Branded to Kill - Seijun Suzuki - Japan 1966; Nanbura Koji, Jo Shishido
ICA 2, 1st July 2006 Ticket price £6-50
How to cook the rice
What to make of this film: it is the product of a totally schizoid society, a society ripped open by a cultural hurricane called the USA. Suzuki’s episodic story line links a series of increasingly violent confrontations all played out to a very cool jazz score by Naozumi Yamamoto. Branded to Kill reflects Japan as a broken society seen through the multiplexed reflections of smashed shards of a zen mirror. The here and now as a nightmare. A document produced by a defeated society, but made with the extraordinary lucidity of the state of affairs: a twisted deterritorialised Samurai gangster culture shaped by an ethos of sadism played out in depersonalised spaces with guns and American cars…
However at the centre of the film is the image of the pot of rice. The enduring symbol of Shintoism rice. This image of a pot full of cooked rice is returned to regularly. The pot belonging to the protagonist and as in fairytale, it’s a pot that for him is always a full and which nourishes him physically and psychically. Rice is his favorite food, the food he craves. Yet the pot is not a traditional pot: it is an electric rice cooker. The white rice fluffs up perfectly cooked in this gadget. A automatic device that is a double sign: a sign of the quintessential world of the American - slick electric efficient non traditional and - also the food that is the core of Japanese culture, symbolising genesis and purity. The rice pot, at the centre of the Branded to Kill is a cursive elegant statement about Japan in the 1960’s: a traditional culture cooked up in the encompassing embrace of a alien society.
For the most part, Seijun Suzuki uses the film as a full blown suicidal assault on traditional Japanese values and sensibilities. Violence and sex intertwine and twist as a pastiche of American iconic imagery: the moll, the gun, the gangster are taken to extremes in sequences that are exercises in a parody of controlled ironic Japanese detachment. In Branded to Kill the various sequences comprising: chase fight torture or sex are defined by stylistic detachment and frequently use the sound track as a deintensifier of the extreme action. For example when the sexy gangster’s moll is being tortured to death with a blow torch her face retains an amused insouciant playful demeanor and hums to herself: this attitude of amused exteriority audio and visual effectively deintensifies the horror of the blow torch sequence transforming it into something like an amusing game, a childish conceit.
Most of the film there is a rendering of the acting and the fractured plot that make Branded to Kill an assemblage of the world of the child. Perhaps this is endemic in the gangster movie genre: because certainly both Edward G Robinson and James Cagney both had baby faces and there is in the violence of the gangster the fury of the wronged and angered child. The idea of gangster unleashes and frees these destructive forces. I think that Suzuki is saying something parallel but different within Branded to Kill that relates the Japanese experience of military defeat and cultural invasion had caused Japanese society to revert to a collective infantilism where its core institutions and values had undergone a sort of inversion of the playground.
Adrin Neatrour 11 Aug 2006