film fatales #50: rbg (julie cohen and betsy west, 2018)
the criterion channel

branded to kill (seijun suzuki, 1967)

Time for another in our ongoing series, Movies That Aren't for Me. Today, we'll look at Branded to Kill, a 60s Japanese yakuza movie that stomps all over the traditions of the genre.

Seijun Suzuki had made 39 films in the Japanese film production industry. He often wasn't happy with the projects he was given, most of which were B-movie genre pieces. He finally took to imprinting his films with his own personal touches. Each film would piss off the studio, Nikkatsu, they'd cut his budget a little more, instruct him to tone it down, he'd give them another Suzuki Special, they'd cut his budget some more, etc. Finally, for his 40th movie, Branded to Kill, the budget meant he was shooting in black-and-white. It was the straw that broke the studio's back ... he was fired. I'll let Wikipedia take over:

On 25 April 1968, Suzuki received a telephone call from a Nikkatsu secretary informing him that he would not be receiving his salary for that month. Two friends of Suzuki met with [studio head] Hori the next day and were informed that "Suzuki's films were incomprehensible, that they did not make any money and that Suzuki might as well give up his career as a director as he would not be making films for any other companies."

Suzuki sued, and 3 1/2 years later, won a settlement that included  a public apology from Kyusaku Hori for the negative things he said about Suzuki's movies. Suzuki was unable to direct another movie until ten years after Branded to Kill.

There is so much to admire about Suzuki, and I looked forward to watching Branded to Kill, the first Suzuki I have seen. And ... like Kyusaku Hori, I found it incomprehensible.

This was on purpose. Suzuki was rejecting the normal generic practices. It's impossible to figure out the plot, partly because it's not clear that Suzuki cares about it. There may be a method to his madness, but for me, the ongoing disruptions were random and meaningless. I didn't care about the characters, or the milieu, or whatever plot I could discern. There were diversions ... the hero is obsessed with smelling rice when it's boiling. And that hero is played by Joe Shishido, who earlier in his career had plastic surgery to make his cheeks bigger ... mostly he just looks odd.

So we have another movie where the director seems to have accomplished what they set out to do, which is rarer than it should be. That I didn't like it is irrelevant. It's a "Movie That Isn't for Me". The patron saint of these movies is Terrence Malick. #776 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.

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