I was under the impression I’d seen this one back in the 90s. Finally got around to watching my copy of the Blu-Ray and… nope. Didn’t remember a lick of this, and this is exactly the sort of thing that would have imprinted on me at that time.
A lot of what makes this work the way it does comes down to Dezaki and his animation crew. Much of the movie plays out in an impressionistic way, less with fight choreography and clearly-defined set pieces (although that’s there too) and more with striking imagery that tells a lot more than simply illustrating a hit or a sex scene or what have you. Shooting guys in the head and bedding women can easily become repetitive– the sort of repetitiveness that becomes celebratory and ritualistic when done wrong– but every bit of nastiness is presented to us in a different way so that every impact is felt differently.
Almost everyone Golgo kills has it coming for one reason or another, and Golgo himself approaches it all with his trademark detachment and professionalism, but the movie never simply brushes it all under the rug after giving a metaphorical “HELL YEAH!” at how awesome it is. The movie lingers over every kill, often showing just how the bullet impacts and devastates its target. Despite sniping many of these victims from a distance, the camera makes it a very intimate experience for the viewer, denying us Golgo’s detachment. Golgo may be the lead, but he isn’t an audience cypher. You may think he’s cool, and I’m sure some people will get into the whole “I wish I was him” thing, but Dezaki and company never shoot things in such a way that allows you to put yourself in Duke Togo’s shoes.
Outside of the more visceral fight scenes where Golgo fights someone his relative equal, the focus is often more on the victim than Golgo himself. We may see lengthy prep for a hit, such as the awesome bit where he shoots through another building in order to assassinate an otherwise unreachable target, but even then we aren’t spared that man’s final moments as the bullet goes through his skull.
If the movie has any real weaknesses, it’s when it eschews that angle and focuses on the actual fight. And even then, the finale where Golgo fights three different government-created super-soldier freaks is pretty great. Even the early days CGI is pretty awesome in context. That shift from hand-drawn animation to computer animation feels no different from the scenes where we get psychedelic neon backgrounds during sex scenes or when Golgo speeds down a highway under construction.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the CGI was a producer-imposed decision, but they make it feel like an artistic choice in the end. That’s some excellent filmmaking there.
The story itself isn’t revolutionary or anything, but it does make some interesting choices. At first, we simply follow Golgo as he goes from hit to hit, and after awhile we start to see the consequences of these hits go down, as one of his targets was the son of a very powerful oil tycoon. With that, we see just how depraved and desperate such a man can get when he finds himself up against someone who not only functions by different societal rules, but can do little to fight back even when he has the might of the US government backing him. It goes to some nasty places, one of which we could do without, but it all makes Golgo’s inevitable victory (and the particularly cold-blooded way he carries it out) all the more satisfying.
It goes to show that the only way to topple those who create the rules is to say fuck all to those rules. Unfortunately, the rest of us aren’t forces of nature like Golgo 13.