The Professional: Golgo 13 (Japan, 1983)

Director Osamu Dezaki’s action-packed anime The Professional: Golgo 13 concerns the dangerous career of Duke Togo – otherwise known as Golgo 13 – an exceptionally skilled marksman and martial artist whose attributes have made him the most expensive hitman in the business.  It was adapted from a manga series written and illustrated by Saito Takao that has been in circulation since 1969, and had previously served as the basis for two live-action features, Junya Sato’s Golgo 13 (1973) and Yukio Noda’s Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon (1977).  These earlier outings benefitted from some serious star power as Ken Takakura was cast as the first big-screen Golgo 13, with Sonny Chiba taking over the role for the follow-up.  Golgo 13 has remained a fixture in Japanese pop culture, turning up in television commercials and video games aimed exclusively at the local market.  In the West, however, it is the animated incarnation of the character that is more widely known due to the comparative availability of Dezaki’s addition to the Golgo 13 universe.

The storyline is relatively simple by anime standards: when Robert Dawson, the son of billionaire oil tycoon Leonard Dawson, dies from a long-range shot to his cranium whilst celebrating his birthday in California, his wealthy father soon discovers that Golgo 13 pulled the trigger and breaks into his bank account to buy some vengeance.  The master assassin subsequently finds himself a moving target, trying to complete assignments while evading the killers that have been hired by Dawson.  Golgo 13 is able to outmanoeuvre the military team that ambushes him whilst carrying out a hit in San Francisco, but Dawson uses his economic muscle to up the ante; the obsessed businessman brings in a pair barely human killing machines known only as Silver and Gold, notorious murderers who were part of a top secret survival experiment conducted by the government in the jungles of Africa.  The climax takes place at Dawson Tower in New York, with Golgo 13 taking on Silver and Gold before coming face-to-face with the man who ordered his death sentence.

The Professional: Golgo 13 is industrially significant as it was one of the first features to combine computer graphics with cel animation, many years before Mamoru Oshii embarked on the more widely influential Ghost in the Shell (1995).  However, this may not be immediately apparent to the casual viewer, as the overall aesthetic of the film is very much like that of any animated Japanese television series from the same era.  Most of the animation on display is of the traditional variety, with computer graphics being used for the sequence in which military helicopters circle around Dawson Tower and fire at Golgo 13 as he climbs to Dawson’s office on the top floor.  They were also used for a sequence involving skeletons which was omitted from the original VHS release, but has since been restored for the recent DVD edition.  This technological innovation aside, The Professional: Golgo 13 is entirely one-dimensional in terms of characterization, offering little insight into the personal philosophy of its professional killer as Golgo 13 wanders from mission to mission with little sense of purpose.

Dezaki’s version of Golgo 13 was reportedly drawn to resemble George Lazenby in On her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) which explains a lot as he has the same problems as Lazenby’s James Bond in terms of screen presence, leaving the revenge-obsessed Dawson to carry the dramatic weight. The film’s tagline proclaims, ‘He shoots! He scores! He’ll blow you away!’ However, it is debatable as to whether this Golgo 13 lives up to that third promotional promise as Dezaki’s interpretation renders the character as cold rather than charismatic, maintaining a cynical attitude towards his associates and his own existence and simply going through the motions with regards to his two main activities (sex and killing). The film also exhibits an arguably unpleasant attitude towards its female characters, generally utilising them as sex objects, disposable sidekicks, or pawns in a bigger game of monetary gain or personal revenge. Dawson has no qualms about degrading his daughter-in-law by turning her into a sex slave as a means of securing the services of Silver and Gold, and Glogo 13 has inherited Bond’s appearance, but not his more gentlemanly behaviour.

These shortcomings aside, The Professional: Golgo 13 does offer a fair amount of entertainment value for anime connoisseurs and also serves as a suitable entry point to the Japanese animation of the period for those who consider watching an entire television series to be too time-consuming. Everyone involved in the production seems to be pursuing a mission statement to keep it ‘lean and mean’ and, although the animation is decidedly patchy for a major release, some sequences do have a cool retro style which references the Bond series at its 1960s peak and events move at a brisk pace that befits an anime about a workaholic assassin.  Also, the film features almost none-stop action in the form of both sniper scenes and bone-crunching hand-to-hand combat as Golgo works his way through a variety of targets and their henchmen, not to mention the other assassins who have been hired to take him out.  The character would return in Golgo 13: Queen Bee (1988), an unremarkable one-hour sequel aimed at the video market and later in the Golgo 13 animated television series (2008-2009) which was produced by The Answer Studio, and ran for 50 episodes.