Sublime: Branded to Kill

Branded to Kill (1967)
Directed by Seijun Suzuki
Written by Mitsutoshi Ishigami, Hachiro Guryu (Seijun Suzuki, Takeo Kimura, Atsushi Yamatoya, Yozo Tanaka, Yasuaki Hangai, Chusei Sone, Seiichiro Yamaguchi, Yutaka Okada)
Produced by Kaneo Iwai, Takiko Mizunoe
Starring Jo Shishido, Koji Nanbara, Anne Mari, Mariko Ogawa, Isao Tamagawa, Hiroshi Minami
Constantly gratifying his fetish for the aroma of steamed rice, an assassin (Shishido) ranked ternary among the Yakuza's freelancers finds himself lured and choused when he agrees to escort an endangered stranger (Nanbara) and terminate various professionals with unique flair, running gauntlets of gunfire no more lethal than the gambits of his faithless and libidinous wife (Ogawa) or a morbidly mystifying beauty (Mari) practicing proclivities for avicide and lepidopticide. Nearly a half-century since its thorny release, Suzuki's silly, sexy, stunning crime thriller has long since been acknowledged a masterpiece of madcap cinema, but Japanese theatergoers in '67 were initially as unimpressed as Nikkatsu president Kyusaku Hori, who sacked his most erratic talent for shooting pictures that, in his undervaluation, made neither sense nor profit. How could anyone misprize Suzuki's ingenious segues, mesmerizing pans, masking monochromatic animation, pricelessly impossible gunplay and chic interiors? Every other shot engages the eye: a showerhead's efflux obfuscates marital copulation, negative footage of cityscapes radiate danger, and spotlit subjects loom larger than death. All of his supporting castmates serve as deadpan foils for Shishido, as magnetic for his sweeping range -- from blase equanimity to bibulous paranoia to feverish triumph -- as those surgically swollen cheeks, among the most remarkably individual lineaments yet adopted by a leading man. Suzuki's transparent weariness of the Yakuza genre's institutionalism spurred satirical pokes, deviant gimmickry, a willfully offbeat pace and extempore execution that urged his idiom to the brink of surrealism, yet were merely intended to maximize his project's entertainment! Fixated on their homicidal expertise and its attendant rank, these hitmen demonstrate that life's hardly cheap for its expendability, but the substantial conflict and success transpired in reality: Suzuki's victorious lawsuit against Nikkatsu for wrongful dismission and breach of contract, and protests organized by partnerships of students, cinephiles and peers such as Shinoda and Oshima in response to the studio's petty abstraction of his feature catalog from private and theatrical distribution cemented the significance and enlarged the popularity of his output, and established the industry oddball as a cult hero...albeit one who waited a decade before receiving his next invitation to direct another theatrical feature.