Branded to Kill Blu-ray review

            Japanese director Seijun Suzuki made his way with genre pictures, hired to be a B-film director making movies like Youth of the Beast. The stories were often that of genre films, but the longer that Suzuki made these films at Nikkatsu studios the more creative he became. Branded to Kill was the film the New Wave-influenced Suzuki made which most upset Nikkatsu; enough to break contract and fire the filmmaker. Once again Suzuki approaches the underworld crime films with an inspired wink and a nod. Branded to Kill is darker and more sordid than Tokyo Drifter, but it takes the same liberties with the genre expectations.

            Branded to Kill follows the path of a yakuza assassin (Joe Shishido) who fails an assignment and is made a target himself. The storyline sounds like it could describe any dozen Hollywood Blockbuster action films, but Suzuki’s approach is unlike any other. Even in black-and-white, Branded to Kill is more colorful than a dozen other films of the same type. From his two sexual relationships in the film, which seem peppered with hallucinations of butterflies, to the finale between two rival assassins in a boxing ring, Branded to Kill is jam packed full of unforgettable images and a mind-boggling narrative.

            The Blu-ray release of Branded to Kill features a new high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack. The English subtitles have also been improved for the Blu-ray release. The film looks and sounds great, with all of the detail in the surreal violence and excessive sex pristinely presented. There are also new interviews with actor Joe Shishido, Suzuki and assistant director Masami Kukuu in the special features. Also included are an older interview with Suzuki, and a booklet with an essay by critic and historian Tony Rayns.

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