For years, I thought Zatoichi was Japan’s answer to James Bond, if only for the character’s longevity. But some would say that mantle truly belongs to Duke Togo — a.k.a. Golgo 13. Twice as brutal and just as lucky with the ladies, Golgo’s hard-boiled escapades rival even 007’s darkest days. Now I can’t vouch for the source manga, but this man of action’s first animated feature, The Professional, seems to think that coolness can be bought instead of earned. Gunplay and gratuitous screwing alone do not a badass flick make, a notion you realize The Professional will never take to the further you explore it.
Our lead’s name may not ring any bells, but his MO chimes like the dickens. Golgo (voice of Tetsuro Sagawa) is a model assassin, a soft-spoken killer with a spiffy custom rifle and a gift for sniping. As our story begins, Golgo is hired to bump off the son of an oil tycoon (voice of Goro Naya), a gig that goes off smoothly enough. But when he heads to Sicily for his next assignment, Golgo doesn’t count on one pissed off papa gunning for him. Mr. Oilman proceeds to summon every government goon and underworld thug at his disposal, calling upon all manner of hitmen to do in the numbered one. But for a fellow as detached as Golgo, killing comes easy, and there’s no gang of flunkies tough enough to prevent him from plying his trade.
If The Professional: Golgo 13 had an objective in mind, I’d sure like to know what it was. You’d think it might be a stylized riff on the hitman genre, but with a Dick Tracian rogues gallery and women who drop trou for Golgo on a dime, I’m not convinced this wasn’t just a really committed parody. In any case, The Professional is no Le Samouraï, and Golgo sure as hell ain’t no Jef Costello. Film killers are usually the strong and silent sort, but you glean absolutely no insight into this guy. Golgo is a blank slate, as aloof as Bogart’s Sam Spade but with none of the wit. His only use is as a moving target, designated the hero by virtue of being on the cover art. I may be missing something by never having read Golgo’s manga (and only briefly playing one of his NES titles), but like D the vampire hunter, he’s as feeble as antiheroes get.
But it only makes sense that Golgo is such a wet sandwich, considering his star vehicle is equally hollow. The Professional talks a big game but never plays for keeps, serving style by the scoop but to no discernable end. Granted, it’s a very distinct style and worthy of the insanely gritty crime flick it could/should be. But every time we see Golgo running down a bullet or evading law’s long arm, it feels like we’re being distracted from how little time the movie’s mind is spent made up. With not as much of it as you’d expect playing up the revenge angle, the story just sort of follows Golgo from job to job, though it’s during such scenes that the flick displays some competence. If The Professional gets anything right, it’s the action; the sniping scenes are sweet enough to get our spirits up, if only for a few moments.
Reservations aside, I’m sure that Golgo fans know what they’re talking about. Had I seen The Professional as a lad thirsty for thrills, whatever was needed to have me demanding my own Duke Togo Thermos just might’ve clicked. But save for a few fleeting instances of bombastic bliss, The Professional slights the viewer on even more substance than the action genre usually does.
Check out the The Professional: Golgo 13 trailer here.