Branded to Kill (Koroshi no rakuin)

Branded to Kill

The Cinema of Cool doesn't not equal Cinema
that Makes a Lot of Sense

dir: Seijun Suzuki


I’ve watched this flick twice and I still haven’t got a fucking clue what happened. Forgive me for the language, since this is a family show. And as a father I really should be more circumspect in my choice of language. But honestly, for fuck’s sake, this flick is insane.

This and a bunch of other flicks are often referred to as a product of Japan’s New Wave era, supposedly inspired by the French Nouvelle Vague of flicks by guys like Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol, Resnais and all the other shmucks. A new, rebellious sensibility; inspired, radical, genre-breaking, overtaking and smashing the reactionary, stultified world of contemporary cinema.

I can’t say for sure whether that was really the case. All I know is, this flick here makes no sense, is edited all over the place, and has people doing all sorts of insane things without so much as a by your leave or a recognisable emotion or motivation. It’s just flat out nonsensical, with scenes edited together as if they’re from different films.

But it’s supposed to be cool. I don’t know how much swinging was going on in Japan’s swinging Sixties, but the look of beatnik cool pervades everything from the jazz soundtrack to the clothing, to the sunglasses and constant smoking. Seen now these cool cats look about as cool as your grandparents wearing homeboy gear and trying to break dance. Hey you, the Rock Steady Crew.

There’s some guy, and he’s the Number 3 killer in Japan. There’s some Billboard chart or something. Some other guy wants to kill him because… They chase each other around because… Random people intrude into the story and kill or are killed because… He has some strange relationship with his wife and an even stranger feather wearing – insect – boiled rice sexual relationship with a Japanese woman who wants to die and who loves him because…

The Cinema of Cool means stuff doesn’t have to follow logically from one scene to the other as long as it hangs together: the important thing is for the characters to look cool and be cool. There’s nothing sensible here, but precious little coolness here either.

Maybe I just wasn’t in the right headspace to enjoy this. I should have been prepared for the surreal worst, but I just didn’t know how incomprehensible it would get. It’s not David Lynch or Luis Bunuel surreal; it’s I’m prepared to wait when something occurs that hasn’t been explained as yet in a scene, especially when the next scene seems to jump around within the space-time continuum, but if it is never explained, then I’m going to get a bit pissed off.

The flick is supposed to have been very influential to a lot of filmmakers, (like Stinkypants Tarantino and Jim Jarmusch, who ripped off the assassination through the drainpipe bit for Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai), but I’m at a loss to see why. It’s one thing to make an incomprehensible film and to explain that there are reasons behind it: it’s a thematic element, the editor was on drugs, your horoscope told you to do it that way. It’s another to make a film incompetently, and then be applauded for it. What they pretend is intentional is just hack work, in my opinion.

The real impact this film and the others by Suzuki like it is that gunmen and killers would wear sunglasses day and night, and it would be more important for them to cut a fine mod figure in their classy threads than to actually look like criminals.

Sunglasses are cool. Smoking is cool. Story is redundant. Bask in my coolness, the film seems to say. It’s not nonsense, it’s COOL!

Well, no it’s not. It’s fucking nonsensical and not enjoyable on any level. Leave me alone, you crazy Japanese film, and take your bad craziness with you. I have more than enough insanity to deal with in my life as it is.

4 times flicks I’ve worn sunglasses many times and smoked the occasional cigarette and I’m definitely not cool out of 10

“This is the way Number One works: he exhausts you, then he kills you” – you and me both, Branded to Kill.