Shelf Life Golgo 13: The Professional
by Paul Jensen,
I tend to drink a lot of tea when I'm writing reviews, so buying a new electric tea kettle a couple of weeks ago has improved my life in a noticeable way. Being able to heat water to exactly the right temperature and then keep it there as long as I want is fantastic. It probably sounds silly and insignificant, but it's often the silly and insignificant things that make an otherwise average day a little better. Welcome to Shelf Life.
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Golgo 13: The Professional
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Shelf Life Reviews
I grabbed the recent Blu-Ray release of Golgo 13: The Professional for this week without really knowing what to expect from it. My familiarity with the Golgo 13 franchise is pretty limited, so I figured I was just signing up for an action movie. That's what I got to some extent, but this movie turned out to be much more intriguing once I was able to put into the right context.
The movie tells the story of legendary assassin Golgo 13, also known as Duke Togo, and his deadly run-in with a powerful American businessman. Golgo is hired to kill the son of Leonard Dawson, an extremely wealthy tycoon who exerts quite a lot of influence over the American government. Dawson vows revenge against Golgo, and resorts to increasingly violent and dangerous tactics in his attempts to kill our seemingly unstoppable hitman hero. As government troops and deadly mercenaries close in on Golgo, Dawson begins to lose his mind and drags the rest of his family into his mad quest for vengeance.
Aside from its animated visuals, this film could easily pass for a traditional action movie. It rarely goes more than a few minutes without some kind of fight, car chase, or sex scene, and the handful of lengthy conversations are often just there to lay the groundwork for the next big setpiece. Golgo shoots a guy through a skyscraper, escapes swarms of police cars driven by crooked henchmen, fights a crazy assassin in a high-rise elevator, and repeatedly survives perils that would kill any normal person. If you like strong, silent heroes who are simply too tough and too resourceful to die, he's definitely your man.
Much of this sex and violence is elevated to some extent by the movie's distinctive visual style. Director Osamu Dezaki and animation director Akio Sugino have been involved in the production of many iconic titles over the years, and that experience shows itself in the way many shots in this movie convey information without the need for a huge amount of dialogue. It's a visually appealing film overall, so it's strange to think that its most distinctive scene is the one that's aged worse than any other. A scene involving helicopter gunships flying through a city is presented entirely through CG animation, and it's one of the earliest instances of computer graphics being used in anime. It's interesting from a historical perspective, but it looks hilariously dated by modern standards and can be a jarring break from the rest of the movie if you're not ready for it.
It's also safe to say that not every viewer is going to fall in love with Golgo as a main character. He rarely speaks, and maintains a cold, amoral state of mind throughout the story. You could almost argue that Dawson and the other characters are the stars of the film from an emotional perspective, with Golgo acting as a dispassionate and unstoppable force of nature. It's actually a neat setup from a creative point of view, and it helps explain why the franchise has lasted for so long; supporting characters can come and go as needed, and Golgo just shows up to beat up the bad guy or make the impossible sniper shot when the time comes. It's not, however, a recipe for a sympathetic hero. If you're not taken in by Golgo's particular brand of coolness, then there's really not much to like about the story.
I mentioned earlier that Golgo 13: The Professional makes for an interesting introduction to the franchise, and that's not all down to the film itself. This disc comes with a wealth of extras like commentary tracks, interviews, and production sketches, all of which help put the movie into context. Of particular interest to me was an English commentary track by Jonathan Clements, who has written several books on the history of anime. I watched a few minutes of this commentary just to get a sense of what it was and ended up listening to the whole thing. By the end, I felt like I had a better understanding of the movie. If you want to get a sense of why Golgo 13 is significant or how the franchise has fared in the English-speaking market, it's definitely worth a listen.
If you look at Golgo 13: The Professional on its own, you'll find a dark and pulpy action movie that manages to entertain despite having an emotionally distant hero and a bare-bones plot. Honestly though, I think it might be more rewarding to approach it in more of a “college film class” kind of way. Between the visual style of the movie and the longevity of the franchise, there's a lot here to sink your teeth into, and the on-disc extras certainly help. That's a lot of work for a film about things blowing up though, and it may not be worth the effort for some viewers. If digging into the details of an older anime title sounds like your cup of tea, give it a shot. If not, then your time is probably best spent elsewhere.
That's it for this week's review section. Thanks for reading!
This week's shelves are from Pedro:
I didn't receive a description with this entry, so I'll go ahead and call out those impressive collections of long-running manga titles like Bleach, One Piece, Berserk, and Claymore. Fifty-plus books from a single series makes for quite the sight. Thanks for sharing!
If you've got a collection of anime, manga, and other cool stuff that you'd like to show off, send me your photos at [email protected]!
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