Having captured a scowling emissary from the Japanese Yakuza, New York detectives Nick Conklin and Charlie Vincent escort the villain back to Osaka. There they manage to lose their captive, and must descend into an alien underworld embroiled in a savage war between rival gangs, to retrieve him.
This is the film, above all the various throws of his aesthetic genius, that best embodies the tricky cult of Ridley Scott. It is a standard issue fish-outta-water cop thriller, but transposed to Osaka’s glistening towers, and possesses everything that intoxicates and infuriates about the director’s predilections. Of course, it looks fabulous, fixing the neon-noir deco dreadscape of his masterpiece Blade Runner, into a real context — Japan’s sprawling urban civility — that feels, if anything, more exotic still. It also centres on a typically gutsy Michael Douglas performance; he was at the height of his fame, post Wall Street, an American hero with rough edges and big hair. Yet, no matter how well dressed, the movie can’t escape the gravitational pull of formula. Douglas is the maverick kind, street-smart, out for revenge on the enemy’s turf, and lumbered with stiff-necked Ken Takakura, a buddy-up that melts from friction to mutual respect. It’s Beverly Hills Cop without the jabber, but plenty of Sushi.
Away from the exuberances of its bloody violence — if the American policier makes its points with bullets, the Japanese variety is all knife edges — Scott is aiming to comment on post-war cross-cultural lack-of-relations. Casual resentments that hover teasingly over racism pepper the film, supposedly fed by the brutish attitudes of character (Douglas’ Conklin is no saint — Internal Affairs are about to cook his ass back in the Apple). American’s are defined as individuals bucking the system, their Japanese equivalent systemised drones confined by tradition.
It’s a problematic gesture, as it becomes increasingly indistinct whether the film is commenting on or just joining in such prejudice — there is a daft preponderance of inscrutable Eastern glances. Thankfully, and vitally, Takakura gives a terrific turn as the deskbound detective babysitting these livewire New Yorkers. His becalmed Samurai leanings have a genuine effect on Conklin, enough to pause his brute punch-‘em-and-they’ll-tell-you approach to detection and grasp something of this poised foreign culture. They make a good duo, once Andy Garcia is helpfully removed from proceedings.
In shorthand — it’s fittingly involving, if overcooked, pulp given the uber-sheen by Scott’s multi-layered palette (you know: smoke stacks, neon blurs, all blacks, purples and smudged greys) as shot by soon-to-be-promoted Jan De Bont the soon to be director of Speed.
Without a convincing subtext, Black Rain is pretty dull fare indeed.