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A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: Black Rain – The 30th Anniversary

A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: “I Am The Solution To Your Problems”. A 30th Anniversary Celebration Of My Favorite Filmmaker Of All Time Ridley Scott’s “Black Rain”. Starring Michael Douglas As An American Cop In Japan, Where It Might Be Their Country, Their Laws & Their Game, But It’s His Rules. Ridley Scott Creates Films That Titillate Your Senses & “Black Rain” Is No Exception. Every Frame Screams With Detail, Strong Performances & An Artistic Barrage Of Blood & Guts, That’s A Blast Of Pure Sensation. 

Michael Douglas & The Greatest Of All Time Ridley Scott On The Set Of “Black Rain”

Whenever I get the chance to discuss the career of Oscar winning director of “Gladiator”, Ridley Scott; it’s a real joy for me. Everyone who knows me knows that he is my favorite filmmaker of all time, heck let’s just all admit that he is the greatest filmmaker! Ridley Scott has directed over 51 films and as a mega producer has produced over 139 films. I guess you can call me biased but there has never been a Ridley Scott film I didn’t like. That includes his 1989 Michael Douglas American-Cop-In-Japan thriller “Black Rain”. It is unfairly nowadays often overlooked in the director’s impressive filmography, as it’s certainly one of his career best and one were here to celebrate on it’s 30th anniversary.

“Black Rain” refers to the combination of soot and radioactive fallout that was in the air after the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki . When interacting with clouds this would cause rain to fall that was black in color and highly lethal.

Ridley Scott’s filmography up to the point of “Black Rain” (which was his sixth feature film) was diverse. A historical drama set in the late 18th century/early 19th century Europe (“The Duelists”), a futuristic space set alien horror film (“Alien”), a futuristic neo-noir detective thriller (“Blade Runner”) and a pure swords/sorcery/wizards and demons, fantasy flick (“Legend”). Ridley Scott dabbled in everything from Horror, Sci-Fi, Drama, Comedy, Action and Historical Epics. “Black Rain” saw his first foray into the more mainstream action thriller genre, although typically with every Ridley Scott production, “Black Rain” was a much more glossy, gritty and well made action thriller than your average offering of this genre.

Often considered the Ridley Scott film most comparable to one of his late brother Tony Scott’s pictures. Tony who was known for more straight action pictures, has been called one of the key pioneers of the contemporary Hollywood stylistic action epic. Director Paul Verhoeven (“Hollow Man”, “Showgirls”) was originally attached to direct the film and would be his follow-up to 1987’s “RoboCop”. Instead he dropped out to make 1990’s “Total Recall”. Verhoeven and Michael Douglas would later team-up together on Paul Verhoeven’s “Basic Instinct” in 1992.

Direction-wise, Ridley Scott knocks it out of the park yet again. Every frame screams with detail and top notch cinematography that immediately grabs your attention. Although credit must also be given to future filmmaker Jan de Bont (“Speed”, “Twister”) who serves as DP. This would be Ridley Scott and Jan De Bont’s first experience with filming in the Super 35 format as De Bont, was also unsure if the film was going to be presented in the flat widescreen of 1.85:1 or the scope 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Jan De Bont had replaced Howard Atherton as DP. Atherton shot most of the film, but he got so frustrated in Japan that he resigned. de Bont was then brought in to finish the rest of the film and received official credit; Atherton is credited for “Additional Photography.”

Originally the plot of “Black Rain” was supposed to be the plot for “Beverly Hills Cop II”, directed by Ridley Scott’s brother Tony Scott. Set amidst the Japanese criminal underground, the movie remains at its heart a thrilling buddy cop flick that turned a healthy profit at the box office despite receiving mixed reviews, grossing over $134 million out of a $30 million budget (which was the most expensive film at the time).

Here we have Michael Douglas as Nick Conklin, a typical violent bad-ass macho cop from Manhattan, who obeys only to his own rules. He runs head-first into two sides of modern Japan: the rigid formalities on top and the crazy danger of the underworld below. It’s pure movie culture-clash, with Michael Douglas’ the ultimate fish out of water, trying to blast his way through an Asian sea of red tape to recover an extradited murderer, while the city around him becomes one of the movie’s dominant characters. 

Michael Douglas has always been, one of the better actors to portray a cop on screen. Always believable, very real, he has a natural feel for this type of role, that started when he starred as a cop on TV in “The Streets of San Francisco”. Douglas delivers the films best one-liners and makes it his own and even makes us care about Nick even with his backstory of corruption and rude persona. Despite his character may have a clichéd nature, the film sees Douglas’ character evolve from a careless macho cop to an honorable and respectful hero, all made convincingly due to Douglas’ great performance.

Michael Douglas was coming off the success of “Fatal Attractionand his Oscar winning role in “Wall Street”, and he delivers another full-force performance in “Black Rain”. He races a motorbike in the first scene, pulls a tie out of his pocket a few minutes before his interview with internal affairs, and headbuts a detained criminal. He smokes, drinks, and provokes people throughout the film. His badassery is extreme.

Actors Jeff Bridges, Kevin Costner, Willem Dafoe, Richard Dreyfuss, Mel Gibson, Michael Keaton, Michael Nouri, Ron Perlman, Kurt Russell, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Patrick Swayze, Peter Weller and Bruce Willis, were all considered for the role of Nick Conklin. Paramount favored Michael Douglas due to his favorable relationship with producers Sherry Lansing and Stanley R. Jaffe. Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” stars Rutger Hauer and Harrison Ford were considered to play Nick Conklin since they both had a nice working relationship with Ridley Scott seven years before this film.

On the supporting cast, Andy Garcia is instantly likeable as Douglas’ partner Charlie Vincent, who shares none of Nick’s work ethics and whom you know will die for obvious narrative reasons. Like Douglas, Garcia never fails to bring a respectable performance as he disappears into the role. He is especially delightful in the nightclub sequence, where he gets to do karaoke with a baffled Masa (Ken Takakura’s character). As we had expected, the character dies in order to give a personal motive to Nick’s revenge but here he does so in a way that remains affecting and emotional despite its predictability. Charlie’s death by decapitation right in front of a powerless Nick is a key moment in the film and really hits emotionally, it’s an emotional moment earned. The remaining duration of Black Rain is devoted to Nick’s personal vendetta and we understand his rage due to the way Ridley Scott staged his partner’s death.

Legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s wife Kate Capshaw (“Indiana Jones and The Temple Of Doom”) appears in the supporting role of Joyce, an American nightclub hostess in Osaka who seems to be one of Nick’s few allies. Her character is not much developed as she does not have much screen time but remains essential to the plot, as she is the one explaining the gang war to Nick. Capshaw looks stunning in her scenes and has great chemistry with Douglas on screen, managing not to make their obvious final kiss look forced.

Playing Sato whom Douglas’ Nick was given the assignment to babysit on a botched flight from New York to Osaka is Yusaku Matsudo. Sato, is the evil crime boss with a scary intensity. Matsudo swallows every scene he is in and never fails to impress, even with repeated viewings. You believe he can kill and that Nick is in real danger. 

“Black Rain” would be Matsudo’s last film role as he knew he had bladder cancer. His condition from the cancer would be further aggravated if he were to act in the movie, even though he elected to do so anyway, unbeknownst to director Ridley Scott. On November 6th, less than seven weeks after the film’s American premiere, Matsudo died of his bladder cancer at the age of 40. Ridley Scott dedicated the film to his memory. Before Matsudo accepted the role, legendary action star Jackie Chan had turned down the role, as he felt audiences didn’t want to see him play a “bad” character.

Veteran Japanese actor Ken Takakura, who appeared in Tom Selleck’s “Mr Baseball”, portrays Masa. He is Nick’s Japanese counterpart and their relationship is by far the most important aspect of “Black Rain”, as both he and Nick evolve together through their differences and become important to each other. 

At the time “Black Rain” was being made, Ken Takakura was Japan’s biggest box-office star. Takakura was so popular at the time of filming that the sets would be mobbed by fans trying to get his autograph. This caused trouble as the film was delayed on several occasions as it had a very strict time frame to shoot. Takakura plays Masa with dignity and restraint even when he and Andy Garcia do their big male-bonding number, a duet to Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” in an Osaka nightclub.

“Black Rainhandles its culture clash well. Conklin’s casual racism rarely goes for easy cultural jokes. The film makes the contrasting social structures of America and Japan a theme, but it’s not a biased critique of Japanese bureaucracy and tradition. The film’s ability to contrast two cultures with a simmering respect that showcases how we are all but one race of people, all trying to do the best we can with what we have. No matter how hard it might seem to do what’s right, we cannot allow greed for wealth to prevail.

As evident in every Ridley Scott film, he is famous for creating films that are truly visual feasts for the eyes, you can always count on the filmmaker to titillate your senses. That is no exception with “Black Rain”. From the films first minutes of a motorcycle race set over a sunset in New York to the final shootout in a Japanese vineyard (which was actually filmed in California due to the crews visa running out). 

Most of the action is set in Japan, more precisely in Osaka, where Scott and his crew reportedly had a lot of trouble shooting in the country. Including occasions when the crew ran even a few minutes over their allotted filming time at any given location in Japan. They would be told to leave, to the extent where a man would physically walk in front of the camera and forbade them from continuing filming. Ridley Scott had since vowed to never film there again for reasons that included high cost and excessive bureaucratic wrangling that was incurred during location filming.

Despite the trouble, the hard work paid off; as the sight of the streets of Osaka at night looked genuinely unsettling, even comparable to the futuristic L.A. of “Blade Runner”. Scott represents Osaka as a labyrinth of dark streets, neon signs, nightclubs, and fiery factories. 

 During post-production, Ridley Scott got to watch the Tom Cruise film “Rain Man” and was very impressed by the film’s score, which happened to be composed by none other than a youngHans Zimmer. Scott had immediately hired him to create the soundtrack to “Black Rain”,To which it had become their first of many collaborations together. Despite being a mostly electronical score, the sounds are huge (perhaps due to the heavy use of steels drums) and respectfully includes traditional Japanese instruments, adding an exotic feel. The main theme and its melody was used as the basis for the film’s title song, by Gregg Allman“I’ll Be Holding On”. 

Zimmer’s music is one of the film’s great assets and it remains one of his best soundtracks, as he is now one of cinema’s best known composers. The original 1989 CD release included approximately 20 minutes of Zimmer’s work along with songs by UB40, Soul II Souland Iggy Pop(among others) but the complete score was finally released in 2012 by La-La-LandRecords.

Ridley Scott’s first cut of “Black Rain” was 2 hours and 40 minutes long (i would give anything to own or see that original cut). Chopped down to 2 hours and 6 minutes, it’s a stacked genre movie; when you see Douglas racing his motorcycle at the beginning, you know what the climax will be. Ridley Scott is one of the definitive state-of-the-art moviemakers and “Black Rain” is one of his most aggressively cinematic movies.

Everything blends in “Black Rain”. It’s exotic, energized entertainment that oozes style and panache. It also has an underlying emotional core that I think gets underrated by many. Filled with gorgeous cinematography, a great atmosphere and solid action set pieces. It remains a thrilling action film featuring amazing visuals that explode right in your face with strong performances and an artistic barrage of blood and guts, that’s a blast of pure sensation. Ridley Scott brings all his cinematic guns and spins these elements into a definitive police action thriller. I love Ridley Scott’s work and he remains my favorite filmmaker of all time, the underrated “Black Rain” is one of many proofs why.

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros lives on the beautiful island of Maui. He is a member of The Hawaii Film Critics Society, movie critic for Maui Watch, a commentator and cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, learning about movies from his Grandfather and being self taught.

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