Black Rain (1989)

Black Rain (1989)

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This could only be a more 80s-looking picture if Boy George was in the background.
This could only be a more 80s-looking picture if Boy George was in the background.

Twitter Plot Summary: Michael Douglas is a maverick cop sent to Japan to take on some bad guys. Everything looks neon.

Big haired Michael Douglas (as Nick Conklin) takes on the Japanese underworld in Ridley Scott’s Black Rain. Accompanied by the less extravagantly coiffured Andy Garcia, they head to the Far East to escort a Yakuza criminal back to Japan to be tried on home soil. Thanks to some shenanigans he escapes and they then have to make amends, all the while adjusting to the Japanese method of police enforcement.

Ignoring the most inconsistent ever to apply to a police force commander – namely that loose cannon and currently under investigation Michael Douglas is sent on such an important mission in the first place – is also the fact that Conklin is a completely unsympathetic character, one that it is hard for the audience to root for. Garcia as his long-suffering partner Charlie is the more likeable of the two, however you can telegraph exactly where things will go for him simply because he’s so nice. What can be said about Conklin other than he’s unpleasant, a bit of a maverick and is a competent motorbike rider? Not much, let’s be honest.

The visual style owes a lot to Scott’s earlier work on Blade Runner, filled with glowing neon lights and dim, rainswept streets. Beyond this however it has little else to say beyond its broad and cliche stranger in a strange land story, one where the hero from the Western world shows his foreign counterpart(s) what it means to be an officer of the law abroad, while the hero learns something about teamwork and working within certain boundaries in return. In its favour is that Black Rain is deferential to Japanese culture, which is always a pleasure to experience. Matsumoto, the Japanese officer assigned to work with Conklin is great for introducing the audience to Japanese life, even if he again is little more than a Japanese equivalent to Charlie. It’s interesting to note that the two actors playing Matsumoto and Sato were known in Japan for playing opposite to their roles here, a nice nod from Scott to their film heritage in Japan by inverting their roles.

Something tells me that this isn't considered legal behaviour in Japan. Or indeed, most places.
Something tells me that this isn’t considered legal behaviour in Japan. Or indeed, most places.

The finale is big and explosive, following the expected plot pattern to the letter, although it isn’t afraid to bring things down to a personal battle of wills in a bid to show just how far Conklin has developed since our first encounter with him. Let’s not go into any detail about Kate Capshaw, however – the character is needlessly American for a start, and her appearance in the film seems to be solely to include a speaking female role. There are no excuses, but that’s just the way it was back in the 1980s. Much like Michael Douglas’ hair, actually.

In the end it’s a solid action film, even if it’s one that relies heavily on established cliches, an oh-so 80s soundtrack and casual racism in order to make its point. It may be more style than substance, but in the hands of Ridley Scott it still manages to push forward and be more than the sum of its parts regardless.

Score: 3/5

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