Golgo 13: Queen Bee

In the commentary for Golgo 13: Queen Bee, director Osamu Dezaki and executive producer, Mataichirô Yamamoto, discuss why it took them 13 years to create a sequel to their first Golgo 13 film titled The Professional. I’m not entirely sure they ever really deliver a solid answer, even though both seem to love the character, the series, and desire to do more. Or maybe I just missed it because the two spend the majority of the runtime talking about sex. They talk about it culturally and philosophically and socially and fictionally, but mostly they talk about how they tried to use it to define their titular character whom, in the span of 55 minutes, gets at least four sex scenes. The pair mentions that they didn’t want to come across as just two dirty, middle-aged men, but I’m not sure they succeeded.

Nonetheless, the film itself has Golgo 13 aka Duke Togo (John Di Maggio/Akio Ohtsuka), Japan’s answer to James Bond (if Bond was an assassin), hired by Thomas Waltham (Carlos Ferro/Ryusei Nakao) to kill Sonia aka Queen Bee (Denise Poirier/Masako Katsuki), a drug runner working with Don Roccini (Joe Lala/Toshiya Ueda). Waltham is a personal advisor to Robert Hardy (Dwight Schultz/Kinryuu Arimoto), a politician who may be the next Democratic Presidential candidate. The plot begins entangling the more we get into it as we find that Sonia is actually the daughter of Robert Hardy who was abandoned when he took up a political career, and her motives may be more personal than professional. But Duke’s job gets really dangerous when General Gordon (John Hostetter/Kousei Tomita) hires the deranged soldier, Bening (Naoya Uchida), to put a stop to Sonia’s South American operations.

The popular opinion is that Queen Bee is a vastly superior creation than The Professional, and I can understand (and sympathize with) many of the common criticisms. Queen Bee was an OVA made in 1998, but the budget must have been small as actually looks inferior to The Professional. There are cost-saving techniques all throughout the short runtime (though Dezaki swears they weren’t used for that reason), such as freeze frames and action close-ups that use sparse background motion effects to give the feeling of movement. The narrative seems to have suffered as well. Queen Bee’s predecessor had a complicated plot itself, but it’s nothing compared to this, and, given the short runtime, the plot and relationships are as dense as mud, and there’s zero balance between exposition, action, and character.

Simply put: Queen Bee is a mess. It arbitrarily jumps from plotline to plotline, from location to location, from one time to another, and it’s impossible not to get lost. This would have been forgivable if so much time hadn’t been wasted on frivolous scenes that would’ve only mattered if there had been more time to flesh out the story and characters. But Queen Bee is like a deer in the headlights, turning to go every which way without actually ever following that look. And that’s all we get are looks that hint at the depth behind the characters and the story, but nothing that really explores any of them. Thankfully, Dezaki does maintain his stylistic touch, and Queen Bee is every bit as smooth and suave as The Professional with its expressive lighting, shadows and angles. But style alone can’t save a ship without a rudder.

The real shame about this is that there are hints of something better and deeper here. Sonia is a fascinating, emotionally complex character who is impossible to place in either the role of pro or antagonist. Here, she’s closer to the hero, seeking revenge on a father that let the most unspeakable thing happen to her. On the other lead front, Togo is the stoic anti-hero, never concerned in matters of morality, only in getting the job done that he’s been paid to do. Even the “villains” of the story have more substance to them as is typical for this type of film, as Hardy is really a conflicted man whose choices are finally coming back to haunt him. Waltham then gets to play the part of the sleazy manipulator, whose relationship with Hardy may go beyond the political. Even the crazed Benning is like a character walking right out of a Tarantino genre film.

Much like The Professional, Queen Bee is rife with sex, nudity, and violence, but here it crosses even closer to gratuity for the sheer fact that it impinges on the film’s ability to develop the narrative and characters. I already mentioned Sonia’s several love scenes, but Togo gets two of his own (only one with Sonia). I get the concept that the creators were trying to define Sonia’s character through her liberal sexuality, but this seems like a cop-out given that few of these scenes reveal anything about her that we didn’t already know. One particularly pointless (though stylish) one has her making love to an officer where she’s working at, spouting off some ridiculous mystical drivel.

But what’s startling is the film’s ending. For a movie that’s such a mess, everything seems to crystallize in the closing moments when Togo meets Sonia, in the rain, as she’s standing over her father’s grave. In a film that’s so full of noise and a lack of direction, the graceful, focused, dare I say, poignancy of this scene comes as a shock. Years ago I had seen this film as a teenager, and now upon rewatch I remember how much that scene moved me then, and I now understand why as it’s just a phenomenal scene in a movie that doesn’t deserve it. Of course, the closing credits combined with the superb theme song “Turquois Blue” by Fujimaru Yoshino probably help… but make sure to stay to the very end!

Ultimately, I don’t know what to make of this. As bad as the majority is, I can’t help but feel that the characters and ending give it a slight edge over The Professional. But it’s also frustrating thinking about what could have been.

Advertisements

About Jonathan Henderson
I'm a dedicated aesthete that's been fascinated with the arts since I was in my early teens. At 13 I saw my first foreign film, which ignited my passion for world cinema. I also discovered the enormous world of music out there and fell in love with everything from death metal to classical. My love for literature has especially grown in recent years, and I've taken up writing (and working really hard at) poetry. But over the past 12 years I've probably taken to film criticism more than anything, and seeing Neon Genesis Evangelion reignited my love for the arts (especially film) and took it to an even higher level. Now I write film reviews for two sites, including this one and Cinelogue. I play poker professionally, and while the world of arts and poker don't seem to converge much, I have taken the deductive and inductive logic that poker requires and attempted to apply it to all the arts as well as my criticism in an attempt to get past the jellybean syndrome ("I like blue jellybeans, you don't, and that's all we can say.").

One Response to Golgo 13: Queen Bee

  1. Mac Colestock says:

    Knowing Dezaki’s style, freeze frames and action close-ups probably weren’t used for cost-cutting measures. His method partly dominated how anime was directed up until about the time digital processing became widespread. Dramatic still shots have always been one of his key features, and he was the first to really popularize their usage back in the 70s, which at the time likely was a cost-cutting measure. But as he worked on larger projects, like the Black Jack OVA series and film in the 90s, he retained that stylistic feature despite having access to a larger budget. It’s not always a welcome sight (the You’re Under Arrest 1999 film contains a lot of good examples of how not to use the technique), but every time Dezaki uses the technique, I think it looks great. That might be my nostalgia speaking, though. I can understand a criticism that claims “anime must be ANIMATED,” after all.

    I need to watch this again. The first (and only) time I saw Queen Bee, I must have only been about ten or eleven. I can’t remember now, and I can’t remember much of the work, either. I know I liked it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: