Branded to Kill


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Branded to Kill, the wildly perverse story of the yakuza's rice-sniffing "No. 3 Killer," is Seijun Suzuki at his delirious best. From a cookie-cutter studio script, Suzuki delivered this brutal, hilarious, and visually inspired masterpiece-and was promptly fired. Criterion presents the DVD premiere of Branded to Kill in a pristine transfer from the original Nikkatsu-scope master.

Picture 3/10

Though not as bad as what Criterion gave us for their original DVD edition of Tokyo Drifter, Branded to Kill’s transfer still ranks as one of the company’s worst.

Presented on a single-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (non-anamorphic of course) the transfer is still a blobby mess, similar to what you might find on VHS. I suspect it was a port of the laserdisc that was then further ruined by a poor digital transfer to DVD (I haven’t seen the laserdisc but it would be hard for me to imagine the laserdisc looking worse than this.) It’s fuzzy, lacks detail, and is filled with marks and scratches. This is really just an issue of poor source materials and a lack of restoration, which would be somewhat, if not entirely forgivable. But what makes the presentation worse is simply the fact the digital transfer was botched. Though technically not interlaced (despite some moments where it appears that way) it shows all of the trademarks of an interlaced transfer: jagged edges, shimmering, constant moiré noise and the occasional bit of ghosting. Compression noise is heavy and blocking gets excessive in the darker areas of the screen. Contrast is off and whites bloom creating halos around everything, which doesn’t seem to be the intended look (looking at the new Blu-ray seems to confirm this.)

With next to no detail (trees and bushes look like blocky, pixelated masses) and the generally poor quality this is one of the hardest Criterion DVDs to view, and the only praise I can give it is that it’s not as bad as Tokyo Drifter but only because that one managed to screw up its aspect ratio and presented digital noise far worse than what’s here.

Audio 2/10

Like Tokyo Drifter the Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track is flat and hollow, with no range, and low volume levels. Noise is present and distortion is heavy. Music is an absolute disaster. In all an annoying track.

Extras 3/10

Criterion includes an interview with Seijun Suzuki recorded at a retrospective of his work back in 1997. At 14-minutes it’s brief but very insightful as Suzuki talks a little about his early work at Nikkatsu, offers some thoughts on his films, gets into how he was able to quickly edit his films (in most cases he was done after only a day because he shot only what he needed,) states that he really only made films for entertainment purposes and not as art, and then offers his thoughts on “film grammar.” 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. Though the grammar and the spelling of the subtitle translation is questionable (and yes, me stating that is a case of “pot calling kettle black”) it’s a great interview, especially it’s amusing conclusion where the interviewer and Suzuki go to a local bar and have a couple of drinks, where Suzuki’s “acting” career briefly comes up. That last part especially makes it worthwhile.

The disc then concludes with a photo gallery of posters for Shishido’s films, which comes from the collection of composer John Zorn. This is obviously a port from the laserdisc and is a 3-minute video presentation working like a slide show complete with an intro by Zorn. Zorn also wrote the brief essay included in the insert, which goes over his discovery of the Nikkatsu B-movies and Branded to Kill’s place in the genre.

Not much obviously but the interview is great. Thankfully Criterion would revisit the film and offer more, though admittedly not much more.


I enjoyed the interview but the rest of the release is worthless: terrible audio and video transfers make it almost impossible to watch.


Directed by: Seijun Suzuki
Year: 1967
Time: 91 min.
Series: The Criterion Collection
Edition #: 38
Licensor: Nikkatsu Co.
Release Date: February 23 1999
MSRP: $29.95
1 Disc | DVD-5
2.35:1 ratio
Japanese 1.0 Dolby Digital Mono
Subtitles: English
Regions 1/2/3/4/5/6
 Interview with Seijun Suzuki from 1997   Vintage Japanese film ephemera from the collection of John Zorn   Insert featuring an essay by John Zorn