THE STORY: A corrupt American cop (Michael Douglas) and his partner (Andy Garcia) wind-up in Japan after a prisoner exchange gone awry. With their former captive cutting a swath through the local Yakuza in an attempt to establish himself as the new Tokyo boss, the cops are forced into an uneasy alliance with a by-the-book local police inspector (Ken Takakura).
THE PLAYERS: Starring: Michael Douglas, Andy Garcia, Ken Takakura, Kate Capshaw and Yusaku Matsuda. Directed by Ridley Scott. Music by Hans Zimmer.
THE HISTORY: Michael Douglas was riding high in 1989. Following his Oscar-win for Wall Streetand Fatal Attraction‘s boffo box office, his was considered one of the most bankable actors in Hollywood. Opting for a rare action role, grittier and more hard-edged than his turns in Romancing the Stone and The Jewel of the NileDouglas, with his Fatal Attraction producers Stanley Jaffe and Sherry Lansing (who would soon run Paramount Pictures), hired Ridley Scott, then on a career downswing following Legend and Someone to Watch Over Meto helm this stylish East-meets-West thriller, which would shoot on-location in Japan.
I remember when Ridley showed us the first cut of the movie it was about two hours and forty minutes, and it was extraordinary… But, this was his first cut, and so we all new that he was going to go in and make the film under two hours. I mean, the texture of the movie, the performances, the visuals, the sound, we were thrilled. Then, Ridley called us back, I dunno, four weeks later and showed us a movie that was an hour and fifty minutes long. We looked at him and asked, “what did you do,” and he said, what do you mean “what did I do?” “You took out all the good stuff, why did you make it this?” He said, “but I had to,” and he DID have to, to make it under two hours he had to take out some of the texture and some of the finest scenes in the movie. So, we said, “just make it the right length, it doesn’t have to be under two hours, just make it the right length.” (note- the final cut runs 125 minutes) – Sherry Lansing (BLACK RAIN DVD).
Despite critical acclaim and Douglas’s star power, black rain was only a modest hit upon its release in the fall of 1989. It grossed $46 million, decent enough numbers for the era, but it wound-up grossing far less than comparable action movies of the time, although worldwide it was a solid hit, grossing an additional $88 million, while it also became a hot rental on the VHS market.
Nowadays, black rain remains popular among aficionados of eighties action cinema, with it remaining Michael Douglas’s one real attempt to make an action-movie on par with what Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger were doing at the time. Sandwiched between Douglas’s more well-known vehicles, with Basic Instinct another giant hit just a few years later, and coming along at a fallow time in Ridley Scott’s career, it remains a movie rarely discussed in examinations of either’s career.
WHY IT’S GREAT: black rain is an eighties gem for many reasons. For one thing, Michael Douglas aces his anti-hero part. While introducing him by staging a motorcycle race is maybe trying a bit too hard to establish him as a sexy rebel, it’s notable that his character, Nick Conklin, is allowed to be sleazy and imperfect. He’s under investigation for being on-the-take, and while, with another actor in the lead, he’d eventually be vindicated, we learn early-on that Nick is in-fact guilty. He’s also shown to be a racist, making derogatory comments about the Japanese, and often screwing up his own investigation with a mixture of ego and fool-headedness, all of which eventually gets his partner, played by the great Andy Garcia, killed.
I remember when the picture first came out, there was a very influential critics who called it a racist film because of how it depicted the Japanese. This really bothered me, so I called him up and asked him, “have you ever been to Japan?” Silence..”no.” “Then what do you think you’re talking about?” Then a few weeks later, it gets nominated for best foreign film in Japan. A very respected critic said, “well, this is the best Japanese film I’ve seen this year,” so it was a real compliment to Ridley. – Michael Douglas (BLACK RAIN DVD)
Lest you think he’s unlikable, Douglas makes Nick three-dimensional, to the point that even if we know he’s not too far removed from the baddies he chases, he’s essentially a good man, and his evolution is convincing. His relationship with Ken Takakura’s more honorable Japanese cop, himself a victim of the rigid class system in Japan, is touching. Douglas initially treats him like a joke, but he comes to realize Takakura (who’s one of the biggest stars in Japanese history – on the level of someone like Chow Yun-Fat in Hong Kong) is truly on his side, and an honorable man.
Meanwhile, Yusaku Matsuda’s bad guy is among the scarier ones of the eighties, sporting a crazed look and sense of sadism. Matsuda was, unknown to the filmmakers and Douglas, terminally ill at the time. He apparently knew it would be his last role, and he put everything he had into it. Likewise, Ridley Scott, who one might assume would phone-in what, to him, might seem like a routine assignment, infuses black rain with doodles of style. His vision of Tokyo seems almost as futuristic as the Los Angeles of black rainand his eye, matched with Jan De Bont’s cinematography and Hans Zimmer’s amazing, hard-edged score, makes this one of the most impeccably made action films of the era.
BEST SCENE: In cop movies, the younger, more inexperienced partner is always going to die. Even as a child watching black rain, I had seen enough of these movies to know Andy Garcia was doomed. As an action-junkie you almost look forward to the partner dying, because it’ll kick the hero into high gear. But, Garcia is so damn likable and charismatic, singing Ray Charles with Takakura (who apparently loved Garcia off-screen) and busting Douglas’s balls that you want him to pull through. All of this makes his eventual death all the more hard-hitting, with it being, in the annals of action movie murder, one of the most sadistic.
SEE IT: black rain is easily available on DVD/Blu-ray (I actually have it on HD-DVD), streaming, iTunes, Amazon and more.
You know, people always ask me in my career, what’s your favorite movie. And I have to say, black rain is right up there for the unique qualities of the movie, the execution across the board… – Michael Douglas (BLACK RAIN DVD)
SHARE SHOT: black rain is another entry into this column that many of you may remember having seen when it came out. If it’s been awhile, I urge you to check it out again, as it holds up really well. And to those younger readers who may have never heard of it, do you like Ridley Scott and Hans Zimmer? If yes, boy oh boy will you love this.