|Vintage Pulp||Jun 15 2010|
Above is a poster for Seijan Suzuki’s 1967 underground gangster flick Koroshi no rakuin, aka Branded To Kill, with Jo Shishido and Annu Mari. This is about as stylish a movie as you could hope to see, with some stunning directorial flourishes and a cool jazz score. When Tokyo’s No. 3 Killer misses a mark because a butterfly lands in front of his rifle scope, he must pay the price for his failure. Pretty soon he’s facing off against No. 1 Killer, who was supposed to be a myth but turns out to be very real.
Shot in black and white, Koroshi no rakuin is all shadows, flames and frantic shootouts between guys in skinny ties. Suzuki goes on a whirlwind tour of Tokyo and its environs, seeking out every unusual backdrop imaginable for his meticulous and surreal set pieces. We think the movie is worth viewing for the fire stunt alone—a gangster holes up in a WWII bunker, and when it catches fire he flees while fully aflame and manages a fifty yard sprint down a rocky slope, running so fast that the wind of his passage pushes the flames behind him like the crest of some exotic bird.
Like everything else in Koroshi no rakuin, the moment is over all too quickly. That could also be said of its theatrical run—the film was a flop, and its failure resulted in conflicts between Suzuki and his studio Nikkatsu that got him blacklisted for ten years. In a sense, we can understand Nikkatsu's disappointment—it's clear Suzuki didn't take his assignment to direct a gangster film as literally as he might have. But as always, the most important critic of all is time, and Suzuki’s nervous, absurdist, disjointed noir masterpiece has survived. Koroshi no rakuin opened in Tokyo today in 1967.