Golgo 13: The Professional Review
Manga films are a bit of boy's club, and the world of Manga is quite often one of male wish fulfillment. Consequently, some of the boundaries of good taste are not so important in a wholly created medium and Manga films often end up exploring the less seemly side of the male id. Takao Saito's Golgo 13 gives it's readership the vicarious thrill of using a hyper cool assassin to bed beautiful women and destroy the bad guys in all manner of brutal determined ways. It is unsurprising that when casting the role for a live action film that the name Sonny Chiba came to mind, but that movie undermined some of the comic's masculine cool by enjoying some kitsch seventies culture as part of its world. Whilst Chiba did his very likeable thing, the film suffered from a dose of whimsy that undermined the hard boiled nature of the original source. Ten years later an animated film was made and, whilst animated technology in 1983 was not exactly cutting edge, a sincere effort was made to make the story darker and more wanton. Taking as its sole focus the survival of hitman Duke Togo after hits on an oil magnate and the Mafia, the film follows the hard-as-nails assassin as he undertakes a number of hits and earns himself a contract to be killed from his influential enemies. Facing the full forces of the FBI, CIA, mercenary killers and psychos, Togo's defences are tested to the limit and his friends are decimated. Throughout the chase, Togo remains resourceful and displays an almost unnatural talent for escape. Togo is beseiged in a church, chased across cities and betrayed by his former friends. All kinds of people want him dead from the schoolkid at the airport to the criminally insane, Togo knows that his only escape is to get to the mastermind of this turkey shoot, but to do this he must defeat all the murderers on his tail from the airforce to the inconsolable widows. Duke Togo is a kind of modern samurai, with a loner's code of honour and completely deadly. His lone wolf persona stops friends getting close and women who love him getting killed - he is a modern version of Jef from Le Samourai complete with heavily notched bedposts. Self sufficient and hunted, he is his only saviour.
I quite enjoyed Golgo 13 although I would concede that the film is not exactly groundbreaking or novel. I would also concede that the animation does not measure up to the work of Mamoru Oshii or Katsuhiro Ôtomo, and the film even contains some very poor early CGI. What I liked about the film is that it stuck to its task of bringing the lady killing hitman to life, earnestly following Duke Togo along his incorrigible way and asking us to enjoy his victories against the corrupt forces against him, even to the point of making his hits seem like missions of justice or mercy. The kills he makes in the film include a war criminal and a murdering Mafiosa and his deeds can not be said to make the world a poorer place. The people drawn into Duke's slipstream, his girl fridays and his helpers, find themselves lost and destroyed in his wake but they can't help following him, even his victims almost give themselves to him as they can't resist what they know is going to happen. If the film fails to ignite as story or bravura animation then at least the character of Duke Togo is well rendered and consistently done.
The film's concentration on wish fulfilment means that some of the exposition is not exactly Shakespearean. Some of Togo's escapes are almost wholly unexplained and take on an almost supernatural deliverance due to an absence of mechanics, and this means that when he is truly under presure you don't believe for a moment that Togo won't win out. A similar criticism is that the women in the story are only present to be screwed, to be raped, or to be killed and the taste of eroticising this is occasionally dubious. For example when a widow is given to a loathsome hitman, Snake, as an unwilling sex toy, the story tries to find sexiness as well as revulsion and fails in both regards. I'd be surprised if anyone is impressed by the erotic scenes in the film as the conveyor belt of nubile nudity does become overexposed and trite - all women in this film wear stockings and suspenders, have perfect round breasts, and lose their clothing as soon as we meet them. This lack of fullness in the women's characterisation also leads to the truly awful line spoken by Togo's girl friday and car mechanic, Rita, when she refuses payment, at least in money terms, and compares herself enviously to his gun:
"I've just waited for so long for you to pull my trigger lovingly and softly"
Despite Togo's obvious invulnerability, the depiction of women for the cup size rather than their integrity, and some dodgy dialogue, Golgo 13 works in some important ways. It is genuinely thrilling and occasionally ingenious such as when Togo murders a former Nazi despite his sights being obscured by a tower block. It also boasts some quite finely caricatured villains in Snake, and Gold and Silver - a psychopathic double act released from maximum security. It isn't likely that the villains can win but the battle is rich and surprising enough to justify your attention. Golgo 13 is successful in keeping the audience interested and manages a dark style that, if not exceptional, is at least individual and interesting. The film is not a great hitman thriller or an awe-inspiring animation, it doesn't rival Le Samourai or Jin-Roh: the Wolf Brigade but it is satisfying hokum and B-movie Manga. It also is sufficiently restrained in it's sex and gore so as to not make you feel too uneasy whilst watching it and this reliable quality is it's chief recommendation.
The film comes in a rather odd two disc package, odd because each disc displays the main feature in exactly the same cut. The only reason for this doubling up seems to be the inclusion of DTS tracks on the second disc as the extras on the two discs are rather sparse. The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen with a reasonably noise free transfer which has good contrast levels for the dark scenes on show here. The transfer looks sharp and the colour is well balanced with appropriate saturation. Importantly the film is uncut with opening titles restored and the CGI helicopters mentioned above.
This package offers a plethora of Japanese and English options with DTS, 5.1 and 2.0 mono, my personal taste tends to favour the DTS for clarity but all of the surround tracks are perfectly workable. The English surround tracks are mostly spread over the speakers but the effect is not directional other than in stereo terms which means that often voices come from all speakers at once. The Japanese tracks have better depth and sound a little more natural but the English dub is so good that I would choose the English DTS as the best of the options here. The English subtitles seem to be exactly the same as the English dub but I did not notice any occasions where they didn't synch with dialogue and consequently they are very clear and high quality.
The extras are limited to an interview with the film's producer, trailers for other Manga releases and a commentary from Jonathan Clements, the joint author of the Anime Encyclopedia . If the commentary is anything to go by, Clements book must be a rather enjoyable read as he is an excellent guide through the film pointing out restored footage and comparing it with the original comic. He is also quite warm and witty about his subject and very well informed, I thought this was one of the better commentaries I have heard recently. The interview with Yamamoto is a little less fascinating and frankly unremarkable.
Not the greatest Manga ever but the film keeps true to the comic it's based on and revels in Togo's remorseless character. A definite step up from the Chiba movie and a fine rental for the casual viewer, although the devoted fan may be replacing their previous copy with this new release for it's fine audio options and anamorphic picture.