Black Rain 1989 ****

“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.


Leave a Reply
  1. One of my all time favourite Ridley Scott movies. Not one of his best, for sure; but the Japan setting and the dynamic between Michael Douglas and Ken Takakura characters does the trick for me. Scott elevates a run-of-the-mill buddy cop movie with his usual visual flair. Plus, it has my favourite Hans Zimmer score of all time.

    • Glad to hear some love for this film; it’s almost abstract at times, and yet tells a satisying story; thanks for the comment!

  2. Yeah, this is Scott with style and substance. My two Ridley Scott favourites are American Gangster, which has a similar edgy vibe to this, and Kingdom of Heaven (director’s cut).

    • I keep meaning to try American Gangster again, even White Squall; these films disappointed at the time for me, but after Alien and Blade Runner, everything Scott did was heralded as a potential game-changer. I think the problem here might be with my expectation rather than Scott, although A Good Year isn’t one my list of films to revise my opinion of, I just don’t think it works.

  3. One I quite enjoyed when it came out alas recently re-watched with a bunch of buddies and it is every bit as bad as you think it might be. I think I was excited by the stylish japanese thugs which I hadn’t had a lot of cinematic experience with in the 80s (it was the freaking 80s we didn’t have access to much!) There are some wonderful close ups of Douglas’s face as he emotes that are hilarious.

  4. I saw this at the pictures in 1989 and while it didn;t deliver the action I was looking for at the time, seeing it now, there’s much more to enjoy. So yes, a remaster is desirable, but I was wowed by the image quality that I saw even on a streaming service. My guess it that people expected more from Scott as a visionary director, but for any other director, this would be a career highlight.

    • I used to post 5 a day, but have calmed down a bit now. I’ve discovered it takes less time to watch Black Rain that it does to read the complete works of Shakespeare.

      • Hahahahaa! Touche’

        But 5 a day? Oooph, that sounds like a killer schedule 🙁 For my own sake, I’m glad you don’t do that many anymore. There is no way I could ever keep up with that kind of output.

        • No, I was building up content online, but you’re right, people only have so much time to read and one or two review is better. Sometimes need to balance out new and older movies, or having one that just has to be run on a particular day.

Leave a Reply