A Look Back: Ridley Scott’s Black Rain
The first time I heard about this movie was from my screenwriting professor during my freshman year at college. I was working on a screenplay for a thriller taking place in China and this was a movie he recommended I eventually took his advice and watched this for some inspiration. However, to this day I do not know what the inspiration I was supposed to get from this movie was, or what made him see any resemblance between this and my work in progress screenplay. With that being said, I did enjoy it thoroughly.
Ridley Scott is one of the most recognizable names in the pool of directors still working today with films like Alien, Gladiator, The Martian, and Blade Runner being at the top of many people’s favorite film’s lists. Yet, not once prior to my screenwriting class had I even heard of Black Rain, even with it starring Michael Douglas, Kate Capshaw, and Andy Garcia, all notable western actors. On top of that, with much of his early work being within the sci-fi and fantasy genres, this is one of Scott’s first attempts at a more “grounded” movie. For anyone who has not seen it, it is definitely worth a watch with it being one of Scott’s earlier films. In fact, Black Rain was his last feature length release before 1991’s Thelma and Louise. So without further ado, put your motorcycle helmets and sunglasses on, pack your bags to Japan, and get ready to take on the Yakuza, and get ready to take a look back at Ridley Scott’s black sheep, let’s take a look back at Black Rain.
As this is a part of a series of articles, be sure to check out the previous edition of A Look Back which you can find at this convenient link right here.
Michael Douglas leads the show here, and for the most part he is great. Spoiling as little of the plot as possible, Douglas plays Nick Conklin, a wisecracking New York cop, thrown into an unknown land and forced to deal with the Japanese Yakuza. His chemistry with Andy Garcia and Ken Takakura is great, and easily the highlight of the movie. Douglas is almost always wonderful in anything he’s in, whether it be in Wall Street as Gordan Gekko, in Marvel’s Ant-Man as Dr. Hank Pym, or in the 2018 Chinese movie Animal World which is probably best left to be described with that movie’s trailer (linked below). So yes, Michael Douglas is always a joy to watch, and that remains the same with Black Rain.
Masahiro (Ken Takakura) is arguably the strongest aspect of this movie. He provides both the heart and soul, as well as the moral compass throughout. He is consistently the most valuable person to have on your team and proves his worth in spades throughout. His growing professional and personal relationship with Nick helps him feel even more likable. Takakura’s performance is probably the best out of the entire cast of the movie with it being very clear that he was giving it his best throughout.
Though Charlie Vincent (Andy Garcia) does not end up being in this movie for too long, when he is, he brings a natural charm throughout his entire performance. This karaoke scene between him and Masahiro is easily one of the most wholesome scenes I’ve recently seen and it just makes me smile. Garcia has a natural charisma in pretty much every role he plays and that is on full display here. Every scene between he and Nick in the beginning of the movie are very enjoyable sections, thanks in part to Garcia’s charisma and the chemistry between he and Douglas. Thankfully for anyone who saw this and wanted more of Andy Garcia singing, he did in fact get his own musical number in Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again alongside Cher, and yes, it is as wonderful as it sounds.
Back to Black Rain, the villain of the film is the character of Sato (Yûsaku Matsuda). He is played excellently and really elevates the film even further with his malevolent presence throughout. When first introduced it seems as if he is going to be a pretty lackluster antagonist, but when he shows up with his crew on the motorcycles after the nightclub scene, he makes his presence felt and any doubt of his character’s power is thrown out the window. The chemistry between Matsuda and Douglas, being able to fully realize animosity between Sato and Nick is another high spot for this movie.
Black Rain has style for days with shots in this movie looking cinematically spectacular. The use of practical lighting from the Japanese cityscape is wonderfully executed and is a great aesthetic choice from the filmmakers. If I were to compare the look of this film, it would be to a non-sci-fi Blade Runner, which makes sense since Ridley Scott directed both films. The neon lights of Japan compliment the darkness of the night skies, and in opposition, in the film’s finale the bright sky goes extremely well with the rural Japanese farm leading to an excellently staged final showdown between Nick & Masahiro and Sato & the Yakuza.
Black Rain’s score was composed by a young Hans Zimmer. When I had first watched the film I did not even realize it until the end credits, but upon listening to songs from the movie, you can hear Zimmer beginning to find his sound. To some it may be a stretch, but there are pieces of music on this soundtrack that are clear predecessors to his later work in films like Inception, The Dark Knight, and Widows. While the general tone and sound of the majority of the soundtrack sounds very dated and distinct to the 1980s, there are some hints of what was to come from the now iconic composer. Songs from the soundtrack like Outburst of Rage and Sato’s Escape and Nick’s Arrest, are the strongest examples of feeling like an indication of where Zimmer’s style would go.
The cinematography in this movie is so sleak, oozing with Asian-influenced style. Jan De Bont shot this movie, also being known for films such as Die Hard, Basic Instinct, and The Hunt for Red October, as well as directing films such as Speed and Twister. Comparing the cinematography and camerawork for Black Rain and Die Hard, it is easy to see the similarities upon re-watches of both movies. The look of the movie manages to be darker in tone, yet also managing to have fun with it’s material when needed.
The story part plays out as you’d expect from a movie like this. Heroes go to foreign land, lost their criminal, face tragedy, mourn, do some detective work, battle the villains henchman, and then getting their happy ending. While the story may be cookie cutter, the execution is actually really well done. In the hands of any other director, this could have been a mess and felt like an Asian story that was whitewashed with American actors, however with Scott’s work here it never does (besides Kate Capshaw, that role feels like it should have been given to a Japanese actress from the moment she enters the story).
Nick’s character never really feels like a “white savior” as he consistently messes up and only can get anything done when he has the full help and support of Masahiro in the last act of the film. If anything, while you can say that Nick ultimately saves he day, it’s done in a respectful manner that does not negate the rest of the film and more importantly Masahiro as a character. By the end of the film, Nick has grown as a character and has gained a newfound respect for the country of Japan.
Living in a time where there are countless amounts of diversity issues in Hollywood, this movie tends to handle it really well for being from the 1980s, and for that makes the viewing experience significantly more enjoyable.
The film overall is an overlooked piece of cinema that I feel as if most forget exists, or for some might not have even heard of it. Coming from an acclaimed director like Ridley Scott, most seem to forget that this came right after the releases of Alien, Legend, and Blade Runner. He managed to go from science fiction and fantasy, to crime thriller with nothing more than a flick of the wrist. While, it is not the best movie by any means, and certainly does not compare to some of Scott’s best work, I find it to be a noteworthy movie nonetheless. It’s unique style and the artistic vision warrants more eyes to be put onto it.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this story and want to take a look at an earlier edition of this series, check out A Look Back: Tron: Legacy.