I was just starting my Senior year of high school when Black Rain was released. My high school friends were huge fans of Ridley Scott, solely based on his direction of Blade Runner, and they were also fans of the cyberpunk genre which Scott had furthered in that film. Of course, we all had interests in Japanese-American relations (I would go onto to study that in university) and the sordid world of the Yakuza.
Black Rain is a product of its time. In the 1980s, there was a not-so-latent fear in America that its superpower position was being eroded by the rise of Japan's economy. Black Rain plays on those fears as well as the culture clash between two nations that are more similar and more historically tied together than either would like to admit.
The movie is not subtle: in the opening scene, NYPD detective Nick Conklin on his Harley races a young upstart on a Kawasaki. We learn that Nick is under investigation by Internal Affairs for association with crooked cops. Nick represents that world weary American willing to cut corners to get the job done. His partner, Charlie, is young and idealistic--the flip side of the stereotyped American character. However, when both capture a Yakuza upstart named Sato after he perpetrates a vicious murder in New York, both detectives have to escort him back to Osaka, an alien place neither American can understand or function in effectively.
Scott, at this time, was still in love with the cyberpunk visuals of Blade Runner. Osaka is first shown in red and dark hues with black smoke rising from industrial plants. Outside on the street, it's often dark or wet. Bright lights from the city center shine.
I am not giving any secrets away by telling you that Sato of course escapes and Nick and Charlie have to track him down. They are assisted by Assistant Inspector Masahiro Matsumoto of the Osaka Prefectural Police. Again, I tell you nothing you could not have figured out on your own to learn that the movie will soon center on Nick and Masahiro. Nick, the rugged American individualist willing to cut corners, confronts the duty-bound Matsumoto, who is afraid of ostracision from the group.
Though the plot can be formulaic, and fears about Japan now replaced by fears of the Islamic world, Black Rain is still an enjoyable enough police action movie. This is largely due to solid performances by Michael Douglas as Nick, Andy Garcia as Charlie, and Ken Takakura as Matsumoto. The one downside is Kate Capshaw as Joyce. Though the film won't go right out and say it, Joyce is an American madam in an Osaka club--highly unlikely in itself--who comes to Nick's aid. Perhaps she was supposed to be his love interest but the film veers away from this. American critic Roger Ebert said it best when he said her presence was another example of Hollywood being reluctant to pair a White leading man with an Asian female character. At any rate, her involvement doesn't detract from the overall story. The soundtrack, which my friend used to play ALL the time, is pretty darn good too.
In reality, a 3 star film, but I'm giving a bonus star for nostalgia's sake.