Branded to Kill


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When Japanese New Wave bad boy Seijun Suzuki delivered this brutal, hilarious, and visually inspired masterpiece to the executives at his studio, he was promptly fired. Branded to Kill tells the ecstatically bent story of a yakuza assassin with a fetish for sniffing steamed rice (the chipmunk-cheeked superstar Joe Shishido) who botches a job and ends up a target himself. This is Suzuki at his most extreme—the flabbergasting pinnacle of his sixties pop-art aesthetic.

Picture 9/10

The Criterion Collection upgrades one of their staple titles, Seijun Suzuki’s Branded to Kill, to 4K UHD, presenting the film with a 2160p/24hz ultra high-definition encode in 10-bit SDR and the aspect ratio of 2.39:1 on a dual-layer, BD-66 disc. The presentation is sourced from a new 4K restoration performed by Nikkatsu, scanned from the 35mm original camera negative. This edition also includes a standard dual-layer Blu-ray featuring the film in 1080p/24hz high-definition. It is the same disc Criterion released in 2011, using the same older restoration.

It’s a bit wild to see how far this film has come since Criterion’s original 1999 DVD, one of their worst early releases on the format. That release was a smudgy, highly digitized, blown-out-looking mess with little-to-no shadow detail leading to a climax in a darkened arena that was impossible to see. Yes, it was a non-anamorphic DVD from 1999. Still, even for the time, it was an absolute disaster of a presentation and more than likely a digital port of Criterion’s LaserDisc. Their Blu-ray edition improved things considerably through a sharper and cleaner-looking image with better contrast levels and far more range. Yet, it could still be a little smudgy with limited shadow definition, the master also showing its age. It’s okay, but it could still be better.

I had always assumed that was about as good as it was ever going to get for the film, yet interestingly—despite the film’s studio firing the director over the film following its original release—Nikkatsu has seen fit to give the film that has amassed a cult following through the years a new 4K restoration (that won the Venice Film Festival Award for Best Restoration), and is it ever a revelation following decades of bad to mediocre presentations with weak contrast and dynamic range. And it’s in those areas where this new restoration provides the most substantial enhancements. Despite the release not utilizing HDR (which I will say is incredibly sad considering the film’s look) range in the shadows is still pointedly wider than what was even present on the Blu-ray, the image featuring smoother transitions in the grays with richer blacks. More detail is also exposed in the darker sequences of the film, especially during that climax mentioned previously, which takes place in a darkened arena. This leads to significantly more detail in the shadows and an image that is far easier to see.

Those improvements in detail also spread to every other area of the presentation, the image now looking far sharper with textures and other fine details clearer than ever. The restoration work is also near-immaculate, and outside of some minor wear on the edges of the frame, I can’t recount anything of note ever popping up. It looks fantastic, and this may be one of the bigger surprises I’ve come across yet on the format.

Audio 6/10

The audio is again presented in lossless PCM 1.0 monaural. I can’t say this sounds different from the previous Blu-ray edition. Damage isn’t an issue, and everything sounds clear, but I felt there can be a slight edge to dialogue and some of the action here and there, with limited range. I have to assume the source materials are just limited.

Extras 5/10

No supplements appear on the UHD disc, with everything found on the second dual-layer Blu-ray that also includes a 1080p film presentation. Since the disc replicates the one from the 2011 edition, all features have been ported over.

Things start again with a 12-minute interview featuring director Seijun Suzuki and assistant director Masami Kuzuu. The two talk about the film's production, beginning with the studio’s involvement in casting and how issues arose around casting the female leads since nudity was involved. There are details about some of the more surreal touches like the butterflies (which Suzuki explains away as “it was in the script,” so he filmed it), and he describes how he was able to make it with such a low budget due to the product placement of the rice cooker. Humorously, that rice cooker gave Suzuki the idea of giving the film's protagonist a rice fetish. There’s a little about Suzuki’s dismissal and the lawsuit that followed, but it's all only briefly covered. It’s incredibly short and disappointing in this regard, but worth watching nonetheless.

Following this is another interview, this time an 11-minute one with actor Joe Shishido. With his cheek implants now removed, Shishido talks about why he got them (which he admits was a mistake) and then talks in great detail about his work and the films he did with Suzuki, including Branded to Kill, naturally. He also talks about working as an actor in the Japanese studio system, Nikkatsu in particular. We get the usual anecdotes and such, but this is a very off-kilter interview. Shishido is one of the more engaging, forthcoming, and funny interviewees I’ve encountered on a feature like this, and there are a couple of surprise moments I won’t spoil. It also features a couple of good laughs, making this possibly the best feature on the disc.

Criterion then includes Seijun Suzuki’s interview recorded at a retrospective of his work back in 1997, which also appeared on the original DVD. At 14-minutes it’s brief but very insightful as Suzuki talks a little about his early career at Nikkatsu, offers some thoughts on his films, and gets into how he was able to quickly edit his movies (in most cases, he was done after only a day because he filmed only what he needed),  He only talks a little about Branded to Kill and Joe Shishido (he admits it’s hard for him to recall much of anything from the shoot) but he does get into his firing from the studio and the lawsuit that followed. It's still a terrific inclusion.

The disc then closes with the theatrical trailer while the insert (downgraded from the booklet found in the Blu-ray) features an essay about Suzuki and his later films written by Tony Rayns.

Though the supplements are still rather slim in the end, totaling around 40 minutes, they're still all worth going through.


I still wish Criterion would revisit the supplements for this film, but the new 4K presentation is one of the best surprises I've yet come across on the format.


Directed by: Seijun Suzuki
Year: 1967
Time: 91 min.
Series: The Criterion Collection
Edition #: 38
Licensor: Nikkatsu Co.
Release Date: May 09 2023
MSRP: $49.95
4K UHD Blu-ray/Blu-ray
2 Discs | BD-50/UHD-66
2.39:1 ratio
Japanese 1.0 PCM Mono
Subtitles: English
Regions A/None
HDR: None
 Interviews with director Seijun Suzuki and assistant director Masami Kuzuu   Interview with Seijun Suzuki from 1997   Interview with actor Joe Shishido   Trailer   An essay by critic and historian Tony Rayns