Quick-Thoughts: Seijun Suzuki’s Branded to Kill (1967)

Seijun Suzuki Marathon Part V of V

“I am number one.”

Persona (1966) but for assassins.

Five movies into Seijun Suzuki’s filmography of the 60s, and what I’ve gathered, especially after reading up about his firing following the release of Branded to Kill, is that pushing buttons little by little was this dude’s forte. If I had detected his French New Wave influence in Tokyo Drifter (1966) then by God do I detect it now in this monochrome fever dream of a crime thriller. Hard to think that the person behind the perfectly commercial Youth of the Beast (1963) would only take less than half a decade to get enraptured by the cinematically uncrackable.

To me, while cryptic, this is still quite a persuasive piece when it comes to satirizing the competitive nature of men. As much as it is a Melville with all its bleak crime elements, it’s also as much a Buñuel with its surrealism — the movie even has a disturbing scene involving eyes! Some moments that particularly stumped me but gave me at least the surface perception of conflicted masculine energy include the drunk’s demise, palm of butterflies, intimacy with the projection of a so-called lover you couldn’t acquire, and squeals of babies. The assassinations themselves run on some seriously indelible dream-logic as well like when our lead is rescued during the act by an airship… or shooting an orthodontist through a water pipe… The finale nails its tragedy to a hopeless pulp in the literal – alas exposed and most simplified – battle arena itself: a boxing cage. Even if it’s by pissing their pants, men could somehow write it off as simply a means towards dominion.

By a long-shot Suzuki’s best.

Verdict: A

All-Time Favorites, Seijun Suzuki Ranked

“Branded to Kill” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

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