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Film / Branded to Kill

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The original Japanese poster.

The #3 killer in Japan becomes the target of the #1 killer after botching his latest assignment.

This 1967 film got legendary Japanese film auteur Seijun Suzuki fired by Nikkatsu studios, who complained that his movies "make no money and make no sense". It has since become a Cult Classic.

Goro Hanada, the #3 contract killer for the Tokyo mob, is obsessed with the smell of cooking rice. He falls in love with a woman named Misako, who recruits him for a seemingly impossible mission. When the mission fails, he becomes a target for the phantom Number One Killer, whose methods threaten Goro's sanity as much as his life.

Originally intended to be just another cheap formulaic Yakuza film, Nikkatsu studio was not happy with the original script, which they felt made little sense. So they brought in Suzuki to fix it — only to have him make it make even less sense. Pushing the formulas and conventions of the Yakuza genre to the point of absurdity and beyond, Suzuki turned it into a world where organized crime is almost like a professional sport, hitmen are ranked by numbers, and missions are seemingly chosen entirely for their potential to produce cool action sequences.

This film contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Animal Metaphor: Mami several times refers to herself and Goro as animals.
  • Bedsheet Ladder: Goro uses one to leave Misako's apartment. It's just part of the surreal weirdness of this movie, as it's not really explained why he doesn't just use the door, especially as she is at the window watching him shimmy down the bedsheet ladder.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: An actual gunman! The client that Goro is escorting around in the early part of the film turns out to be #1 himself.
  • Contract on the Hitman: The #3 killer in Japan becomes the target of the #1 killer after botching his latest assignment.
  • Damsel in Distress: If a gothy, death seeking nightmare fetishist counts.
  • Death Seeker: Misako. She specifically says she wants to die, and finally submits to sex with Goro after he promises to kill her.
  • Determinator: Goro is going to survive and Defeat #1, no matter what it takes.
  • Dirty Coward: Kasuga falls apart at the seams under the tiniest bit of stress, drinking constantly while driving (at night no less), and flailing about in the open shrieking during a firefight. When faced by an opponent at the opposite end of a tunnel, he hysterically charges him in a straight line flinging his arms about, screaming his name at the top of his lungs.
  • Disturbed Doves: Bizarrely, pictures of doves, in rows, are shown on the screen as Goro wanders the streets in a daze after he is unable to kill Misako.
  • Downer Ending / The Hero Dies: Of a sort: Goro is so excited by his victory over #1 he accidentally shoots Misako—the person he had come to save—in exultation. By then he's also dying/insane thanks to #1.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: When Goro's wife Mami tries to kill him. The assassination attempt turns into a comical Wimp Fight when she proves to be deathly afraid of both Goro and her own gun, leading to her running around their apartment naked, flailing and shrieking.
  • Honor Before Reason: A common Yakuza film trope that Suzuki loved deconstructing. The characters talk big about honor but rarely miss a chance to be mean, petty, or sneaky. They aren't particularly big on reasoning, either.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Some of the kills are improbable to the point of being surreal. A target leans over the drain to a sink, and Goro, who is on the floor below and has unscrewed the drain, shoots up through the drainpipe and kills his man.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: The only way Goro can sport an erection is if he smells boiling rice.
  • Man on Fire: Sakada after Goro dumps some gasoline into the old fort where Sakada is hiding, then shoots it up. Sakada comes running out of the fort on fire and runs right up to the car, where Goro's client shoots him.
  • Medium Blending: After discovering he cannot bring himself to kill Misako, a dazed Hanada wanders the streets. Animated starlings, rain and butterflies mask the screen, accompanied by corresponding sound effects.
  • Mind Screw: Number One's methods.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Mami, who spends most of her time at home nude.
  • Mutual Kill: Kasuga comes right after killer #4 in a one-man Zerg Rush. They clinch, gunshots are heard, and Kasuga crumples in death. The other guy turns, walks down the tunnel, casually takes off his jacket, and then also collapses to the ground in death.
  • Not Quite Dead: Misako when on the tape sent to Goro she is shown lying unconscious the voiceover comments: "Misako is dead". Later it turns that she is very badly mutilated but still alive. Goro kills her in the end.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: #1 thinks that way about Goro. #1 explains that if other killers kill him he'll receive nothing for his death.
  • Pocket Protector:
    • Mami shoots Goro right in the gut...or she would have shot him right in the gut, if the bullet hadn't been stopped by his heavy belt buckle.
    • Somehow, the headband that Goro dons before his final shootout with #1 stops a bullet meant for his forehead.
  • Stocking Filler: Misako sticks out a long, smooth leg, and Goro makes a show of peeling her stocking off. This is followed by her trying to kill him and then followed by him peeping through a keyhole as she puts her stocking back on.
  • Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl: Misako's character is clearly inspired by the archetype, her hair is seemingly always wet, and she's frequently depicted standing in the rain, even when it isn't raining on anyone else,
  • Surrealism: Partially intentional, and partially as a way to deal with the studio's budget cuts. Suzuki tended to cut together conversations between characters filmed against wildly differing backgrounds and even in different locations. For example, in one extended conversation between Goro and Misako she is standing in the rain and he is not.
  • Too Dumb to Live: How Kasuga was at any point a professional hitman is beyond comprehension.
  • Woman Scorned: Played with. The general level of Comedic Sociopathy means Mami might have been induced to shoot Goro even if he hadn't cheated on her with Misako.
  • Yakuza: Both as a subject matter and a Genre, it was Suzuki's frustration with the limitations of the Yakuza genre that caused him to get creative.
  • You Are Number 6: Goro is the #3 killer; along the way he meets #1, #4 and #2, and and their rankings are always explicitly mentioned.