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Ridley Scott
Michael Douglas, Andy Garcia, Ken Takakura, Kate Capshaw, Yusaku Matsuda, Shigeru Kôyama, John Spencer, Guts Ishimatsu, Yuya Uchida, Tomisaburo Wakayama
Writing Credits:
Craig Bolotin, Warren Lewis

An American Cop in Japan. Their country. Their laws. Their game. His rules.

In Black Rain, a dirty New York cop learns the value of honor from a Japanese cop who in turn learns about the benefits of not-so-subtle American assertiveness. Ridley Scott's thriller features a rarely seen side of Japan seething with mob violence, prostitution, homelessness, and near-peasant rural life.

Box Office:
$14 million.
Opening Weekend
$9.677 million on 1610 screens.
Domestic Gross
$45.645 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital EX 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
French Dolby Surround 2.0

Runtime: 125 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 10/17/2006

• Audio Commentary with Director Ridley Scott
• “Black Rain: The Script, The Cast” Featurette
• “Black Rain: Making the Film Parts 1 and 2” Featurettes
• “Black Rain: Post-Production” Featurette
• Trailer


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Black Rain: Special Collector's Edition (1989)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 10, 2006)

From director Ridley Scott, 1989’s Black Rain introduces us to Nick Conklin (Michael Douglas), a divorced, motorcycle-loving, hotheaded New York detective. While at a bar with fellow cop Charlie Vincent (Andy Garcia), they witness a confrontation between Japanese mobsters that results in killings. Nick and Charlie chase down and apprehend the murderer, Sato Koji (Yusaku Matsuda).

The international nature of the case involves various embassies and results in extradition to Japan. Nick and Charlie get the assignment to escort Sato back to that country. This simple task immediately goes awry when baddies impersonate the local cops and take custody of Sato. Obviously this creates complications, and after some argument, the Japanese authorities allow the Americans to get involved in the case as "interested observers".

Assigned Assistant Inspector Matsumoto Masahiro (Ken Takakura) to help, Nick and Charlie launch their own attempt to recover the missing Sato. They learn how deep all the issues run within the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia. The film follows Nick’s stubborn attempt to apprehend Sato and his conflicts within the Japanese system.

Rain stands as a pretty standard cop flick with a twist. That’s probably the most interesting aspect of the movie, as the “culture clash” helps create something a little different. However, the spice added by the Japanese settings and the conflict between the Americans and the Japanese only goes so far, as that side of things doesn’t do a lot to spice up the usual fare.

Indeed, it also gives the movie something of an arrogant feel. The title implies depth among the various participants since we learn that “black rain” was what the Japanese called the poison brought by the Americans in WWII. We can draw the analogy to see our American characters as “black rain” and figure that the movie will depict how they grow and better understand Japanese culture.

That doesn’t happen, as the culture clash remains doggedly one-sided. Basically Nick does things his way and barely changes to appreciate the Japanese attitudes. The movie gives him a token move in that direction but usually displays the Japanese as stubborn bureaucrats who worry more about appearances than they do the pursuit of justice.

Perhaps I’ve confused it with another film, but back when Rain came out, I believe it inspired some criticisms about racism. I can see why that happened, as the Japanese never come across as efficient or useful. The only Japanese character who does anything right is the one who eventually adopts American methods.

Couldn’t they have come up with a better Rodney King “can’t we all just get along” solution? Did the movie have to slant things so strongly toward the American “can-do” spirit and so totally denigrate other options? I guess the filmmakers didn’t think so, which means we end up with the Japanese as by-the-book stooges.

Rain might have overcome these issues with a richer story or more evocative characters. Instead, the participants remain pretty one-dimensional, and Nick is usually unlikable to boot. I realize that some of this was intentional, but it’s meant to make us better appreciate Nick’s journey and redemption. Those never really occur, so we just continue to view Nick as an arrogant jerk.

Scott gives the entire movie a very 80s beer commercial feel, a factor that makes it dated and too obsessed with visual slickness. That’s a criticism often leveled at Scott through his career, but usually he backs up the pretty pictures with some meat. Here the cinematographer and visual design exist in a vacuum, as we never get drawn into the story. It’s the definition of style over substance.

This leaves Black Rain as a perfunctory cop flick with a minor twist due to its Japanese setting. The movie uses that side of things as a gimmick more than anything else and never truly explores it. Rain looks good but fails to present an interesting or involving drama.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B+/ Bonus B+

Black Rain appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Much of the movie looked quite good, though not strong enough to merit “A”-level consideration.

My main minor complaint related to shadow detail. A dark film, Rain used lots of low-light situations, and these often came across as just a little too opaque. I expect much of this was intentional, but I still thought the shadows were a smidgen too tough to discern. Blacks were deep and firm, though, and within the flick’s very stylized palette, colors seemed strong. Rain favored the metallic neons of urban Japan and displayed these well. Otherwise, the movie offered a somewhat brownish tint due to all the dark segments, though the tones stayed perfectly solid within the design parameters.

Sharpness was pretty solid. A little edge enhancement meant wide shots tended to be slightly soft, but those concerns were minor. Most of the movie looked nicely crisp and detailed. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and source flaws appeared to be absent. I noticed no signs of specks, marks or other concerns. Overall, this was a very satisfying transfer.

In addition, the Dolby Digital EX 5.1 soundtrack of Black Rain was strong. Music dominated the soundfield. The mix used the score in an aggressive way across all five speakers. For some movies, that might cause distractions, but here it worked well within the movie’s parameters. The active music made sense for the story and fit the action.

Effects also helped create a nice sense of atmosphere and became involving when necessary. Usually they stayed in the realm of ambience, but they spread out well and turned more active during some of the action scenes. In particular, motorcycles zoomed around the room. The soundfield opened up matters in a satisfying and realistic way.

Audio quality also seemed positive. Although speech occasionally betrayed a little edginess, lines remained intelligible and acceptably concise. Effects sounded clean and tight, with good range involved. Music presented especially solid elements. The score was bright and dynamic, and bass response appeared surprisingly full and deep. I thought the audio of Rain worked well for the flick.

This new “Special Collector’s Edition” of Black Rain presents a mix of extras. We start with an audio commentary from director Ridley Scott. He offers a running, screen-specific discussion. Scott begins with notes about why he came onto the project and then digs into the nuts and bolts of the production. He discusses shooting in New York and Japan, actors’ relationships and the atmosphere on the set, cinematography and working with his DP, music and audio, production design and editing, stunts, and other production issues.

Some of the commentary’s best parts come from its most general. When Scott chats about his various preferences for working on a movie, the chat becomes a terrific lesson in filmmaking. He talks about his casting process and other issues that come up on his movies. The director mixes these more general thoughts with specifics about Rain in a fluid manner. Scott usually offers good commentaries, and this is one of his best.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we get a multi-part documentary. Black Rain: The Script, The Cast starts things with a 20-minute and 20-second program. As with the other pieces, it mixes movie clips, archival elements, and interviews. We hear from Scott, screenwriter/executive producer Craig Bolotin, screenwriter Warren Lewis, actor/producer Michael Douglas, producers Sherry Lansing and Stanley R. Jaffe, costume designer Ellen Mirojnik, and actors Andy Garcia and Kate Capshaw.

The show looks at the story’s origins and development, what attracted various parties to the project, how Scott came onto the film, and casting, characters and performances. “Script” covers the pre-production basics well. It offers a tight little look at the issues and benefits from the presence of so many principals.

Next we get Black Rain: Making the Film. Part One of this goes for 28 minutes, 36 seconds, while Part Two fills nine minutes, 15 seconds. They include notes from Scott, Lansing, Douglas, Garcia, Jaffe, Capshaw, Mirojnick, Lewis, Bolotin, director of photography Jan De Bont, and actor Ken Takakura (from 1989). “Making” examines issues related to the multi-national crew and different locations, Scott’s working and planning methods, the actors’ research, set and photography specifics, complications in Japan, costumes, some story and character points, stunts, and various scene specifics.

“Making” continues our journey through the production with lots more good information. Inevitably, some of this repeats from Scott’s excellent commentary, but the additional participants help bring out new perspectives and details. “Making” goes through the subjects well and entertains as it informs.

Finally, Black Rain: Post-Production runs 12 minutes, 25 seconds and features Scott, Douglas, Garcia, Lansing, Jaffe, Capshaw, editor Tom Rolf, and composer Hans Zimmer. We learn about editing, music, rections to the film, and final thoughts about the flick.

“Post-Production” offers a good close to this series of featurettes. It throws out nice details about the various processes and fills in the gaps. All of these components add up to make a solid look at the creation of Rain.

While Black Rain always looks great, the movie fails to ever engage the viewer. It uses clichés and one-dimensional characters without substance and doesn’t manage to ever become anything more than a predictable cop drama. The DVD offers very strong picture and audio along with a surprisingly good collection of extras. Given the DVD’s very low list price of less than $15, this is a great buy for fans of the film. It also may entice new viewers to snag it, but I’d push for a rental before you bite; I just don’t think the movie’s a worthwhile “blind buy”.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.75 Stars Number of Votes: 20
3 3:
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