Branded to Kill ★★★★½

Seijun Suzuki is some kind of mad genius. This is only the second movie of his I've seen, the first being Tokyo Drifter. I think on the whole, Tokyo Drifter is a better movie but Branded to Kill is way weirder. Whereas Tokyo Drifter used absurdism to comment on genre tropes, Branded to Kill uses that same idea but more as an excuse for some severe weirdness. This is a movie where the lead character has an addiction to sniffing rice, which he does between sessions of hardcore sex with his equally crazy wife in between hits, which sometimes, apparently, end up with him floating away on a balloon.

There's a plot here, too, but it really doesn't matter. The main character is the #3 (or was it #2?) hitman. Things fall apart when he slips up on an important job and falls in love. Then he is hunted. Try to penetrate Branded to Kill's plot any further and you'll get nothing but headaches, because, as a storytelling mechanism, Branded to Kill is practically broken. But if you've down the Japanese film rabbit hole far enough to find Suzuki, chances are that's simply not what you're here for. What you ostensibly ARE here for is heaps upon heaps of bizarre yet inspired imagery and an unbelievable cast of characters, and it doesn't get more bizarre or unbelievable than this.

It's hard to give a star rating to a movie like Branded to Kill because, by nature, it's meant to weird you the hell out. One of the things I value most in movies or any art is creativity, and by that standard Branded to Kill is a wildly off-kilter 5 out of 5. But I have to go with my gut here and say that even though it's totally out there, Branded to Kill feels very slow and very long at times - and it's only an hour and a half long. So...there's that. Also, once #1 gets into the picture, the movie slows its pace somewhat and kills some of its energy, and it can be a little unsatisfying to see some of the larger sub-plots come together towards the end.

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