Branded to Kill AKA Koroshi no rakuin [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Arrow Films
Review written by and copyright: Samuel Scott (21st July 2014).
The Film

***This is a technical review only. For reviews on the movie from various critics, we recommend visiting HERE.***

Seijun Suzuki’s delirious 1967 hit-man film has drawn comparisons with contemporaries Le Samourai and Point Blank and influenced directors such as John Woo, Jim Jarmusch and Quentin Tarantino among others.

The story of laconic yakuza Hanada, aka ‘No. 3 Killer’, the third rated hit-man in Japan who takes an impossible job from the mysterious, death obsessed Misako. Hanada bungles the hit and finds himself the target of his employers and a bullet ridden journey leads him to face the No. 1 Killer.

Shot in cool monochrome with beguiling visuals, Branded to Kill is an effortlessly cool crime film with a jazzy score that caused Suzuki to be fired by the studio’s executives but is now rightly recognised as his masterpiece.

Video

Arrow Video have released "Branded to Kill" on to Blu-ray in the United Kingdom using the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The transfer is 1080p and it has received an AVC MPEG-4 encode. My only previous viewing off this movie is the old Criterion DVD, on which the transfer here, is a massive improvement.

The old DVD transfer I mentioned was full of damage such as scratches and dirt, but this transfer just about eradicates any such damage 100%. There aren't any scratches, and the only noticeable dirt is the occasional small blip which isn't overly obvious unless you're using a large screen. The transfer is very stable, with the various shadings and blacks looking great. There were no signs of crush that I noticed, which helps make the darker scenes look more pronounced whilst showcasing the depth of the transfer. A thin natural layer of grain runs throughout, with the transfer exhibiting only minor noise (unlike the old DVD, which was very noisy). Details are generally strong, especially in facial close-ups and in more enclosed settings, such as Hanada's home. I noticed no edge enhancement or aliasing. Overall, I am very happy with transfer here. The grain structure, the colours, and details are all fine. Some improvement could be made to get rid of the remaining dirt and the occasional noise, but this is certainly of solid quality.

The film is uncensored, and runs 90:57.

Audio

Arrow have provided us with a single audio track for this release; Japanese LPCM 1.0 Mono. The track is of good quality with very few issues. The only real concern for me was that on occasion, some syllables of dialogue could become a little tinny, but I doubt most people will notice. Considering it is a mono track, it does of course lack a little depth and can sound slightly flat at times, but dialogue is always clear and the jazz score has great clarity, really adding to the overall feel of the feature. During my viewing, I noticed no damage to the track such as drop outs or scratches, and there were no signs of background hiss.

Optional English subtitles are included.

Extras

First up, we have a short interview with director Seijun Suzuki, running 7:08. He talks about the lack of outline the studio gave him, the process of producing the screenplay, dividing up the screenplay between the screenwriters, location scouting, the nudity in the film, and how the film was criticised by the studio as being incomprehensible. Suzuki isn't the greatest of speakers, and we rely on the interviewer to draw some of the answers out, but it's informative if brief.

Next, we have an interview with star Jo Shishido, moderated by critic and author Koshi Ueno (6:41). Shushido tells us he originally thought it would be a third rate American style gangster film, but his perceptions changed during production. He talks about how Suzuki is a master director, the sex scenes in the film, and the way nudity was censored back then. He also talks about Suzuki's intentions as a director, and how Suzuki worked in general.

The main extra is a bonus film - "Trapped in Lust [Aiyoku no wana]" (1973) - a delirious roman porno re-imagining of Branded to Kill from Atsushi Yamatoya, one of Branded to Kill's screenwriters and Suzuki's regular collaborators (73:33). This makes for interesting viewing and won't be to everyone's tastes, but certainly a worthwhile and very welcome addition to the disc. The picture quality is rather average though, and the audio does have a few scratches and can lack clarity, often sounding tinny.

There are a couple of trailers included, with the "Trap of Lust" one available when you click on the film itself:
- "Branded to Kill" (3:10)
- "Trap of Lust" (2:07)

A second disc holds a DVD copy.

Also as part of the package, we get a reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Ian MacEwan, and a booklet by Japanese film expert Jasper Sharp, illustrated with original stills and new artwork by Ian MacEwan.

Overall

The Film: B+ Video: B+ Audio: B+ Extras: C Overall: B+

 


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