I’d always been aware of the manga and the anime for Golgo 13 but never actually read or seen either. One of those things, nothing personal, it just never happened. So with this release by Eureka starring the inspiration for the character, in this 1973 adaptation, Ken Takakura, well what a great opportunity to make up a little for my laziness.
Ace hitman, Duke Togo aka Golgo 13 (Ken Takakura), is hired to find and kill syndicate boss, Max Boa (Ahmad Ghadakchian), who is operating in pre-revolutionary Iran. Meanwhile Iranian detective, Aman (Mohsen Sohrabi), is on the case of women being abducted, which includes his own wife, Sheila (Jaleh Sam), who has been kidnapped by Max Boa’s henchmen, the sale of women being just one of his illegal interests.
Directed by Junya Sato, who also helmed the Takakura starring Eureka release, the excellent The Bullet Train, directs what is arguably a quite fascinating and beautifully lean film. Yes, there are some absurdities, such as the pairing of Golgo 13 with Catherine Morton (Pouri Banayi – who has a bit of the Ava Gardner about her) in his trip to Iran. She's meant to pose as his wife with benefits, and of course she falls for the mostly silent hitman, yet in the film it somehow works. Perhaps because Takakura oozes a certain kind of screen presence that is impossible to bottle or bullshit; even as a straight male you can imagine why someone would just fall for him. But you may have noticed one really intriguing element: yes, the supporting cast is almost entirely Iranian, something that means a certain amount of dubbing into Japanese. However there are no issues here, and if anything the casting is a really good move because it gives the film a sense of taking place in an arena we almost never see. We move between Western–influenced Tehran of the time, the desert and old stone cities. Sato really gets the best out of the locations, and the sense of time and place in the film is excellent.
Equally excellent, arguably, is the film’s leanness. The script was co-written by creator of the manga, Takao Saito, who really keeps it spare, matching Sato in his direction. Though we have some obligatory love stories, and a barrage of assassins brought in by Max Boa to try and take out Golgo 13, (it definitely feels very 1970s), there’s a real purity of filmmaking, storytelling and action going on here that is a pleasure to behold, especially in light of some of the overblown films we’ve seen in recent years. And at the film’s core is Takakura, who admittedly was the inspiration for the manga, but regardless he is so effortlessly great as the titular character that he just needs stand there, looking cool and like he’d happily blow you away. There’s a nice amorality to the film, too, it never boils over into a cinema adaptation-with-added-sentimentality. No, it’s hard and to the point yet also humane. Tone-wise it’s pitch perfect.
Yes, some of the story has a kind of "expectedness" to it, but because the storytelling and acting is so lean it's very hard to criticise this. Okay, the villains are definitely of the type where one or two must have particular quirks: the artificial leg that contains an arsenal, or the scheming arch-baddie with the parrot on his shoulder, but if anything the film makes a virtue of this, including a lovely scene where the bird becomes more than just some storytelling, character oddity. But this never gets out of hand, and because it contains aspects that in my mind’s eye I could imagine coming from the manga yet matching it with that spare cinematic style, meant that there’s real charm to it. It's carries the best elements from films of it's time, both in style and plotting, that it's aged like fine wine. You can revel in it's seeming eccentricities because we just don't see them any more.
I also had a wry smile throughout, because watching the admittedly rather good dubbing of the Iranian cast puts me in mind of watching Italian Spaghetti Westerns and Gialli, where often even the whole film, including the Italian cast, is redubbed. And wry because if anything it just adds a whole load of charm to it, especially as the Iranian cast are really fun to watch. Pouri Banayi as Catherine I mentioned has a little of the Ava Gardner about her and even though she has little screen time and her character could be pretty tedious, but if anything she really infuses it with so much more than you could hope for, because like Takakura she has screen fizz. Looking her up she clearly had a good career until the revolution in Iran railroaded it. She has real chemistry with Takakura, too.
Really there is no weak link in the chain of the film. True, it’s not the most original of cinematic forays, but the film does what it sets out to do with the greatest possible purity. And at the centre of it, silent with his sniper rifle, is Ken Takakura who gives, like Meiko Kaji did around just a year earlier in Female Prisoner 701 Scorpion: Jailhouse 41, a masterclass of what it means to act on screen doing the with seemingly minimal effort. Then there’s Sato’s tight direction. Yes, he gets a lot out of his locations, but he never loses his camera to them, instead keeping to the absolute essentials of filmmaking, telling a tight story well and making his action hard and never overblown.
Lean, amoral, exciting. Oh yes, I enjoyed Golgo 13 a lot.
More like this Eureka, yes, yes please.
And as always order direct from Eureka if you please, especially for those pre-orders as they always arrive nice and early. Unlike this reviewer who like an idiot left it in their basket, forgot and then wondered: where's my pre-order eh? Doh!