Wednesday, 25 January 2012



I've never been the biggest Ridley Scott fan. He's made two genuine masterpieces, the marvellous Alien and the magnificent Blade Runner, but more recently he's drifted away into relatively uninteresting fare (and in the case of Robin Hood, thoroughly tiresome). Body Of Lies and American Gangster were fine: they're well made films, but they didn't have the beauty and magic of those two early showstoppers, particularly Blade Runner which is one of the richest, most gorgeous and endlessly rewatchable movies ever made. Purely on a visual level it's utterly jaw-dropping (and literally so: that was my reaction when I first saw it at my local Granada) and that look - the steam and neon and whirring fans - is such a part of it that I really wish Scott made more movies with that aesthetic.

And happily Black Rain is a film with that aesthetic as well: great chunks of it could have been shot on the same sets, and the end result is that 1987 Tokyo looks so much like the Los Angeles of 2017 that the film's almost great to start with. It's a pity that the substance of the film doesn't reward quite as much as the photography and production design do. Tough, cynical New York cop Conklin (Michael Douglas) captures Japanese gangster Sato and, along with his partner (Andy Garcia), is assigned to escort him back to Osaka, where Sato is wanted in connection with an ongoing mob war with older oyabun Saigu. But Sato's men take him before they're even off the plane and the two Americans are reduced to mere observers as the local police take charge....

It's a culture-clash film, between the rigorous code of honour in both the Japanese police and the yakuza, and the go-for-it individual attitude of the brash, vulgar Americans. Sato's behaviour is as much of an affront to the yakuza as Conkin's is to the Japanese police force. And gradually, just as Conklin learns something of honour, shame and respect (in particular concerning his own corruption), their "handler" (Ken Takakura) learns to use his own initiative to take more direct action rather than strictly observing the rulebook. But in truth I'd like it a lot more if Conklin wasn't such a naturally unlikable character - he's hard to warm to, and his charmless and foul-mouthed borderline racism (borne out of ignorance rather than malice) makes him a weak protagonist.

Nonetheless, Black Rain is certainly worth seeing for the beautiful visuals of Osaka at night and the fabulously attractive portrait of modern Japan. When I saw it on the big screen back in the 80s I was probably overwhelmed by these aspects of the movie, but watching it on a non-anamorphic DVD (with, it has to be said, pretty mediocre picture quality) the visuals, and the Hans Zimmer soundtrack, are inevitably diminished. It's still a decent enough three-star film, and it's still worth seeing, but probably not as good as you remember it.


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