Gokudô kuroshakai (1997)

reviewed by
David Dalgleish

RAINY DOG (1997)

"A failed yakuza. The lowest of the low."

2.5 out of ****
Original Title: Gokudo Kuro Shakai;
Starring Aikawa Sho, Gao Mingjun, Chen Xianmei, He Jianxian,
Taguchi Tomoro;
Directed by Miike Takashi;
Written by Inoue Seigo;
Cinematography by Li Sixu

Nothing's easier than making a movie about hookers and hitmen, because you don't need to know anything about people--you just need to have seen a lot of movies. Miike Takashi might know a great deal about people, but you wouldn't know it from RAINY DOG; all you know is that he has doubtless seen a lot of movies, many of them involving hitmen and hookers. Perhaps he once worked in the Japanese equivalent of that video store where Quentin Tarantino worked, for he is similarly adept with the conventions of gangster movies. He deploys those conventions with effortless enthusiasm, but relies on them too much, to his detriment.

RAINY DOG is one of those doomed hitmen thrillers, where it is patently obvious within the first five minutes that the central character will be shot to death in the final scene. The marked man in this case is Yuji (Aikawa Sho), a "failed yakuza" slumming it in Taipei. He earns a living performing hits for a triad boss. One day, a woman he once slept with appears at his door with a young boy in tow. She tells Yuji that the boy is his son, then she leaves. Yuji ignores the boy, but relents in time, allowing him into the apartment. The boy, following the hitman around, dogging his heels, becomes a kind of externalization of Yuji's conscience and sense of honour. Appropriately, he is mute.

As is usually the case in this kind of movie, the hitman is not so much a character as an existential cipher. Yuji is a taciturn fatalist whose emotional numbness and isolation is perhaps intended to embody some deeper notion about the human condition, but doesn't. Aikawa is fine in the role, but he fails to bring the requisite doomed nobility to the part. He is just a worn-down man doing a job, beyond caring. He doesn't give a damn, and neither do we.

Aikawa is not helped much by his director; while Miike has a natural, low-key, unpretentious style which invigorates most scenes, he devotes little of his energy to bringing Yuji to life. When Yuji kills, the murders are depicted dispassionately. No flashy angles, no stylish flourishes. It is a refreshing contrast to the aesthetic hysterics of John Woo et al., but weary realism cannot elevate Yuji to the level of an anti-heroic icon, which is what is needed if the film is to succeed on its own terms.

Most of what is good in the movie instead happens at the edges. The rain which falls incessantly on the alleys and rooftops of Taipei provides a suitably grey and melancholy backdrop. Lilly, a prostitute who maintains a web-site where she describes herself as a beautician, is a character with promise, but the movie doesn't give her the chance to develop. There is a good scene in which Yuji and another Japanese hitman, who has been trying to kill him for three years, have a guardedly polite conversation over lunch. When they're done, Yuji beats the other man senseless in an alley; such is the nature of their relationship.

It's a shame that the film insists on coming back to the redundant hitman plot. Predictably, Yuji kills a gangster and earn the enmity of his brother, who swears revenge. Events proceed as they must, to the showdown, where the amoral hitman, faced with death, finds a vestige of humanity in his heart. Yawn. It is unworthy of the director's talent.

Miike studied at Shohei Imamura's Japanese Academy of Visual Arts and was his assistant on ZEGEN and BLACK RAIN. His work seems influenced by the older director: both are fascinated by the outcasts of society, both have a mordant sense of black humour, both have set movies in Yokosuka (a U.S. military base during the post-World War II occupation). But the similarities only go so far. Imamura would never have made RAINY DOG, because his work focuses on people first and narrative conventions second. Miike gets it the wrong way round here. Of the three films I've seen by him, the only one which forges ahead into unfamiliar territory is THE BIRD PEOPLE OF CHINA; by not much of a coincidence, it is also the best one I've seen.

Subjective Camera (subjective.freeservers.com) Movie Reviews by David Dalgleish (daviddalgleish@yahoo.com)

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