Half Empty, Since 1998

Summary of, and comments on the 1967 film by Japanese director Suzuki about the third ranked assassin and his quest to become number one.

Marty's Notes On "Branded To Kill"

Marty Spellerberg. February 2nd, 2000

In the film, Suzuki tells a story of the #3 ranked assassin and his quest to become #1. He takes a job escorting an anonymous client to a specific (rather unimportant) location. There’s a somewhat comic gunfight, and in the end he completes the mission. He then meets a girl, who’s always associated with birds, and she gives him a series of assignments, which he completes with creativity and humor. But one of them gets bungled and an innocent is killed instead of the target and he knows his days are up. Meanwhile, his girl has been cheating on him with his boss and he’s double-crossed so that when he falls, he falls hard.

He’s forced to fall into one of their traps, but he’s a superstar and kills them all, and that’s when he discovers they’ve sent #1 after him, who happens to be the client from the first operation. The rest of the film is #1 playing with his mind, causing him to hole himself up in his apartment, constantly afraid he’s about to be killed. The mind games get even worse when he and #1 are handcuffed together and do all sorts of mundane things like sit in the apartment and go to a restaurant. #1 gets to say, “this is the way #1 works” a few times and it’s really, really funny. In the end #3 thinks he’s killed #1 and he’s really happy and says, “I’m #1! I’m #1!” before #1 revels he’s not really dead and kills him. It’s great.

The first half the film, #3 being a hunter, is super-stylish. It has all the right elements – airplanes, fancy cars, outrageous gunfights and assassinations, dark sunglasses and naked girls. The second half is really cool also, but in a real way, not a campy way. Shots are framed with only a part of #3 in them, conveying how he knows he can’t hide, no matter how hard he tries. The claustrophobia of his apartment is expertly portrayed so that when the surreal anti-climax happens – his playing with a balloon like a child, we are both crazed enough to feel his joy, and wound up tight enough to be relived.

Many different styles were used in the film, and there was even that obnoxious bit with the paper-cut out birds, but no symbol was given too much importance as to lose the viewer (that was the plot’s job). While I would expect it to work the other way around, the more films I see the more value I place on their ability to keep me interested and this most definitely did do that.


Marty’s Japanese Film Notes

These notes were compiled in the winter of 1999 as part of Marty’s studies at the Ontario College of Art & Design. They may contain references to ideas in texts and credit is given to the authors.