It's a tried-and-true theme in literature: the bumbling, naïve young man from the country finds his way to the big city and the mishaps and adventures have just begun. We also have other familiar stories of unsophisticated Americans in the ancient halls and art museums of Europe, stumbling their way with the natives' languages and customs. The Americans are always portrayed as ingenuous, simple and lacking any bit of culture compared to their European friends and hosts. Quite frankly, I think we're still viewed this way today when we visit France or other countries. Somehow, the Americans always manage to solve the crime, save the heroine, catch the villains and come out looking and sounding rather smart and grown-up – to the ultimate surprise and embarrassment of the natives.
But when it comes to Asia, to the ancient cities and countries there, well, that's a completely different matter. No matter where they come from, visitors to China, Japan or Southeast Asia never fully comprehend all that's around them. That doesn't mean they're stupid or country bumpkins. No, it simply means that the "inscrutable Orient" remains that way in the 21st century. A country like North Korea only shows one face to the world. China wants to be part of everyone's life – that's where the money is. Imagine when Marco Polo finally arrived there after traveling for several years' time? He learned to adapt, fit in and eventually opened up an ancient door, closed for centuries.
Movies have been showing us these themes for many years. Films like A Fish Called Wanda, If It's Tuesday It Must Be Belgium, Lost in Translation, Good Morning Vietnam, The Third Man, The Ugly American - to name just a few – portray Americans in other countries, in good or bad situations. Many war films, of course, show us overseas under the most dire circumstances. But, on the other hand, we have been welcomed as liberators and friends.
In September, 1989, a movie premiers that shows us a tough, unorthodox New York City detective, a dedicated veteran who's made many collars – if unconventionally and against the rules – as he and his partner are confronted with a new type of criminal from another country. They arrest the perp and take him back home – to Japan. The film is Black Rain, starring Michael Douglas as Det. Nick Conklin, Andy García as Det. Charlie Vincent, Ken Takakura as Det. Masahiro Matsumoto, John Spencer as Capt. Oliver and Kate Capshaw as Joyce. Directed by Ridley Scott with musical score by Hans Zimmer, Black Rain stands out for mystery and a wonderful cast.
Nick Conklin is a staunch New York City detective who has multiple problems because of his job: he and his partner Charlie are under an I.A.D. criminal investigation for supposedly taking bribes; he and his wife are divorced and he has visitation rights for his two sons; on top of all this, he does have money troubles. On weekends he races motocycles along the East River in Manhattan. He and Charlie are discussing Charlie's upcoming exam for sergeant at a downtown restaurant where they observe some well-known local wiseguys having dinner with two Japanese men. Suddenly other Japanese men enter the restaurant, brandishing automatic weapons, as the lead villain takes a small package, then pulls out a large knife and slashes the throat of the man at the dinner table. Nick and Charlie draw their weapons and chase them into the street, shooting at their escaping car. They catch the assassin named Sato, an infamous and dangerous Yakuza gangster and put him jail. Their captain explains to them that Sato has to be extradited back to Japan and Nick and Charlie will escort him. Captain Oliver thinks it will take some of the heat from Nick if he gets out of New York for a while.
The detectives board a plane bound for Japan with Sato between them. They land in Osaka and then, meeting Japanese officers, hand over Sato to them. Suddenly, other policemen are there as Charlie and Nick realize they've been fooled, handing Sato over to imposters. They are put into the hands of a Japanese detective, Masahiro Matsumoto, who explains what happened and how inept the Americans appear to be. Nick meets a beautiful, ex-patriot American woman, Joyce, who is a hostess at a famous nightclub where many Yakuza hang out. She helps Nick understand the secrets of Japanese society and why Americans aren't held in high regard there. She explains that there's a gang war going on between Sato and Sugai, an old-time Yakuza boss, for control of the Osaka mob. Nick asks her who knows about the war. She tells him, "Oh, maybe eleven million or so."
With strict instructions from the Japanese commanding officer, the New York detectives are allowed to accompany Masahiro and his detectives on a raid where a Yakuza has been found murdered, with a $100 American bill in his mouth. Nick and Charlie realize he's one of the men who was impersonating policemen at the plane. Nick grabs some bills and shows the Osaka captain the bills are counterfeit and that the package Sato grabbed at the New York restaurant contains the counterfeiting plates. And the plates are perfect.
As the New York pair slowly walk back to their hotel they're surrounded by motorcycle riders shouting at them as they circle the detectives. One steals Charlie's coat and he chases them into a nearby garage. Nick attempts to follow and, as he catches up to them, watches horrified as Charlie is beheaded by the gang leader, who turns out to be Sato. Nick vows revenge and won't return to New York until Sato is captured or killed.
Nick and Masahiro are trailing a female operative for Sato and watch as she passes a counterfeit bill to a man who gets into a cab; the pair follow the cab to a steel factory where they observe Sato and Sugai arguing over the plates and who will be the ultimate boss. Nick tells Mas to "get your cops" and bring them to the factory. Unfortunately, Sato escapes and the police arrest Nick and tell him must leave Japan immediately. Nick suddenly decides to escape from the airplane while it's on the ground, goes to Mas' apartment and together they go to a farm where a big Yakuza meeting is being held. Nick had met the Yakuza boss, Sugai and promised him that he, Nick, could solve Sugai's problem. Sugai tells him about a big meeting arranged where everyone will discuss the war going between the two bosses. Sato has arranged to assassinate Sugai at the meeting and take over the entire operation. Nick and Mas get to the farm and wait for the men to arrive.
At the meeting, Sato sacrifices one of his fingers as an obvious and painful sign of his loyalty to Sugai. He brings the missing counterfeit plate to Sugai and then stabs him to death. He runs out of the room and grabs a motorcycle, trying to escape. Nick grabs one too and gives chase. He eventually catches Sato, as they proceed to have a fight. Nick has Sato in a death grip and pushes him towards a sharp stake in the ground as the camera fades out.
We see the Osaka detective bureau as Nick and Mas walk a hand-cuffed Sato into the large room. The captain who disciplined Mas and told Nick to leave the country, suddenly sees them as they walk towards him. He and everyone in the room are completely surprised. The next scene is a ceremony where Nick and Mas are decorated by the captain, with Joyce looking on. The two men separate at the airport, now firmly friends. Nick leaves Mas with a present of a new shirt, with a surprise inside.
This a great film in which all of the disparate elements work smoothly together – a sure sign it was directed by Ridley Scott. Their common human qualities surface as men from very different backgrounds and cultures discover common purposes and friendships even though their situations are dangerous, with death always close by. Of course, I must mention another marvelous score by Hans Zimmer, who is among my favorites for movie music. If you've never seen it, grab it soon, along with drinks and popcorn, and make yourself comfortable on the couch.
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My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 29 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).|
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