20th Aug2014

‘Branded to Kill’ Blu-ray Review (Arrow Video)

by Paul Metcalf

Stars: Jô Shishido, Kôji Nanbara, Isao Tamagawa, Anne Mari, Mariko Ogawa, Hiroshi Minami | Written by Hachiro Guryu, Takeo Kimura | Directed by Seijun Suzuki


Writing movie reviews opens up a world that is full of films that I probably would never have had the chance to see.  Branded to Kill (Koroshi no rakuin) is one of these and Arrow Video have taken the movie and given it their usual excellent treatment, providing a chance to see it in its best form.

The story revolves around a hit-man who is ranked three with a fetish for sniffing boiling rice.  When he fails at his latest job the woman who paid for the hit comes into conflict with him, pushing him into a fight consumed with her own death wish.  Finding that his wife also now wants to kill him for his failure and the number one ranked hit-man known as the Phantom has been paid to end his life, his battle to be the best has just begun.

Branded to Kill is a film of two halves, first we are shown the proof of just how good a hit-man he is.  Warned that the only thing that leads to defeat is women and drinking it’s not surprise that the start of his problems comes from the mysterious woman who with an obsession with dying.  The fact that by the end of the film he not only has women problems but also drinks almost all the time is very much his downfall, until he decides to fight back.

In many ways for me it’s the second half of the film where he must pull himself back from the things that will lead to his death and begins to fight the Phantom where the film really finds its element and we see the true beauty of Seijun Suzuki’s work.  The battle between The Phantom and the number three hit-man is the ultimate battle of wills.  Not only about killing each other it’s about pushing the opponent to the limits of their mental capabilities and pushing them to insanity.  This battle is intricately done in a way that neither side wants to win, though there will be only one winner and that is the beauty of what we see on the screen.

What is surprising about Branded to Kill is the slow methodical style of the film, even the hits that we see that are often comical in style are not rushed, everything has a purpose and nothing is wasted.  Even in shots where we see a whole block of apartments the sounds of the city give the impression that each window has some life going on behind it, and the assassin could be behind any of them.  When we finally see which window the hit-man is hiding behind we are almost guided to our own conclusion before he appears and stares out to the camera.  The director’s ability to guide the audience to exactly what he wants us to see is almost magical.

Arrow Video never let me down with how they treat movies.  Even if the movie is one that I don’t find myself connecting with they still offer special features that not only are informative to the film they are looking at, but also go a little way to connect the audience to it too.  An interesting inclusion with Branded to Kill is Trapped in Lust, a “porno re-imagining’ of the movie.  It fits that a film that feels as crazy as Branded to Kill that it would also have a porn version that fits so easily.  Branded to Kill may not be a movie for everybody, but if you give it time and understand it’s nature it’s a crazy beast that tends to stick with you.

****½  4.5/5

Branded to Kill is available in the UK on dual format DVD and Blu-ray now from Arrow Video.

Review originally posted on PissedOffGeek



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