those familiar with the work of prolific Japanese director
Miike Takashi, Rainy Dog may well come
as something of a surprise. This will be especially
true for those who have been exposed to the
censor-baiting excesses of the first of his self-proclaimed Kuroshakai (Black Society) trilogy, Sinjuku
Triad Society. Although this second part of
this trilogy and also featuring a central character
trying to forge an identity in a land that is not his
own, Rainy Dog proves to be one of
Miike's most understated and atmospheric works. And while the very subject matter almost demands a level of violence,
it is handled in a matter-of-fact way that befits the
story and situation, and has none of the gleefully gratuitous
nastiness of its predecessor.
is an ex-yakuza now living in exile in the Taiwanese
capital of Taipei, where he ekes out a living performing
hits for a local crime boss. A coldly efficient killer,
he has only one superstition – he believes it is bad
luck to go out in the rain and will even postpone a
hit at the first sign of a cloudburst. One day a woman
from his past unexpectedly appears and presents him with
a mute young boy – Ah Chen – who she claims is his son,
then abruptly departs. Initially frustrated, Yuuji carries
on his normal day-to-day life and all but ignores the
boy, who silently follows him around town and even sleeps
outside in the alley when Yuuji is visiting prostitute
Lily, a woman who, like he, has a dislike for rainy days. His
life is further complicated when the brother of one
of his victims comes looking for revenge, and he could
certainly do without the unexpectedly appearance of
an old rival from Japan, for whom Yuuji's death represents
his only way back to his homeland.
Miike is not a director exactly known for
his mood pieces, but it is this aspect in particular that
proves Rainy Dog's greatest asset.
The scenes in Taipei back streets and market areas,
often shot with a hand-held camera in unhurried takes,
really capture the atmosphere of a particularly unglamorous
corner of this metropolitan city. Yuuji's constant
melancholy is also nicely reflected in the frequently pouring
rain, which drags alleyways and rooms into semi-darkness
and repeatedly imprisons Yuuji while others outside
are making moves against him. This sense of isolation
is at least in part self-imposed, his superstition about
rainfall no doubt enhanced by his casual drug habit
and his failure to connect with a city that bears only
a surface resemblance to the Tokyo of his past. This
isn't his home, these aren't his people, this isn't
even his language, and by retaining this sense of disconnection,
it no doubt makes them easier to kill.
arrival of his son initially fails to change this, and
Yuuji's early refusal to even acknowledge his presence
is partially due to a to a refusal to let
down his guard. One of the very few times he talks
to the boy is to tell him "You're not a dog!"
which is, of course, exactly how he behaves, following
his father no matter what the circumstances,
sleeping outside in the rain and making friends with
a genuine street canine, who kicks against expectations
by refusing to accompany him when he leaves. Ah Chen
becomes Yuuji's conscience, a constant and haunting reminder
of a life he has lost, there every time he looks out
of the window, every time he turns round in the street.
It is the eventual recognition of this that prompts
the first change in Yuuji – in an attempt to do two good
deeds and take care of both Lily and his son, he runs
foul of circumstance and finds himself part of a makeshift
family. For the first time he discovers a part of him
that genuinely cares for the welfare of someone other
is all very deftly handled by Miike, who seems happy
for his audience to discover all of this without obvious
signposting. The film's weakness are less to do with
breadth than depth, as Miike touches on a whole host of
thematic issues but rarely explores them in any real
detail, and with the characters and storyline a tad
under-developed, there is a sense that another half-hour
spent expanding on some areas would really have been welcome.
The scene in which Yuuji, Lily and Ah Chen march along a beach and
stop their escape to cheerfully dig up an old scooter,
for example, has all the hallmarks of scene from a Kitano
Takeshi film – the beach setting, the odd-ball family unit consisting
of killer, hooker and mute young boy. But though very different
film, Kitano's own (would-be) gangster/young boy tale Kikujiro crammed more character detail into fifteen minutes than Rainy Dog has in its entire running
time, as did Luc Besson's US-based Leon and Pierre Salvadori's 1993 Cible émouvante [Wild Target], both of which dealt
with similar subject matter and characters.
sense of familiarity also dogs aspects of the film.
Yuuji is a somewhat typical Hong-Kong style assassin,
his studied moodiness, long white coat and dark glasses
making him stand out spectacularly in any crowd, though
Taipei does seem to lack a working police force – just minutes after
carrying out a killing, Yuuji sits in the same clothes
in full public view eating a meal with his old rival.
Assassins only ever seem to feature as main characters
in films in order to find redemption, and hit-men with
odd quirks have appeared in any number of thrillers,
from Joe Don Baker's Molly and his fondness for herbal
tea in Don Siegel's Charley Varrick (1973) to the aforementioned Leon and his pot plant
obsession. Later on Miike chucks caution to the wind
and throws a series of gun-battle clichés at
the screen in quick succession, including the old "treasured
object in the pocket stopping the bullet" gag,
which has been piss-taken in everything from Under
Fire (1983) to The Simpsons (though the incredulity of the character it happens
to here just about sells it). And I'm sorry, but almost from
the moment I was told that Yuuji's son was mute, I just
knew that that he was going to rediscover his voice
at a crucial point of emotional bonding later in the
film. Even the nicely laid-back guitar score has more
than a hint of Paris, Texas era Ry Cooder about it.
if all this stops a good movie from becoming a great
one, it doesn't seriously take away from the fact that Rainy Dog is a good movie, an atmospheric
and involving piece with dark edge and strong replay
value, precisely because its principal pleasures do
not lie in the area of narrative surprise. For newcomers
to Miike's work this is as good as way in as any, and
possibly one of the least traumatic. It also benefits from being seen as part of the trilogy
rather than a stand-alone piece.
should be noted that this was actually filmed in Taipei
in the Mandarin language, with occasional shifts to
Japanese for certain lines. As subtitles are supplied
for all dialogue (and are removable), an ear for shifts
in the language is useful, as some of these moments
are quite telling in character terms.
as a region 2 disk on the UK by Tartan in the days before
the DTS re-awakening, the transfer on show here does the
film no real favours. Although the grim, dour look was no
doubt partially intentional, there is still a rather grubby
lack of sharpness and an almost complete lack of detail
in some darker areas, rendering small parts of the action
almost invisible. Though largely watchable, a remastered
print would greatly benefit the film's UK DVD incarnation.
Framing is 1.78:1 and the picture is anamorphically enhanced.
point of note – when Yuuji's rough-sleeping rival awakens
early in the film and takes a piss from the rooftops, his
genitals are censored by a seemingly hand-drawn scribble,
though this seems likely to have been done at source, given
the issues with Japanese censorship and genitalia of any
is Dolby 2.0, and though serviceable a 5.1 or DTS mix would
again have really worked for the film, given its use of
rain and street noise for atmosphere.
Takashi interview (9:56) was shot
on 4:3 DV video and looks in sparkling shape, making you
feel even more miffed about the quality of the picture
on the main feature. Miike muses briefly on a number of
aspects related to the film's tone, characters and story.
Interesting but not that revealing. The interview is conducted
in Japanese with English subtitles.
are textual filmographies for
director Miike and actors Tomorowo Taguchi and Sho Aikawa.
Titles and dates only are given.
Mes Film Notes is a seven page intro to the film by Tom Mes, author of Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike. As a confirmed
Miike fan, he regards the film as "absolutely superb."
You may well agree. It should be pointed out that if you
buy the region 1 ArtsMagic DVD then you'll get a full
commentary by Mr. Mes.
Takashi Trailer Reel has trailers for six of of Miike's other works, including
the other two films in the Black Society trilogy, Sinkjuku
Triad Society and Ley Lines.
Aspect ratios, print condition and even anamorphic status
on mood, atmosphere and thematic subtext, but weaker on
story, character and actually exploring that thematic subtext,
Rainy Dog is still a solid piece of work
from a prolific director, one whose sizeable and often uncritical
cult following is making even-handed critical judgment of
his works increasingly hard to track down. DVD-wise this
release comes up short, and though the region 1 Artsmagic disc
also apparently has its picture issues, it looks like the
one to go for, as you also get the Tom Mes commentary track.