The Professional: Golgo 13

Director: Osamu Dezaki  
Voice Cast (English dub):
Gregory Snegoff, Michael McConnohie

As you no doubt know, we all have various needs in our lives, needs that keep us going and leave us in the best shape possible. Some of these needs are so obvious that they pop into our heads several times a day. There's water, of course - we all need enough water every day to stay hydrated and functioning well. Then there is food. We not only need a decent amount of food in our diet every day, enough of this food has to be rich enough in nutrients that we get all the vitamins and minerals that our bodies constantly burn up. And after we get enough water and food each day, we all eventually get the urge to climb into bed and sleep for several hours every night. But there are other needs humans have that aren't as obvious as those three that I brought up. Maybe not every human has them, but I think it's safe to say that the majority of humans do. There is the need of a sense of belonging to society in one way or another. For example, one way I have fulfilled this need of belonging is with various places of employment I have had in the city that I live in. But another need humans have that may not be obvious first is the need to know people who are to be admired for one reason or another. The various idols people all over the world have are greatly varied in nature. Some people that are admired are pro athletes. Other people who are admired include movie and television stars, scientists, and people who raise money for charities. Why do people need idols such as those in their lives? A couple of reasons come to mind. First, such idols more often than not show that there is good in this world of ours. Another reason is that having idols can often encourage us to work and do better, enough that maybe one day we can accomplish great works as well.

I'm sure you have at least one person that you greatly admire for one reason or another. I happen to know enough about one particular person that makes me admire this person. And I will tell you now about that person. That person's name is Duke Togo, though more often than not he goes by the name Golgo 13. Never heard of him? Well, the fact that he's not from around here is one possible reason - he's Asian. Also, he is not a flesh-and-blood person - he is instead a character found in a popular Japanese manga created by Takao Saito. You might question why I admire someone who is not a real person, so let me tell you why I admire this character so much. Golgo 13 is a hitman. But not any old hitman, no siree! He is extremely mastered in several of the most deadly martial arts, for one thing. Though more often than not he kills his target with his trusty firearm, only needing one shot to terminate his target - more often than not aiming that one deadly shot into the victim's head. He is so precise that reports say that he has only missed one shot in all of the assignments in his life. He is very intelligent, knowing how to speak several different languages, and always knowing just how to get out of any of the many violent situations he gets into. And there are the women. Oooh, the women! Golgo 13 has had sex with countless women over the years, and all he has to do is lie motionless and let the women do the work. (And before any female readers protest, let me point out that the women are always seen to be greatly enjoying themselves when having sex with Golgo 13.) The more you know about Golgo 13, the more there is to admire about him. So much so, that when I grow up, I want to be just like Golgo 13.

My attempts to read about the original manga adventures of Golgo 13 have long been frustrated over the years. I first learned about Golgo 13 when I was very young, but nobody was translating and releasing the comics in English. When I was a teenager, one outfit started to The Professional: Golgo 13release an English translation, but the translated series stopped after two issues. Years later, I heard that more Golgo 13 comics had been translated and released in North America, but my local comic book stores didn't stock them. So I have had to satisfy my hunger for Golgo 13 in other ways during the years. I played one of the Golgo 13 Nintendo games (The Mafat Conspiracy), I found and watched a live action movie adaptation of the comics (starring Sonny Chiba), and on the Internet I have found translated episodes of an animated television adaptation from Japan. And then there was The Professional: Golgo 13, an anime adaptation that was released on these shores. When I first watched it years ago, I really enjoyed it. So recently I decided to track it down again to see if it would hold up. At the start of the movie, assassin Golgo 13 has a new assignment - kill a man called Robert Dawson. Robert Dawson is the son of Leonard Dawson, an extremely rich mogul who has powerful connections to people in government as well as to those in the underworld. These facts don't seem to scare off Golgo 13 from his assignment, and in short order he fires a bullet that plants itself deep in Robert's head. As you can imagine, Leonard Dawson doesn't take the news of his son's death very well. With the FBI and CIA also helping him, Leonard hires a covert assassin by the name of Snake so that Golgo 13 will be bumped off during one of his next assassinations. But Golgo 13 proves a hard figure to kill, escaping every attempt on his life. So Leonard decides to also hire two mysterious and formidable mercenaries by the code names of "Gold" and "Silver", who in the past have managed to pull off impossible assignments in difficult situations. Eventually, Golgo 13 learns who is behind all these recent attempts on his life, and figures out he has to kill Leonard so he can return to peacefully shooting his assignments in the head. But Golgo 13 soon realizes that there are a lot of dangerous obstacles between him and Leonard, obstacles not just limited to Snake, Gold, and Silver that maybe even the best assassin in the world may not be able to overcome.

The character of Golgo 13 has received some criticism over the years, both for his portrayal in the original manga comics, as well as how he is presented in this feature length anime. One criticism is that Golgo 13 more often than not comes across as too good at his game - time and again he has a challenge that has next-to-impossible odds, but all the same manages to succeed at the challenge while seldom breaking a sweat. And in The Professional: Golgo 13, he keeps being faced with multiple challenges of extreme difficulty that he manages to conquer each and every time. Another criticism has to do with Golgo 13's nature. He hardly speaks a word, for one thing, and his stony face never breaks its expressionless nature, even during the times when he has a naked woman with big breasts all over him in his bed, something that happens to him several times in this anime adaptation. While I think I can understand why some people might be turned off by a character who is lacking in flaws and humanity, these issues didn't concern this movie reviewer. Instead, those supposed character flaws in the comics and in this movie actually make me utterly fascinated by this character. He is so mysterious, that I always kept a close eye on him while watching the movie. I wondered what he was thinking at every moment, and I tried to think ahead of him with every challenge, trying to figure out how he would pull off the impossible. And when he pulled off the impossible, I was mightily impressed by just how he did it with his trademark stone-faced style. Maybe his lack of emotion makes him a cold and distant character that I wouldn't want to meet in real life, but as a fictional character he is someone you can't help but keep an eye on at every moment. I don't know about you, but I find Golgo 13 to be a really compelling character.

By the way, unlike many of the original comics where Golgo 13 pulls off one assignment after another with little effort, the makers of The Professional: Golgo 13 did seem to realize - wisely - that a feature-length adventure with Golgo 13 pulling off every challenge for ninety-one minutes without breaking a sweat might be a little hard for the audience to take. So on several occasions during the course of the movie, Golgo 13 does get some significant injuries - slashings, stabbings, even getting shot at one point. Also, there are a number of deadly conflicts Golgo 13 gets into where we see that he is not taking the situation casually, but is struggling to stay alive. The injuries inflicted on him, as well as his desperate struggles don't just make him a more palatable protagonist, they also contribute to the general quality of the action sequences. The movie's action sequences, consisting of everything from gun battles to hand to hand combat, are all very well done. The movie has a significant body count, and a copious amount of blood gets spilled. And a whole bunch of things get either blown up or riddled with thousands of bullets. One of the key techniques used to get these action sequence to work as well as they do is the feeling of high energy director Ozamu Dezaki places in each and every violent sequence - characters in these scenes move quickly, and the speed the action unfolds with is a mile a minute. The movie more than succeeds with violence, but what about sex, which as you know often is a great pairing with violence? Well, there are a number of women who take off their clothes during the course of the movie, which is welcome. However, around the midway point there is an ugly sequence involving a rape of an innocent woman. That is bad enough, but it's made even worse by the female victim in question subsequently expressing what comes across as a mild annoyance by what she was forced to go through just minutes earlier.

Knowing a little about Japanese culture, I realize this unbelievable behavior by the woman comes from the country's attitude towards sexual violence. All the same, viewers from the west may have to prepare themselves for this scene. They may also have to prepare themselves for the animation style of the movie. Like most other anime works, the animation here is not as smooth and slick like in American movies. But for the most part it gets the job done. The art style is a little sketchy, but it seems appropriate for the violent and crude world that it depicts. Characters and objects both in the foreground and background have an acceptable amount of detail. The only part of the animation that doesn't work is towards the end of the movie where we see some completely computer-animated shots. If you recall the style of computer animation used in the Dire Straits music video for Money For Nothing, you'll have an idea of how the computer animation is in this movie, which might have been high tech in 1983 but looks really dated today. It would have been a lot better had the movie completely stuck to cel animation, even if the swooping shots in the computer animation couldn't be replicated the old-fashioned way. Fortunately, this computer animation consists of very little of the movie. As for any other flaws to be found in The Professional: Golgo 13, I have to admit that I didn't think the movie was as well plotted as it could have been. Sure, the display of one spectacularly violent sequence after another is fun at first, but soon it becomes clear that the central story concerning the character of Leonard Dawson is unfolding very slowly. Had the movie's running time had been reduced by about fifteen minutes, I think the entire machine would have been running a lot smoother. Also, a big twist to the story that is revealed in the movie's final few minutes was no surprise, at least to me - I remember that I guessed very early on what would eventually be revealed the first time I watched the movie. But apart from those flaws, I enjoyed this movie just as much as when I first saw it so many years ago. The movie is not only an effective vehicle for action, it is also a great introduction to Golgo 13, a character that you'll be seeking out the other works of immediately after the end credits start rolling.

(Posted June 19, 2015)

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See also: Amon Saga, Barefoot Gen, Sabotage