KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (7)
August 7, 2017
One of 25 installments in a series of enthusiastic posts analyzing and celebrating a few of our favorite neo-noir movies from the Sixties (1964–1973).
BRANDED TO KILL | d. SEIJUN SUZUKI | 1967
Branded to Kill begins with gunshots followed by a harpsichord, and the jarring dissonance of this audio-cut cues us to the starkly poetic, high-contrast world of the film that follows, as Seijiun Suzuki juggles noir tropes and then lets them collapse into fragments. Derided by his studio paymasters for making “movies that make no sense and no money”, the film cost Suzuki a ten-year blacklist, but one wonders if in fact Branded to Kill made certain points all too clearly. The brandscape of the Japanese post-war boom — Napoleon cognac tied up with a bow, a 1957 Saratoga with dropdead tailfins — holds out a noticeably Western, decidedly cut-throat dream of spurious success for which the film’s striving criminals and femme fatales torment each other. As they navigate the chutes and ladders of a star system in which hired killers are ranked above and below each other while everyone grasps to occupy the position of the mysterious “Number One,” one senses a not-so-subtle critique of corporate totem poles and bootstrapping myths of heroic self-advancement. Criminality is just another salary-man gig.
It’s also a gag on the gig of film-making as such. As this “yakuza eiga” film ticks one box after another off the mandatory list of hit man movie requirements, there’s a satirical hyper-conformity to the manic pace with which death and life keep trading places on camera: dead bodies tumble off of roofs, turn up in strange cars, spin at odd angles in desk chairs after being shot. Live actors court stasis, freezing into midshot staring contests, locking themselves into repetitive loops and tics, mouthing “my dream is to die” sententiously in the rain to people they’ve just met. But if live people keep dying, dead things keep bursting into life. Over and over, inanimate objects — grains of rice, poisoned needles, flat tires, miraculous bullet-defying belt buckles, barrels clogged with mud — become forceful agents in their own right, upstaging human priorities and forcing a dream-like logic onto the narrative.
A case in point occurs when we enter the sphinx-like Misako’s bizarrely furnished room, in which a huge wall of pinned butterflies gradually envelops the hitman and his would-be love interest; what starts as backdrop creeps up on and overwhelms the forward momentum of plot as the pair are shot through a dense cover of intrusive insect bodies. Ground swallows figure; symbolic details trump narrative wholes. This effect becomes even more pronounced later in the film by the delirious intrusion onto the screen of high contrast graphics that represent birds, rain and insects which overtake the frame and the sound mix. More harpsichord than gunshot, it’s a fittingly fragile example of Suzuki’s triumphant deployment of texture over plot.
KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Series Introduction | Kio Stark on THE KILLERS | Alix Lambert on BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | Judith Zissman on ALPHAVILLE | Mark Kingwell on HARPER | Lynn Peril on BLOW-UP | Devin McKinney on SECONDS | Drew Daniel on BRANDED TO KILL | Luc Sante on POINT BLANK | Gordon Dahlquist on LE SAMOURAÏ | Alice Boone on LE CERCLE ROUGE | Brian Berger on COTTON COMES TO HARLEM | Adrienne Crewe on PERFORMANCE | David Levine on THE FRENCH CONNECTION | Dan Fox on GET CARTER | Melissa Gira Grant on KLUTE | Brandi Brown on SHAFT | Kaleb Horton on FAT CITY | Peter Doyle on THE GETAWAY | Sarah Weinman on HICKEY & BOGGS | Annie Nocenti on BADLANDS | Josh Glenn on CHARLEY VARRICK | Gary Groth on THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE | Lisa Jane Persky on THE LONG GOODBYE | Mimi Lipson on MEAN STREETS | Sherri Wasserman on SOYLENT GREEN.
MORE MOVIES at HILOBROW: KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: 25 neo-noirs of the Sixties (1964–1973) | James Parker’s BOURNE VARIATIONS series | Alix Lambert’s SÉRIE NOIRE series | Jacob Mikanowski’s SCREEN TIME series | Josh Glenn’s SHOCKING BLOCKING series | Joanne McNeil’s ALL MY STARS series | MORE: including dozens of HILO HERO items on movie directors and actors.
KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads | GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other new wave songs. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other fantasy novels from 1934–43. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other old-school hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.