Decades ago, my impressionable tween self was too awed by Michael Douglas' late 80s cool veneer to process the near-total boorishness of Black Rain's protagonist, Nick Conklin. But watching Black Rain today, I have to say that he is just about complete in his contemptibility.
Just about. He is partially redeemed by one trait: An all-consuming sense of duty that drives him to re-apprehend Sato (Yusaku Matsuda), a Yakuza assassin cum ambitious clan boss who slips through Nick's fingers on a botched escort mission from New York to Osaka. But in someone like Nick, this sliver of decency only catalyzes misfortune: He unreasonably compels Joyce (Kate Capshaw), an American hostess bar worker, to risk her life for him; corrupts the stoic Osaka police inspector Masahiro (the always excellent Ken Takakura), and – taking the cake – drives a series of events that lead to the grisly murder of his partner, Charlie Vincent (Andy Garcia).
After witnessing all this carnage in the first half of the film, it dawns that Nick is as loathsome as Sato, and at least as dangerous.
And it’s at that point that point the film magically starts to make sense: Nick and Sato are two sides of the same awful coin. Their destructive natures bring them into each other's orbits and together they embody the chaotic yin to the orderly yang of the respective societies and organizations they inhabit.
This isn't to say that Nick and Sato are harbingers of society's sins (they aren't - Nick confides in Masahiro his guilt in the deplorable IA allegations against him and is there anything worthwhile in Sato's motivation to introduce a "new way" to the ancient Yakuza?). No, yin just is, as yang just is. Yang: Downtown New York and downtown Osaka, American police precinct and Japanese police precinct, and, obscured in it all, Yakuza underworld. Ridley Scott captures these in a way that each inhabits its own wordless character, revolving around Nick and Sato but indifferent to them as Nick and Sato seem indifferent to the devastation they wrought.
Black Rain could have really been something if it had developed this theme to its own esoteric conclusion. But, in the end Nick and Masahiro are inexplicably feted as heroes and awarded medals (really).
If there was a Ridley Scott movie that stood to gain the most from a director's cut/final cut/alternative cut/redux, Black Rain has to be it.