Branded to Kill ★★★½

With Naozumi Yamamoto's exciting jazz score complementing Kazue Nagatsuka's stark and fascinatingly composed cinematography, Branded to Kill frequently evokes the aesthetics of Orson Welles' Touch of Evil and Jean-luc Godard's Alphaville (one would suspect that it also owes a debt of inspiration to Jean Pierre Melville's Le samouraï, which it seems to be mocking directly in several instances, except that the French hitman drama was released four months later in the same year), and the director's flurry of sometimes random and knowingly crude ideas manages to propel the movie forward with a unique energy even when the narrative seems to get stuck for too long in preposterous ruts. Whether or not there is a cohesive thematic point to Branded to Kill, or if it's just a collection of spur-of-the-moment ideas and inspired visual riffs, it's consistently neat, fun & surprising.

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