Black Rain (1989)

Director: Ridley Scott Starring: Michael Douglas, Andy Garcia, Ken Kakakura, Yusake Matsuda, Kate Capshaw, Tomisaburo Wakayama. USA. 2h 5m

Michael Douglas travels to Japan with a deadly crazy Yakuza criminal, accidently releases him to his gang but then proceeds to school the Japanese Police department!? Only in the 80’s would this have worked and only Ridley Scott would have been able to make it work so well.

It can’t be ignored that the film feels half homage to at least 3 of the greatest names in Japanese Cinema, as the two cultures class, , Ken Kakakura, Yusake Matsuda, and the badass Tomisaburo Wakayama, who play both good and evil characters throughout the film. Ken is the attentive Asst. Insp. Matsumoto, who spends his time chasing around a fiesty Douglas and Garcia, partly babysitting them and taking a lot of flak from them. There is one beautiful drunken scene in a karaoke bar when the three men finally let their guards down and realise they are on the same side but cultural differences and career prospects are all that are keeping them on slightly different paths throughout this cat and mouse chase. The legend who was the Lone Wolf and Zatiochi respectively is just a highly respected gangster but his inclusion in this stylistic movie can’t go unnoticed, and most heartbreakingly this would be the final film of cult classic actor Yusake Matsuda, who knowingly went into the project with a serious cancer diagnosis, and in order to be ferocious for his role, refused to take any medication, shortening his chances of recovering even more.

So Douglas, Det. Sgt Nick Conklin is cast as this rough daredevil character, he rides a motorbike and despite being a father he lives on the edge, being a tough to handle police officer who bets on himself in street races in order to pay his kids school fees. After getting his knuckles professional tapped he retires to his favourite restaurant for lunch intent on picking up some leads on the Italian gangsters but instead the munch is turned into a blood bath when the Yakuza shoot the place up. Nick and his metro savvy partner Charlie Vincent (Garcia) have the privilege of taking the criminal back to Japan to face the full extent of the law, but accidently hand him over to the first people to flash badges at the airport, who are actually his gang in disguise. But when they should be harnessing their shame, the two American cops go full force into the Japanese criminal underworld showing aggression and intolerance to get the job corrected ASAP but are faced with a dilemma of having to learn a bit of Japanese mindfulness in order to make things right and move forwards.

An American Cop in Japan. Their country. Their laws. Their game. His rules.

The film is very perfectly set in the 80’s as a lot of the xenophobia and social tactics wouldn’t cut it in modern cinema. Despite the calibre of talent in front and behind the camera, it’s something that could have been arranged in a way that would have stood the test of time but it increasingly gets more corny as time goes by.

Technically the film is still just as dazzling as day one, night time Japanese city aesthetic with glitzy buses and trucks, neon nightclubs, the cityscape is one step away from Blade Runner. The action scenes are equally gritty and cinematic, a little on the dramatic edge and involved a lot of motorcycles and samurai blades, however it feels very “safe” and a more commercially driven movie in terms of where japanese cinema was heading in the same era, some of the actors had done edgier movies in the 70’s.

“I usually get kissed before I get fucked”


Far from being Scott’s best movie and one that keeps showing up the “ugly”. But it’s forever entertaining and the attempt to be compelling can’t be ignored. Even with all of it’s implausibilities and American cliches that basically don’t work in a Japanese setting, there’s a lot to enjoy, tha film hits all the right notes for the material. At times the heart and soul is missing, it’s a very stylish movie, bordering on designer and Douglas plays a character that for the most part is painful to watch, but maybe it’s a social insight on the Slurry of the West’s influence on Eastern philosophy? However you find it, there’s a very good chance you’ll end up watching some other Japanese classics from the era before and really find something empowering.


Rating: 6/10

Related: Someone to Watch Over Me (1987), Rising Sun (1993) , Lone Wolf and Cub (1970s), Duellists (1978), Romance in the Stone (1984),Resurrection of the Golden Wolf (1979).

Lists: Japanese Street Crime, Yakuza Films

Spotlight: Michael Douglas, Andy Garcia, Ken Kakakura, Yusake Matsuda, Tomisaburo Wakayama


One thought on “Black Rain (1989)”

  1. An interesting choice as always for review…the 80’s produced a series of films that began to force style over substance, an attitude that was a bit too slick and smug for me at times, but it’s Michael Douglas so I’m there!

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