“You remind me of my younger days. It’s been thirty years since the war. I’ve been wandering places with a gun…it’s an old man’s whining.”
Golgo 13 is a shadowy protagonist, an uncompromising antihero. Also known as Duke Togo, his profession is that of maestro sniper. His identity is anonymous, his past ambiguous, his weapon of choice: a custom M16 rifle. Based on one of the oldest manga series’ still in existence, Golgo 13 is a tortured man (both literally and figuratively) who lives in a darkly realistic world. He is mythologically capable, able to carryout the most impossible of hits with ease (“He’s the strongest man I’ve ever met; he calculates everything precisely”). He speaks seven languages and is proficient even whilst using a rifle that is ill-suited for sniping. He is also, of course, adept at martial arts and handling handguns, not to mention, smoking cigarillos. This is all part of Duke Togo’s charm, he is a Zelazny-esque character whose invincibility is his greatest trait (not unlike James Bond or such ilk). The series was first depicted in live-action in 1973 by Junya Sato. 1977 found the return of master assassin Tolgo to the big-screen, this time portrayed by Sonny Chiba and directed by Yukio Noda.
At the start of the film, Golgo is hired in Miami on a yacht by a man named Rocky Brown, whose part of the U.S. syndicate. He wants a drug embezzler killed. The embezzler however, is Chou “the Kingpin,” the head of the Hong Kong mafia, and his ruthless reputation is just as renown as Golgo’s. Chou though, is himself, only a pawn. Three skilled hitmen had attempted to assassinate Chou before but were deathly unsuccessful. Also, hot on the trail of Chou is Sminny, a hard-as-nails (though a bit daft) Hong Kong detective – certainly one can perceive early on that he will be a formidable antagonist for Golgo as well. Sminny has help however from the briefly able Lin-Li, an insider infiltrating Chou’s nightclub, and an ample supply of fellow officers at his disposal. Shortly into the film, Sminny is “anonymously” tipped off that Golgo has been hired to kill Chou. Sminny has experienced Golgo’s handiwork before so is wary that the killer extraordinaire is on the prowl.
The audience is treated with zoomed close-ups and crosshair lenses, as one might expect from such a film. Shootouts, hostage situations, framings, double-crosses, giant walkie-talkies, and a man shot in the face falling on a lever with a sign reading “Don’t Touch.” It’s like a live-action film that wants to be an anime, completely over-the-top but entertaining nevertheless. Chiba, of course, shows off his karate chops (pun intended) and is fine form as usual. “Your first shot was from anger, the second from fear, the third from love,” he knowingly intones to a young killer – he is, of course, also talking about himself.
There are many little asides throughout the Golgo universe, few expressed subtly. His very name is referential to Golgotha, the place of Christ’s death. Golgo’s chief imagery is a skeleton wearing a crown of thorns. Harumi Ibe’s (Detective Bureau 2-3, A Colt is My Passport) score is as epic as it is, at times, overwhelming, but it perfectly complements the spirit of the manga. Noda’s adaptation is a hit-and-miss affair that struggles to find a consistent tone. It is, after all, a B-movie and it often shows with overtly-direct dialogue, shoddy editing, inconsistent acting, and questionable plot, but Chiba captures the look and spirit of Golgo with ease, a role he was meant to play.