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Black Rain entertaining action flock in Japanese setting

BLACK RAIN

Starring Michael Douglas.

Directed by Ridley Scott.

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By FRANK GILLETT

BLACK RAIN is another adventure vehicle for Michael Douglas. Rather than pursuing treasure in the jungle, as in Romancing the Stone, he's trying to navigate a completely alien culture. His character, Nick Conklin, is a tough New York detective down on his luck and under investigation by Internal Affairs. He happens to witness a brutal murder at the meeting of a Mafia chieftan and Japan's equivalent, a Yakuza chief. As a result he ends up collaring the suspect and escorting him to Japan. The bulk of the movie takes place in the surroundings of Osaka, as Nick ends up pursuing the escaped suspect into Japan's underworld.

The Japanese setting makes this a somewhat different cops and robbers story. Nick is completely lost without his gun, department resources and street smarts. The Osaka police grudgingly grant him and his partner observer status and assign assistant detective Masahiro Matsumoto (played by Japanese film star Ken Takakura) to escort them. Nick is quickly taken down a peg by "Mas," who speaks the English that Nick's been arrogantly demanding. Our New York detective never quite gets accustomed to Japan but he eventually develops a respect for the Japanese police and culture.

The Japan in this movie is one most of us aren't familiar with. You realize this as Nick's plane descends over countless factories spewing steam and smoke in the sunset and continues as you meet Japanese hookers, hoods and homeless. The hero is just as disoriented as we are, and he responds with an oversized ego tempered only by his Italian buddy, Charlie. The two brash Americans and their shadow, Mas, take turns bashing each other's culture. Mas states America is only good for music and movies. Nick in turn tells Mas he's too "tight," and that sometimes you just "gotta go for it." They end up learning from one another, but Nick seemed to get the better deal. He returns with a stronger character and a repect for being honest. Mas must endure censure by his own department for not keeping a lid on Nick to learn the lesson that sometimes it's better to ask forgiveness than permission.

Surprisingly for a movie of this genre, the Black Rain features no sex and little romance. Kate Capshaw's role as a high class hooker is a trivial part, with little room for creativity. A second Japanese film star, Yusaka Matsuda, as the young renegade Yakuza chief Sato, is much more impressive. Sato is a chilling, cold blooded mobster yuppie who wants to bypass the traditional Yakuza hierarchy and go straight to the top. It's a glimpse into the current Japanese debate about young people who have it made, don't respect their elders and want all their toys now. If you have an interest Japanese-American relations, these reflections of larger issues may interest you as it did me.

Overall, Black Rain was a well made, entertaining adventure movie, although it did little to provoke or challenge the viewer intellectually, its treatment of the cultural conflict being somewhat superficial. Black Rain's cinematography is reminiscent of Blade Runner, also directed by Ridley Scott, with lots of scenes in downtown canyons at night, with rain, steam and seedy characters. The pace and style are similar, so if you liked Blade Runner you'll probably like this one too.