It’s official: 2012 is the year I learned to love anime movies again.
It began with the domestic release of REDLINE. Remember REDLINE? Ancient history by Internet standards, but boy was that a bona fide hit–what’s that? It wasn’t? Oh right, this anime game doesn’t make sense anymore.
Before I tromp back to my room, let me tell you about this beautiful thing right here. It’s another anime movie that’s been released this year, the 1982 classic Golgo 13: The Professional.
Though Golgo 13 is the manga creation of gekiga master Takao Saito, and the titular character has a legacy stretching all the way back to 1969, this movie is very much a product of its director, Osamu Dezaki, who recently passed away last April. The above screen capture doesn’t resemble your typical animation frame. It’s a “postcard memory,” an animation cel the camera lingers on that’s carefully drawn and painted for added emphasis. It’s just one of the techniques Osamu pioneered which has since become common practice in anime.
Dezaki was one of the absolute titans of Japan’s animation industry, and in this movie you get to see him flexing his creative muscles to adapt the Golgo 13 manga in a way that unarguably elevates it.
I didn’t quite appreciate this movie on that level until now. Before I had always considered it a great piece of entertainment, for sure, and a great Golgo 13 movie. Somewhere between upgrading my AV setup and the natural evolution in my appreciation of anime, I’m in a place to be in love with The Professional more than ever before. Enhanced perspective is one of the rewards of dwelling on great things, and also why I’m not one of those “watch every new show in a season and rush to opine about it” anime bloggers.
Some credit for my greater appreciation of this movie must also be given to Discotek Media, who released a remastered DVD last week that puts the previous non-anamorphic version to complete and utter shame.
Seriously, throw out those old discs, they’re worthless. This version even includes the Jonathan Clements commentary track previously only available in the UK. Clements is a smart dude and he does a great job talking about anime in a historically-minded way, though I haven’t listened to his commentary in a few years. The writing you see here is my raw reaction to having revisited the movie. Any uncited thoughts that mirror his are either thefts of my unconscious or coincidence.
Golgo 13, as Takao Saito created him, is a straightforward, amoral assassin who makes up for his lack of a personality with unflagging rifle precision and the ability to have sexy time with lots of ladies.
What Dezaki adds to the mix in this movie is a lurid thoughtfulness, both through his use of ambiance and visual symbols. The Professional simply oozes atmosphere, leveraging nearly every analogue trick possible in cel animation to create something that couldn’t be further from the refined animation proficiency of a Miyazaki movie, but has an all-encompassing (adult) sense of wonderment of its own.
It takes something this lush to illustrate how safe and mundane the majority of anime direction is. The Professional can be understood as a series of vignettes. Each scene almost functions independently with its own palette and symbols.
For example one in which a mobster is admonishing his hired help is lit with overpowering oranges as the mobster sits in front of a bubbling crocodile tank. In another scene a priest hires Golgo 13 to kill someone and then kills himself in repentance. Everyone is cast in crimson red, and the priest paradoxically emits a yellow aura giving the appearance he’s on fire.
This is just a sampling of the tableaus that make you want to sit back and drink the movie in. And screen caps won’t entirely capture the appeal, either. This stuff needs to be seen in motion, replete with the drawl of chunky remastered eighties animation and jazz music in the background.
It’s a sad irony that for all the positive things I’m saying about the look and feel of its animation, the thing people always bring up about The Professional is how it’s the first anime to ever incorporate CG. And sure, the movie is notable for that fact. Dezaki incorporates CG briefly in the stop-motion credits at the beginning of the movie (credits which, by the way, are presented in North America fully intact for the first time ever) and then he uses it again more prominently for a helicopter in the movie’s climax.
Obviously, it doesn’t look so hot by today’s standards, so it’s become a sticking point for discussion. At the time of the movie’s original release the CG was intended to be one of the movie’s main draws. Regardless, the helicopter scene doesn’t number much more than sixty seconds, and as jarring as it is, we can look back on it as an indicator of how even later into his career, Dezaki was still a trailblazer in the anime field.
So for all the great things about this film, why do people dwell on this one aspect of it to make nerd jokes? Piss off, chucklefucks.
Golgo 13: The Professional is an excellent blend of Takao Saito’s grim flagship property and Dezaki’s gorgeous visual sensibilities. I had a ridiculously good time as it washed over me.
Few things are comparable in versatility and awesomeness to a solid anime film. You can relax and watch it at the end of a busy weekday with a couple of beers, you can see it with friends who aren’t anime experts, you can even loan it to someone else and hope to get it back the same month.
And when anime is this well-directed, and not bogged down in continuity to scare functional people away, it ascends the ranks even higher. Golgo 13: The Professional belongs in any conversation about the best anime films. I give up trying to gauge where the movie stands in the esteem of anime fandom (blech). I just know where it belongs: somewhere at the top.
Next month Discotek Media, saviors of the twenty-first century of anime licensing, are going to release the Space Adventure Cobra movie, also directed by Osamu Dezaki. Look forward to it, I know I will.