Black Rain, a Forgotten Ridley Scott Classic - October 2015
With Ridley Scott’s ‘The Martian’ in theatres now (and making an impact) I decided to go back and revisit one of the underrated gems in the mans impressive career – the 1989 Michael Douglas-starring action thriller ‘Black Rain’. A decade after ‘Alien’, seven years after ‘Blade Runner’ and followed two years later by ‘Thelma & Louise’, the movie is not widely considered as a Scott classic. That is unless you grew up a pubescent boy watching an endless array of Eighties action movies, like I did.
Let’s get this out of the way first – ‘Black Rain’ is in no way a great movie. Thematically it’s the standard ‘Gaijin goes to Japan, clashes with the system of honor and tradition, completely disregards said system but eventually finds a mutual respect’. It’s the stereotypical Hollywood representation of a complex Japanese culture that birthed tens of thousands ill-advised Kanji tattoos on Western biceps. If you’re searching for a well written, true representation of Japan – don’t watch this, but dive headfirst into well over a century of great Japanese cinema. It’ll be worth it. Besides the cultural relativism, another common Eighties pitfall is also present: Kate Capshaw is the only female character with a speaking role, and she has little more to do besides walking around in form fitting dresses.
With that out of the way, let’s bask in the awesome glory that is ‘Black Rain’.
With ‘Blade Runner’ Scott already created a version of Los Angeles that came close to Eighties Tokyo, where the majority of the film is set. Its loud cacophony of flickering lights, giant rotating fans and an ant colony-like streetlife, contrasted with neon signs reflecting in wet empty streets. Every manhole is constantly erupting with thick white smoke, slowly drifting across the screen and showing the actors in a backlit Film Noir-esque silhouette. I don’t think Director of Photography Jan de Bont is as visionary as Jordan Cronenweth proved to be in ‘Blade Runner’, but he does a totally acceptable job capturing the action, as well as the city. The showdown in the steel factory especially is a ballet of molten steel, sparks flying sweaty eyebrows and, of course, more smoke than ‘The Towering Inferno’.
Besides the visual aspect lifting the movie well above the decade’s action schlock, the acting is what truly sets it apart. I will argue that Andy Garcia is at his utmost slick-but-lovable Garcia-est in his role as Detective Charlie Vincent. Not straying too far from his roles in The Untouchables and the third Godfather as the smooth Italian-American sweettalker with the short temper, Garcia puts a vulnerability and sweetness in his performance that a lesser actor could have easily forgone. Especially the scenes with Ken Takakura’s stoic Tokyo detective counterpart are a delight, and give the film an emotional heart that tends to be absent in similar movies. The nightclub scene were Garcia leads Takakura into a drunk rendition of Ray Charles’ “What I’d Say” shows him as an equally magnetic and light-on-his –feet force that few actors are able to pull off. Of course Takakura in his own right was already a veteran actor in his homeland (and had starred in Sydney Pollack’s great 1975 film ‘The Yakuza’ before) and it shows. The scene where him and Michael Douglas are discussing police ethics over ramen, and the subtle, calm way Takakura dresses down the latters swagger and bluff, is perfect (and visually reminiscent of the scene in Blade Runner where Gaff picks up Deckard for the first time).
Like I mentioned earlier, ‘Black Rain’ is not a great film, and compared to the grandeur of the Blade Runner/Gladiator/Alien Ridley Scott universe very small and straightforward, but the master’s touch is exactly what seems to elevates a genre-movie like this above it’s many, many counterparts of the decade. As an unapologetic lover of the genre, it remains one of my all time favorites, and it’s on top of my list of movies that I will have to finish watching every time I come across it flipping through channels.
Originally appeared on Man Got Style