Sunday, January 13, 2013

Triskaidekaphilia: 'The Professional: Golgo 13' (1983)

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13. 

Japanese animation is one of my serious movie blind spots; I've seen only a handful of movies (three, I think, counting this one), and I find much of the style off-putting, although I realize it's unfair to generalize an entire varied genre that way. The point being, I may not really know what I'm talking about here, and seasoned anime fans could probably offer up better context for The Professional: Golgo 13, the first animated feature based on popular, long-running Japanese comics character Golgo 13 (aka Duke Togo).

Golgo 13 comics have been published continuously since 1969, and the character was adapted into two live-action movies (in 1973 and 1977) before this, as well as a later direct-to-video animated special and an animated series in 2008. I remember first hearing about the character thanks to the 1988 Golgo 13 video game for the original NES, but I don't think I knew much about him. Not that there's really that much to know: Golgo 13 is a mysterious assassin-for-hire whose nationality, age and real name are unknown. At least in this movie, he's essentially invincible and infallible, never missing his targets and never getting killed or more than lightly injured, despite being shot at by dozens of trained killers, caught in explosions and thrown from moving vehicles.

He also rarely speaks and never changes his grim facial expression, even while being surrounded by attackers or having sex with beautiful women (possibly the funniest moment in the movie occurs when some random hottie is writhing in ecstasy on top of Duke, and he just lies there, completely stoic). It all makes him into a completely uninteresting character, so the movie has to rely on the various villains, sex partners and hangers-on for its meager character development. The story is episodic in the movie's first half, but eventually ties together when Duke finds himself on the run from a cabal of CIA, FBI and military forces hired by an ultra-wealthy industrialist to take him out. Since he might as well be a superhero, things don't really go as planned for the bad guys.

Golgo 13 is full of anime's visual trademarks, including speed lines, abstract action sequences, split screens and static backgrounds. It also has one of the earliest uses of computer-generated animation, which as expected looks awkward and stiff. To me, the movie is hokey and laughable (the horrendous smooth-jazz score is particularly egregious), but some fans at least seem to regard it as an anime classic. With its insanely over-the-top violence and sex, overwrought dialogue and hammy acting (from the drawings as well as the voices), it's really just another artifact of '80s movie excess.

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