“I liked to get kissed before I get f***ed’ is a good sample line of dialogue from Ridley Scott’s macho cop thriller Black Rain, a film that has apparently developed a cult following. It’s about Nick Conklin (Michael Douglas), a racist cop from New York who finds himself working his way through various levels of crime in Japan.
Black Rain opens and closes with a terrible song, but is otherwise a good example of an 80’s steam noir; straightforward, straight-up, satisfying. Scott is a visual master, and Japan gives him plenty of shiny surfaces to play with; the lenser is Jan de Bont, between Verhoeven and directing Speed. The imagery is startling, almost hypnotic; Conklin seems to descend into a specific circle of hell, where the streets are hardly streets, the signage is animated but indecipherable, and a drum solo accompanies every loading of a gun.
These visual tropes have become clichés, but Black Rain’s script deals in a very familiar set of genre ideas. Nick rides a motorbike, so the closing chase is a home run for him. He has two partners; Andy Garcia gets decapitated, so Ken Takakura takes his place as Conkin navigates the underworld. Black Rain does make an effort to explain and ground Conklin’s racism; he’s a corrupt cop, and his NYC superiors easily deduce he’s on the take from an analysis of his income and expenditure. This sense of moral corruption fuels his racism, but his alliance with a Japanese cop changes his stance, if not eradicating it. Yes, Conklin is racist, so should the film be banned because it deals with racism? Should we ban In The Heat of the Night for the same reason?
Scott, reportedly, didn’t enjoy the shoot in Japan, and the climax was supposedly cobbled together in California, yet both opening and closing action scenes are superbly mounted. But while the plot mechanics are nothing new, the visuals are fresh and dynamic; a foot-chase with Conklin in front of a truck still creates an iconic buzz. Black Rain is one of Scott’s less celebrated films, but it’s the work of a craftsman, and looks every bit as sleek today as the film’s anti-hero looks pudgy and doughy.