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The Professional: Golgo 13 Anime DVD Review

8 min read

What They Say:
On His 62nd Birthday, oil baron Leonard Dawson witnesses the public assassination of his son and heir, Robert. From this point on Leonard becomes obsessed with revenge on the hitman – code name: GOLGO 13. Dawson spares nothing to enlist the CIA, FBI, and U.S. military in an unrelenting manhunt for his son’s killer. As GOLGO’s survival depends on stopping Dawson himself, the hunter and hunted chase each other in a breathless game of kill or be killed.

The Review:
Both the English and Japanese tracks come through just fine in Dolby Digital 2.0, and I didn’t hear any problems on either one.

The picture is largely bright with crisp colors and smooth backgrounds. The age of the material is a bit of a factor but not bad at all, all things considered.

The front cover is rather basic, utilizing the movie poster that’s been used in both Japanese and American theatrical releases where G13 is running toward the camera and there’s relatively little behind him beside an attack helicopter. The back however consists of a lot of good artwork assembled around considerable bits of information, with Golgo 13 ready to snipe somebody at the bottom. This part gives the eye a good deal to focus on and enjoy.

The menu uses different angles of G13 looking at you with a dark background prevalent and the movie’s opening theme “Pray For You” set to repeat. There’s a small line underneath each option you’re looking to explore which can be a little easy to lose track when moving it around.

The extras are rather interesting for prospective filmmakers or movie historians. There’s a 10 minute interview with Producer Mata Yamamoto, as well as commentary from director Osamu Dezaki and Jonathan Clements, co-author of the Anime Encyclopedia. Clements notes many of the improvements in the movie’s various releases and his knowledge is pretty interesting to hear, but it’s odd hearing this particular commentary as well since by his own admission, Clements recorded it back in January of 2007 (presumably for the Manga Video release in the UK). Still, he gives a very good accounting on the history of this character in Japanese, American and British releases.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the long running manga series by Takao Saito (which is now over 40 years old), The Professional – Golgo 13 is an early 80’s anime film about high-priced hitman Duke Togo, an exceptionally skilled marksman and martial artist. His code name comes from a shortening of the word Golgotha, (the hill where Jesus Christ was crucified) and the unluckiness of the number 13. He works freelance, and has many contacts who provide him with information, weapons (most often a modified M-16), and specialized gadgets for his jobs. Add in his taste for the finer things in life and his penchant for bedding beautiful women and you could compare him the likes of James Bond to a degree. However given his ice cold personality and often expressionless features, he seems cut more from the mold of someone like The Jackal (portrayed by Bruce Willis during the 90s and Edward Fox on the ’73 film The Day of the Jackal).

In this particular story, G13 is seen commandeering a lighthouse in California so he can get a clear shot at the ocean liner of oil billionaire Leonard Dawson, who is holding a birthday celebration for his son Robert. In addition, Leonard is in the process of stepping down as CEO of his organization and naming his son as his successor, but a bullet to the cranium cuts Robert’s tenure short.

We next see Togo in Italy where a bishop contracts him to kill a mysterious mafia boss called Dr. Z, who had the bishop’s family massacred. The only known associate for Dr. Z is his attractive daughter Cindy, with whom Togo makes intimate contact. Just as he finishes this task, multiple gunmen begin attacking Golgo 13 at just about every turn, even as he heads to San Francisco for his next job.

It turns out that Leonard has called in favors from every branch of military, intelligence and law enforcement he can find in order to gain vengeance on Golgo 13. No one is safe from Dawson’s wrath as the measures he employs threaten to destroy his loved ones and foes alike. This includes using unrepentant psychotics such as Big Snake, Gold and Silver. However, the one thing no one can understand why Dawson isn’t out to find the person who sanctioned Robert’s death in the first place.

I’ve been a fan of this film since I first saw a Japanese copy in ’89. The screenplay & story by Hideyoshi Nagasaka and Shukei Nagasaka does a decent job of merging elements of the manga into a single story. However, the real gem of this movie is the animation style of director Osamu Dezaki and character designer Akio Sugino, whose combined efforts create a cinematic anime style practically non-existent in the modern animation industry. Their ‘shooting style’ (so to speak) emulates many American noir live film techniques with expanding multi-image shots and pauses on painted pieces (simulating still photography) to emphasize emotional effects (which Dezaki came to call his ‘postcard technique’.) The world Dezaki likes to create focuses on real-life locales and sunlit cities which Sugino’s realistic characters move through.

In the commentary tracks it was noted how difficult adapting Saito’s style for animation was due to his intense details of these cities. It’s rather interesting to see a foreign artist give such depiction of mostly American cities in this movie. When you combine the artwork with the colors prevalent throughout and the slow jazz pieces in the background, the movie feels somewhat similar to classic crime dramas such as Bullitt and Dirty Harry (which also took place in San Francisco, come to think of it). The action / gunfight sequences are fluid, sometimes slower for dramatic effect, other times fast paced, somewhat like the episodes of Cowboy Bebop featuring Vicious and Pierrot Le Fou.

Unlike many anime films, Sugino’s designs do not focus on exaggerated facial features, but rather natural looking people of all shapes and sizes. This has made his works with Dezaki particularly recognizable in anime such as Rose of Versailles and Space Adventure Cobra. It’s rather cool in this movie to see establishing shots of Golgo 13 doing what he does best and following up with some cigarettes, fine wine and travel. Dezaki manipulates these attributes well, while taking a bit of artistic license in a couple action scenes (including one sniping sequence that has to be seen to be believed.) Sadly, many of his and Sugino’s collaborations have not been released on the R1 DVD market except for the Black Jack film & OAV series as well as the semi-forgettable sequel video Golgo 13: Queen Bee.

The movie contains a couple early forays into computer animation for film. The first is in the movie’s opening sequence, which Dezaki talks about having mixing digital drawing and motion captures of real objects. This sequence of gunplay and skull destruction actually holds up rather decently, since it was an intro and not part of the story, and also works as a fun music video / montage in its own right. The other computer animated sequence involving an attack helicopter hasn’t aged as well. The scenery is bright and blocky and clashes a good bit with the dark, highly detailed traditionally animated techniques on screen.

Speaking again of the opening sequence, it’s finally available on an American Golgo 13 release in its original form as intended on the Japanese production, and the opening theme is actually subtitled. Previous versions have had either a simple masthead with a gunshot, or the correct montage video but incorrect audio for some unknown reason. The closing sequence was also restored as well, so already Discotek Media’s release is ahead of the curve compared to the previous versions. Also, the subtitles of the character names are corrected compared to previous versions where sometimes two different romanizations might appear on screen.

I have to talk a bit about the English dub by Streamline Pictures, which was part of their theatrical release in the early 90s. It’s still as semi-decent, yet partially terrible as I remembered. Greg Snegoff (Scott Bernard from Robotech) makes for a polished, calculating killer, and Michael McConohie (Vampire Hunter D) has competent range for Leonard’s varying emotions needed here. Actually for the most part, the men were decently cast, but directed to add profanities and run-on sentences to keep up with the mouth movements, which got to be irritating at times. Most of the women just sounded awful except for the actress portraying Robert’s widow, Laura. The other actresses just sounded blah and well, during the love scenes… well, they didn’t moan very convincingly. No other way to type that, but a couple times I found myself switching back to the Japanese audio because the English delivery was just too cheesy.

In a modern anime market saturated with card game commercials, power-up martial arts, and over the top fanservice comedies full of teenage characters, there are times when I want to watch a serious adult crime drama or even just a story with a beginning, middle and end that doesn’t require me to buy a manga to get a decent resolution of some sort. Outside of works by Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue) or Makoto Shinkai (5cm Per Second), I’ve had trouble finding those of late. According to a brief but informative interview on the disc with film producer Mata Yamamoto, Golgo 13 was marketed toward general movie fans instead of anime fans when it was created, so I don’t feel bad at all about my sentiments.

In Summary:
With all the improvements to the subtitles, the retention of the actual opening sequence and the additional commentary tracks, I would have to declare this the definitive version of The Professional: Golgo 13 (unless a blu-ray is released) for the U.S. It’s all the small things that can make a product worthy of the proverbial ‘double dip’ as it were. Discotek’s release gives the viewers the best value compared to all previous versions, and for this alone it’s one I’ll highly recommend.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Original Japanese video promo, Production sketches

Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: A
Extras Grade: A

Released By: Discotek Media
Release Date: July 24, 2012
MSRP: $19.98
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescree

Review Equipment:
Panasonic 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Marantz stereo receiver

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