Friday, May 20, 2016

Golgo 13: The Professional review

    Golgo 13: The Professional is the first anime I ever watched. I've always been a fan of spy fiction as anyone who has followed my blog (or read my books) will know. Thus, I was intrigued by the prospect of the anime based on Japan's answer to James Bond. I picked up my VHS copy in a video store in Huntington, VA where it was sitting on a shelf full of other classics like Akira, Bubblegum Crisis, and other works which I familiarized myself with.

    My memories of the movie were positive as it was like nothing I'd ever seen before. It was a mature-rated movie with nudity, violence, nihilistic themes, and a thoroughly disturbing ending. Re-watching it this month, I'm of slightly more mixed feelings. I'm seeing a lot of things which I have a new appreciation for but am also aware of the anime's transhier elements. It's a mix of high-art and grindhouse fun which doesn't always gel well.

Duke's expression never changes but he emotes surprisingly well.
    The premise is Golgo 13 alias Duke Togo is the world's best professional killer. The Hand of God and a sniper shot without peer, he takes on a contract to kill the son of a rich oil baron, Leonard Dawson, then moves on. Unknown to Golgo 13, though, Leonard is not going to take this lying down and marshals his billions to hire the United States government's agencies to kill our antihero.

    Leonard Dawson's government allies get some of the most depraved, monstrous, and sick murderers in the world to assist them in what is probably Golgo 13's most difficult adventure yet. I can say so because I've read the manga, which basically consists of showing how awesome Golgo 13 is for X number of pages. Let's talk about the positives of this movie first.

Some really good fight scenes throughout.
    This is a stylish, beautiful, and engaging movie for roughly three-quarters of its running time. There's a faux sixties and seventies feel to the piece which works wonderfully in evoking a film noir-meets-comic book mood. We see events from multiple angles and everything is super-stylized. The score is an eighties synthesizer score with a really memorable theme song in "Pray for You."

    The moral ambiguity and bleak black versus black morality of the piece is also amazing. I'm a big fan of antiheroes and pitch black villains. Here, Golgo 13 does not a single heroic thing but simply continues his job while the victim of his activities, Leonard, sinks to ever and worse depraved depths in order to get his revenge. By the end, even Leonard seems to realize he's allowed himself to become a far worse monster than Golgo 13 ever was.

Laura Dawson's story is grimdark and I think could have ended better in a non-franchise movie.

    I've often stated the best grimdark fiction has the antiheroes against things which are pure evil. This movie has some truly monstrous ones with Snake, the Twins, and Professor Z. Characters which should be silly in an otherwise realistic thriller like a genetically-enhanced animal-human hybrid and cyborgs work because the characters are so bizarrely nightmarish.

    I also responded well to the character of Laura Dawson, the widow of Golgo's victim, who is the sole voice of sanity in the storyline. Unfortunately, her story arc is one which doesn't really come to a satisfying conclusion as we'll discuss later. Now for the negatives. The first is the movie's opening forty minutes are a complete mess. Golgo 13 takes on two unrelated missions to the main narrative against a mafia don and an ex-Nazi which end in him being attacked by Dawson's mercenaries. These leave the plot completely disjointed and while entertaining, completely screw up the pacing.

If you like your fiction dark and aren't easily offended. You may like this.
    Next is the issue of sex and misogyny in the movie. Weirdly, I don't have that much of a problem with the infamous treatment of Laura Dawson in the film or what happens to her from a storytelling standpoint (other than she never gets a satisfactory resolution to her story). It's instead there's like three or four unrelated sex scenes with Duke Togo and nameless women which confuse the plot even more in those opening forty minutes. There is also a scene of sexual violence in the movie which is shown in the middle of the film and eroticized.

    In conclusion, this is an enjoyable movie for two-thirds and a mess for one-third of its run-time. I recommend it for anime fans who like their fiction darker than a black cup of coffee. Still, it's an enjoyable stylized noir and I liked it a lot. Golgo 13 may not be the most nuanced or emotional character but he certainly works well in his role.


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