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No Sunrise Over Tokyo

By Kit Troyer

Forty-four years after the United States bombed Hiroshima, Hollywood filmmakers have come out with a sleek, forgettable cop movie to mark the anniversary.

Black Rain

Directed by Ridley Scott

Paramount Pictures

Black Rain stars Michael Douglas (Wall Street) as Nick Conklin, a tough New York policeman who has been assigned to take a captured Japanese mafioso back to Tokyo. But Douglas blunders when he gets to Japan. At the airport he delivers the prisoner not to the Tokyo police, but to mobsters impersonating police.

As any butt-kicking he-man would, Douglas takes the escape as a personal affront, and in the tired tradition of supercops Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, he sets out on an unlikely mission to clear his name and whip every bad guy who ever crossed him.

That his opponents include the entire Japanese underworld, that he enjoys no support from Tokyo police and that he doesn't speak a word of Japanese do not deter Douglas. As he later explains, "Sometimes you gotta forget your head and grab your balls."

Maybe if he did a little less ball-grabbing and a little more thinking, Douglas would be an interesting cop to watch. As it is, the dialogue veers between stupid and racist.

After losing his prisoner at the airport, Douglas grouses, "I just hope there's a nip in this building who speaks fucking English."

As it turns out, there are plenty of Japanese who speak "fucking English," which is lucky because Douglas himself is no linguistics major.

On the surface, of course, there is nothing openly racist about the movie. Part of the message is that both the Japanese and American cultures have something valuable to offer. While Douglas exemplifies American bravado, he lacks the moral fortitude of his counterparts in the Japanese police. Indeed, we later find out that Douglas used to steal money during drug busts in New York.

But Black Rain does reinforce some long-standing racial stereotypes. Though courageous, the Japanese police are portrayed as law enforcement robots who wouldn't know an original idea if it came up and introduced itself. Douglas, on the other hand, has trouble with both authority and morality, but is full of Rambo-like cunning and improvisation.

Race aside, Black Rain has its good points. For one thing, it's directed by Ridley Scott, who also directed the widely respected Blade Runner. Scott takes obvious pleasure in filming the steamy, neon sprawl of Tokyo at night. He punctuates several scenes with beautiful overhead shots of the entire city wreathed in fog and factory smoke.

Scott also uses low camera angles effectively. Early on, he builds suspense with a claustrophobic, nearly ground-level view of a mob assassination in a crowded New York restaurant.

As for the actors, Douglas lands somewhere between Stallone (on the lower end of the `tough cop' scale) and Clint Eastwood (on the upper end). Douglas manages to create a surprisingly appealing character despite the poor script.

But the movie's best performance comes from Yusaku Natsuda, who portrays an upstart crime boss named Sato. Like Douglas, Natsuda gets little help from the screenwriters. Nonetheless, he creates one wicked character in Sato. Anyone who sees the film won't forget Natsuda's grisly digital sacrifice in the next-to-last scene.

If you want to look at either Michael Douglas or Tokyo for two hours, go see Black Rain. On the other hand, if you're seeking the next chapter in the creative evolution of Ridley Scott, you may be disappointed.

The movie's title suggests that its makers aspired to more than a good cop movie. The title comes from an exchange between Douglas and Tomisaburo Wakayama, who plays the mobster Sugai. When Douglas criticizes the mafioso's livelihood, Wakayama launches into a monologue on the horror of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.

"The heat brought rain," he tells Douglas. "The rain was black. You made the rain black."

Though "black rain" actually fits nicely with Scott's dark vision of Tokyo, the exchange between Douglas and Wakayama comes out of nowhere. Perhaps we're supposed to sense the atom bomb beneath the frenetic violence of the rest of the movie. Perhaps Americans are to blame for the nasty pass things have come to in the Tokyo underworld. The point's not clear.

Forty years after Hiroshima, Black Rain seems more trivial than anything else.

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