Black Rain

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BLACK RAIN spattered cop clichés and character contrivance over the basics for an intriguing scenario, rendering Ridley Scott’s 1989 Japan-set police thriller another victim of style over substance. The 125-minute lurk in the dark is one of the director’s lesser offerings, and a letdown after his previous suspenser, also involving detectives, Someone To Watch Over Me. The $30,000,000 vehicle was also a step back in quality control for star Michael Douglas, chewing neon scenery to tasteless ramen in his first film in two years since his Oscar-win for Wall Street. The tagline for Black Rain reads: “An American Cop in Japan. Their country. Their laws. Their game. His rules.”  To that slather of mozzarella paste on “Our groans.”

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After murdering fellow gangsters (in broad daylight, in a New York City restaurant full of witnesses and cops), a extra-ruthless/loco whackjob Japanese yakuza punk is sent back to Japan after capture (uh, why?), escorted by cowboy-brash NYPD lout ‘Nick Conklin’ (Douglas) and his snappy dressing, wiseacre, obviously doomed partner ‘Charlie Vincent'(Andy Garcia).  Nick’s under investigation from Internal Affairs, so per the logic of the script, he’s given this important escort assignment. From the get-go, the plot-holes and logic gaps, let alone attitudes and decisions, seem created through a combination of Screenplay-by-Xerox and the finesse of a 12-gauge shotgun.

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On landing in Japan, the bad guy escapes (the convenience is fit for a Will Ferrell movie), so the cocky New York buds reluctantly team with offended-but-patient Japanese policeman ‘Masahiro Matsumoto’ (the redoubtable Ken Takakura), and engage in unexciting, highly unlikely chases and battles with the local hoods. American ex-pat bar hostess ‘Joyce’ (Kate Capshaw, slinking, in a part that offers little else) gives possible assistance while sparring with Nick. Sparks are M.I.A. (maybe it’s his mullet), but apparently the plot cried out for a sexy American blonde, so we go with the malarkyism.

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Most memorable scene is the eerie motorcycle ambush of Garcia. The impressive performances come from Takakura and Yûsaku Matsuda, going full-flamboyant with his kill-happy villain.*

Though Scott allowed the leads to ham like rookies with cheese-grating macho swagger, posturing and plenty of in-caps-with-exclamation-points profanity, the biggest culprit is the ridiculous screenplay from Craig Bolotin and Warren Lewis. The Japanese location work was done in some of the most oppressive spots they could find in Osaka, and those California-looking final wipeup scenes were filmed in Napa after visas ran out for Japan. Like any Scott project, it consistently has a good look to it:Jan de Bont took credit for the cinematography after uncredited Howard Atherton quit in frustration (the country’s red-tape made for a hassle-heavy shoot). Some of the visuals, with the settings, lighting, set design and Ridley-smoke, can’t help but summon Blade Runner.

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Despite lame reviews (which have now morphed into seppuku salutes) it grossed $134,212,000, 28th place for the year, and drew Oscar nominations for Sound and Sound Effects Editing.  With Shigeru Kôyama, John Spencer, Tomisaburô Wakayama, Luiz Guzmán, Stephen Root, Vondie Curtis-Hall  and—a name to kill for—Guts Ishimatsu, a former boxer and World Lightweight Boxing Champ. Music score by Hans Zimmer was the first of a half-dozen collaborations with Scott.

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* Yûsaku Matsuda died seven weeks after the premiere, age 40, from bladder cancer. In pain throughout the filming, it is reported he said “This way, I will live forever.” A samurai.

Douglas, on the film’s mediocre reception: ” It was hard to know who to root for. And people here were uncomfortable with race stuff and talking about the bomb. There was a critic, who’ll remain nameless, who called it a racist film. I called him up and asked, “Have you ever been to Japan?”. He said, “No”, and I said, “Then what the hell are you talking about?”. The Japanese loved it. I loved it–I thought it rocked from top to bottom.”

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Movie go’s—honorable or shameful—at the cultural collision between Japan and the West include The Barbarian And The Geisha, Silence, Rising Sun, Gung-Ho, The Last Samurai, The Yakuza, Bridge To The Sun, The Crimson Kimono, House Of Bamboo, Sayonara, Three Stripes In The Sun and portions of several in the subset of WW2 P.O.W. movies.

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