If movies were real-life, there would undoubtedly be a category in the Olympics for the greatest hired killer. John Wick would be there along with The Bride, Leon, and probably Anton Chigurh. But the assassin to beat would be Golgo 13.
Golgo 13, alias Duke Togo, first appeared in the manga magazine Big Comic in 1968. A typically mysterious figure, he kills without emotion and is a quiet figure, preferring to speak through his specially modified scoped M16 rifle. Created by artist Takao Saito, Golgo 13 has been a popular character since his first appearance and has been in several adaptations. Many people in the UK will be familiar with the 1983 anime Golgo 13: The Professional, which was released on VHS in the early ’90s when anime became popular there, but before that, there was a live-action version: 1973’s Golgo 13, starring revered Japanese actor Ken Takakura (The Yakuza, Black Rain) as the titular assassin.
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In the film, Golgo 13 is hired to assassinate an individual named Max Boa, who works out of Tehran in Iran. When Golgo arrives, he discovers that a number of women have recently been abducted, which has police sniffing everywhere. Golgo is framed for murder when a local contact of his is killed, so he must go on the run to find Boa, who it turns out is also responsible for the kidnappings. Complicating things further is Catherine, who goes to Tehran to watch after Golgo on behalf of his employer, but ends up falling in love with him.
Golgo 13 is a viciously entertaining thriller, with a bravura lead performance by Takakura that can only be described as iconic. He keeps the quiet and stoic personality of the manga character and also displays his wit, skill, and endurance of pain. He also has an amazing tailor, with an Alain Delon-influenced trench-coat and a black turtleneck, and some amazing sunglasses.
It also has some interesting vistas, being filmed in Iran, using some beautiful buildings as the location for gunfights. The big fight in the desert is particularly cool, with Golgo having to outwit Boa’s men who are trying to distract him from their boss, with some cruel and horrifying results. This ties into Catherine, excellently played by Pouri Banayi, who ends up getting captured while defending Golgo. The film looks excellent, with a beautiful ending shot captured by cinematographer Masahiko Iimura, and has a wonderfully exotic and tense score by Chūji Kinoshita. For animal lovers, there’s also a scene at the end where Golgo shoots a parrot, albeit thankfully a fake switchout parrot.
Eureka Entertainment has brought Golgo 13 to Blu-ray in a new hi-definition transfer taken from a 2K scan of the original elements. It looks excellent for the most part, with some small issues that probably come from whatever source elements they had. It sounds great, with a surprisingly loud track that does a fine job of foregrounding the gunshot sound effects.
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Bonus features include an audio commentary by experts Mike Leeder and Arne Venema, an interview with film writer Tatsuya Masuto and film critic Masaaki Nomura on the film and Saito, and the original theatrical trailer. There’s also a booklet included with an excellent essay on the film and Takakura’s role by Tom Mes.
Golgo 13 is a spectacularly cool and thrilling picture, with a commanding lead performance. Eureka has done a fine job with the audio-visual quality, as well as providing important context for the film. Highly recommended.