A culture clash of crime is soaked in BLACK RAIN
“Sometimes, you just got to go for it.”
Whenever people talk about Director Ridley Scott they always cite films like Alien and Blade Runner as being his best work. While I agree with that, there is another film I would add to the list, his 1989 East Meets West crime thriller BLACK RAIN. Ever since first seeing it, I’ve been a huge fan. The movie stars Michael Douglas as Nick Conklin, a tough, wisecracking NYC cop, who follows in the tradition of rebellious characters like Dirty Harry and John McClane. When we first meet Nick he’s being grilled by Internal Affairs about his suspected involvement in a corruption scandal. While he denies taking any money, the “suits” are convinced he’s telling a lie due to his known financial troubles. While out at lunch after the IA meeting, Nick and his best friend Charlie (Andy Garcia), also a cop, witness a gang of yakuza led by Sato (Yasaku Matsuda) kill some fellow gang bosses. The two apprehend him, and are later given orders to accompany Sato back to Japan for extradition. When they arrive at the airport a group of men incognito as police take Sato away, leaving Nick and Charlie looking like shnooks. Instead of returning back to New York City, they decide to stay and help the Osaka police take Sato down. Masahiro Matsumoto (Ken Takakura) is the detective assigned to Nick and Charlie, who are only permitted to observe the investigation. As usual Nick and Charlie break the rules given and do their Super Cops routine, but during a confrontation Charlie is murdered by Sato and his men. A vengeful Nick then teams up with “Mas” as he calls him and discovers through an American nightclub hostess living in Japan (Kate Capshaw) that Sato’s reason for the killing in New York has to do with a gang war with his former boss Sugai (Lone Wolf and Cub’s Tomisaburo Wakayama) and a counterfeiting ring. Nick does his best to try to get Sato using his own crude style that Mas strongly disagrees with due to his strict code of honor.
While on the surface, Black Rain is an action thriller, it also contains a social commentary on the differences between the US and Japanese traditions. In one important scene that explains the title of the film, we learn how Sugai’s counterfeiting of American money was his own revenge for the nuclear “black rain” that fell following the bombing of his home in Hiroshima. On the other side there’s Nick, the macho American cowboy cop who lives on the edge and inspires his new partner Mas to take chances and go from the subserviant quiet guy in the office to a real hero on the Osaka police force. What’s also special is the simple fact it deals with the Japanese Yakuza. There really hasn’t been many big Hollywood studio movies that have covered this unique and exciting subgenre of crime cinema. One that comes to mind is another that starred Ken Takakura, The Yakuza (1975) directed by Sydney Pollack (you shoulkd check it out too). The cinematography by Jan de Bont is another highlight in Black Rain and recalls the brilliant neo-noir atmosphere of Blade Runner becoming a kind of realistic reflection of that amazing futuristic universe.