Michael Douglas kicks Japan in the nuts: “Black Rain”

January 30, 2013

Black_RainTo anyone born before 1990, the current hysteria over an ascendant China seems awfully familiar. See, before it was trendy to fear China, the roaring dragon of the East was Japan, and we were all pretty sure they’d pretty much own the US by, oh, 1995 or so. Which really sucks because Japanese is hella-difficult to learn (the upsides—cheap sushi, cosplay , limitless tentacle-porn—somehow never made it into the national dialogue). As with all cultural anxieties, this one made its way into the movies, one of the first being 1989’s Black Rain. Black Rain posits a simple theory about our (then) culture-clash: everything will be okay between the US and Japan as long as Americans are big enough dicks and the Japanese do it our way. In this, it anticipated George W. Bush’s basic foreign policy, but with less Middle East-invading and more shouting Michael Douglas.

Okay, so in Black Rain, Michael Douglas plays Nick Conklin, a wild-haired (it really is nuts—look at it!) NYPD detective who’s in the midst of an Internal Affairs investigation, who—along with his affable partner, Charlie Vincent (a charming Andy Garcia) inadvertently witnesses a very public murder committed by a Yakuza thug named Sato (the late Yusako Matsuda). Well, Nick manages to collar Sato, and—okay, this part makes no sense—he and Vincent have to escort Sato back to Osaka. You know, to be tried for a murder he committed in the US, and that was witnessed by a restaurant full of people, including two cops. (Sigh), okay, whatever…

"Behold the magnifence of my 'do!"

“Behold the magnifence of my ‘do!”

Once they’re wheels-down in Osaka, Nick promptly turns Sato over to the first dudes who meet him on the plane. Guess what? They’re not the real cops. Yeah, Nick isn’t so bright. You can kinda see why we were so scared of the Japanese taking over.

Well, somehow Nick and Vincent manage to stay on the case and attempt to track down Sato with the help of an Osaka police inspector named Masahiro (the always great Ken Takakura). And as you’d expect, their dynamic is basically, “Nick-san, we do not do things that way in Japan!” “Blah! I’m a NYP-fuckin’-D detective! Do things like I tell you! Blah! Stupid, tight-assed Nips! This is why we totally pwned you in WW2! And while we’re on the topic: fuck you very much for Pearl Harbor! That was a real dick move!” I’m paraphrasing a bit, but, yeah, that’s basically how every exchange goes for the first third of the movie. It gets pretty tedious.

"This is how we do it in NYC! You got the drop piece ready?"

“This is how we do it in NYC! You got the drop piece ready?”

But then—for no reason that makes any sense whatsoever—Sato decapitates Charlie in front of Nick. Grief-stricken, Masa and Nick work together to hunt Sato down. Along the way, cultures are bridged as Nick learns the values of honor and respect, and Masa learns that to be a good cop you have to basically just go all lone wolf and yell at your supervisors a lot.

Black Rain is a weird movie in that it looks better and better and gets stupider and stupider as it goes along. The film was directed by Ridley Scott—his third after Blade Runner—and he brings a lot of the same visual style to Osaka’s overpopulated public places and neon-encrusted nightlife. He also brings a loose, rambunctious style to the movie that keeps it humming along, even when the story pretty much evaporates.

Osaka is beset by murderous biker gangs.

Osaka is beset by murderous biker gangs.

And evaporate it does. Now, a movie that’s based on a completely illogical premise already has a tough road ahead of it, and screenwriters Craig Bolotin and Warren Lewis don’t make it any smarter as it goes along. Nick and Masa really don’t do a lot of detecting or investigating per se. No, when the movie needs to move along, it pretty much just lobs a clue at them to get them going again. Seriously, it’s like there’s a crew member just off screen whose job includes “deus ex machina.”

What else to we have:

* Kate Capshaw is in this, and WTF?!? As an expat bargirl she plays a great ‘40s-style hardboiled dame. Sure, her character has no arc, and she exists only to either 1) dump info, or 2) hand Nick clues, but she is amazing. This is the woman she should have played in Temple of Doom. Look on her performance here and ponder what might have been.

"Even I hated my character in Temple of Doom."

“Even I hated my character in Temple of Doom.”

* The action scenes are great.

* The dialogue is so bad, I half-wonder if it was intentional. To wit: “Sometimes you have to forget your head and grab your balls.” “Sometimes you have to go for it.” “Fuck you very much!’ (yeah, that one was real).

*  Andy Garcia is such a winning presence here—all enthusiastic about experiencing a new culture—I sorta wished he was the NYPD detective who lived to the end credits.

* One of the crime bosses explains to Nick that his scheme to counterfeit US currency is revenge for the atomic bomb. That’s, uh…that’s just weird. I mean…really? You think that’s gonna hurt the US more than, say, what your country’s automotive industry was doing to us at the time?

* In an example of the movie’s shoddy script, at the end of the film, Masa not only locates the remote farm where Nick is stalking Sato, but even locates Nick’s hiding place on the hundred or so acres. Okay, that there is some good inspecting.

* Matsuda was dying of cancer when he made this, and he really gives it his all.

* When Nick and Sato go at it mano-a-mano, the soundtrack changes from Hans Zimmer’s effective, Asian-inspired electric score to some good, American guitar licks. Aww yeah! USA! USA!

The truck just snuck up on him.

The truck just snuck up on him.

In the end, Black Rain isn’t nearly as offensive as the earlier Gung-Ho (which showed the Japanese to be all corporate weenies), or the later Rising Sun (which, aside from being a truly nuts film, basically stated that the Japanese were all evil corporate imperialists bent to destroying the US). In fact, pretty much all the Japanese people in it seem reasonable and professional, while the lone symbol of Americanism is a complete ass-hat most of the time.

In the end, though, the Japanese threat to the homeland never materialized. Their economy tanked due to…ah…something Godzilla-related, probably—I don’t know much economics. And now the Chinese are the big bad. This makes me sort of excited for a potential sequel: Black Rain 2: The Hunt for General Tso.

So, that’s Black Rain: another forgotten action flick. It’s great to look at.


  1. My favorite thing about Black Rain (besides the xenophobic 80s terror of Japanese post-apocalyptic “Otherness”- how often A. Garcia and M. Douglas call each other ‘babe’. Seriously, there’s hardly a scene without it, babe.

    • Good point. I didn’t even think of that. Was that a thing in 1989? I don’t remember it being a thing.

  2. Destined to be a cult film. Every time you hear the word “babe” – take a shot.

  3. God awful review from a more than likely bitter little American hating hipster. The movie is superbly underrated, bye bye

  4. Worst xenophobic movie ever!

  5. Michael Douglas is complete asshole in the role .
    When this movie was made in 88 the r and r ( rockerfeller and Rothchilds ) we’re steeling all Japanese republic money and killing the Japanese politicians and corrupting all of Japan by bultallizing the Japanese,man woman and child.
    It was not till recently the Japanese has kick all Khazarian out of Japan.
    The khazarian created hate amongst the Chinese and Japanese back then. Now the Chinese and Japanese are family along with most of the countries of the world.
    Peace and Love to all the living creatures of our planet.

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