Lowdown: A struggling New York cop is in for a real struggle against Japanese criminals in their homeland.
There are lots of reasons with which I can explain the special place 1989’s Black Rain has with me. For a start, it’s a Ridley Scott film with a lot of stylistic similarities to Blade Runner: although set in modern times, it still takes us to foreign lands (Japan) and it is still very visibly stimulating in similar manners. Then there’s the fact Black Rain, a film containing lots of motorcycle action scenes, landed at the peek of my motorcycle fandom era. Special attributes aside, Black Rain is a hard knuckle action film made at the pre-digital era and very well shot, which implies at its brute force nature; you don’t see many films like that anymore in this digital era of blurry action.
Despite the special affection I have towards Black Rain I never owned it in my personal film collection. That came down to its laserdisc carrying distinct reputation for being of inferior quality. In effect, this meant I haven’t watched Black Rain for many years – at least 15 – and aside of its original cinematic presentation I never got to watch it at a high quality presentation. Channel 10’s One HD sought to remedy the situation, broadcasting it a week ago, but it was clear the source was of poor technical quality for a film such as this.
Black Rain has us following Nick (Michael Douglas), a New York police detective in love with his job yet struggling. Divorced, he’s having a hard time paying up for his kids, while at work he’s under internal investigation for taking money he shouldn’t have. The result is an extravert person who will not shy at taking significant risks to get his way, as Black Rain clearly demonstrates through its character introducing action scenes.
Nick and his partner Charlie (Andy Garcia) find themselves in luck one day when the pub they visit is occupied with Mafia guys and some Japanese characters. Another Japanese guy bursts into the scene and kills a guy, setting our policemen after him. They catch him, but that is not the end of their story: they have to take him back to Japan where he’s wanted for a lot of nasty stuff.
Thus we fly to Osaka, where the greeting party for our cops turns out to be more than meets the eye and our criminal escapes. Between trouble at home and the shock to his professional reputation, Nick & Co decide to stay in Japan and help the locals. They are only visitors, though, and they’re not allowed to take control of things; but how long can that last?
I used to remember Black Rain fondly for its bare knuckles action scenes, and these are very much as effective as they were twenty years ago. A rare case given how digital effects manage to make all pre digital special effects look pathetically obsolete, probably the result of not relying much on special effects in the first place but rather on lots of stunt work and good old cinematography. No blurry images or shaky cameras here.
One area where the film is very obviously showing its old age is the music. The ongoing eighties pop soundtrack is way out of touch with the macho action. The contrast with Blade Runner, which enjoys a timeless musical soundtrack from Vangelis, cannot be more obvious.
There is, however, much more to Black Rain than motorcycle emptiness under the neon loneliness of eighties’ Japan. Beyond the story at the front of the film there is the story about the struggle between a society anxious to impose its rules, even at the price of numbing good sense out of its citizens, versus the struggle of the individual to maintain their individuality and make their own minds by themselves. In Black Rain that struggle is first put on record by the contrasting of Nick with his police authorities, but later made even more obvious by the contrast between Nick the loud American and the obedient Japanese around him. Nick the rider of a Harley in a land of Suzukis. There are many ways in which this struggle is relevant to each and every one of us, starting off from the current accusations of Victoria being a nanny state.
Favorite scene: I forgot how many of Black Rain’s catch phrases I have been using over the years. My favorite comes from a scene where a Yakuza boss explains to our Nick why his favorite pastime if forging American Dollars. The explanation lends the film its title but also allows the guy to explain his notes are “p-e-r-f-e-c-t” in a heavy Japanese accent I used to often quote.
Overall: As far as I am concerned, Black Rain is a very successful sequel to Blade Runner. I like it a lot, and I mourn the fact contemporary bare knuckle action films are either too commercialized or too silly. I thus give Black Rain 4.5 out of 5 stars.