Branded to Kill (1967)

And finally, the straw that broke the camel’s back. By this time Nikkatsu were fed up stamping their feet, and having failed to break Suzuki by cutting his budgets (as they’d already tried and failed), they then banned him from shooting in colour. Not that Suzuki seems to have been too phased by this, and anyway, looking at Branded to Kill again tonight, it struck me that colour wouldn’t have helped the film in any way; Suzuki didn’t need colour to show you Joe Shishido getting aroused by the smell of cooking rice, or a man on fire running from a burning building. I first saw the film years ago on SBS, having read about it a few years before in Sight & Sound, and at the time I was at best dimly aware of the film’s reputation; I knew it was supposed to be pretty strange and that was about all. And “pretty strange” proved about right, too; at the same time, though, I wonder now if my appreciation of it was limited a bit by it being my first Suzuki film (as I suspect it would be for a lot of people, given that it probably is his best known film). Not having seen any of his other films (nor indeed much Japanese cinema in general) at that time, I couldn’t really contextualise it. Having watched it again tonight right after Tokyo Drifter, I got more out of it; I could see him still doing that rectangular subdividing of the image, and the narrative made more sense than before (albeit still requiring some work to decipher), and having seen what he could do with colour I also realised this film actually wouldn’t have worked except in monochrome. And, finally, I think I realised just quite how bizarre the film really is, and just how much further out Suzuki went with it than he had before; these really are quite mythic characters rather than recognisable people in a “real” world. We can, I suppose, only wonder how much further he might’ve gone had Nikkatsu not given him his marching orders in April 1968 and helped blacklist him from the industry for years thereafter.

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