The list of films that have ruined a great director’s career is short but prestigious: ‘Peeping Tom’, ‘The Great Dictator’, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and ‘Branded to Kill’. This 1967 Japanese gangland masterpiece was so berserk, extreme and downright incomprehensible that its creator, Seijun Suzuki, was fired by the studio and barely worked for a decade. The set-up is simple, if nonsensical. Hanada (Jo Shishido), Japan’s number three assassin, bungles an important job and finds himself hunted by Japan’s number one assassin, The Phantom.
But it’s the execution that sets the film apart: animated birds flock across the screen; the camera attaches itself to rifle barrels, shower heads and (anticipating ‘The Naked Gun’) a police strobe light; one character lives in an apartment filled entirely with dead, mounted butterflies. ‘Branded to Kill’ is one of those films that feels so far ahead of its time, we may still not have caught up to it. The violence is raw, the sex even more so, and the monochrome photography is flawless – every frame here belongs in a gallery. Wild, weird and unforgettable.