic tone, hovering somewhere between Oshima's In The Realm of The Senses (1976) and Bertolucci's Lasf Tango In Paris (1974). But with the appearance of Annu, the film morphs into a sister version of Hitchcock's American Gothic Psycho (1960). And as it spirals along with Hanada into his seething inner turmoil, the film plummets into a cut-up of Welles' The Lady From Shanghai (1954). Truly, this is an avant garde beast clothed in Pop. If, after watching Branded To Kill, you can't get a sense of the kanji of Japanese pop culture and its absolute indifference to the West's incessant debate between 'high and low culture'—give up.