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Rainy Dog
cast: Sho Aikawa, Lianmei Chen, Ming-Jun Gao, Jianqin He, and Tomorowo Taguchi

director: Takashi Miike

95 minutes (18) 1997 widescreen ratio 16:9
Tartan VHS retail
Also available to buy on DVD

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Richard Bowden
One of the four movies made by the ever prolific Miike in 1997, Rainy Dog (aka: Gokudô kuroshakai) is the second part of his Shinjiku Triad Society trilogy, the other films being Shinjuku kuroshakai: Chaina mafia sensô (1995) and Nihon kuroshakai (aka: LeyLines, 1999). Lead Sho Aikawa also appears in the latter, and has appeared in other films by the director. Rainy Dog can be seen out of order of the other parts of the trilogy, as they contain no recurring characters or storylines. Falling between the manga-inspired extremes of such films as Koroshiya 1 (aka: Ichi The Killer) and the mythological Chuugoku no chôjin (aka: Bird People Of China, 1998), the current film is much more low-key, almost a mood piece. It eschews a John Woo-stylistic presentation of violence in favour of a view of killing altogether more mundane, drenched in the soft colours of overcast skies. Shot entirely in Taiwan, it is an effective if relatively slight story, redeemed by Miike's sure touch and kinetic style as a director.
   Aikawa plays Yuji, a yakuza out to fend for himself after troubles with his gang back at home base. "To have fallen from the world of the underground puts you on the bottom of the rubbish heap," he muses, staring out into his damp grey world. He fulfils a couple of contracts for a local triad boss, but not before a half-forgotten mistress unexpectedly and abruptly presents him with a son. Later he encounters Lilly, a prostitute whom he hopes to bribe to take the boy away from him. Meanwhile, the relatives of one of his clients are out for revenge, and this while he is being stalked by another hitman, working to an older contract...
   There are a lot of 'dogs' in Rainy Dog, one way or another. There's the sodden pooch befriended for a while by Yuji's son Ah Chen, while he sits patiently outside waiting for his father to acknowledge him. (There's a related, symbolic relationship between the assassin and his employer, where Yuji is termed a 'good son' who "is an important member of the family.") Meanwhile his own son is treated like an animal, obliged to scavenge food from the bins, forced to dog the Yakuza's footsteps, trotting after him like an unwelcome puppy. "Don't suck up to me," he says with unconscious irony to the mute child at one point. "You're not a dog." Finally, Yuji is himself followed, just as patiently, by a contract killer, as he tracks down his next victim. In one ironic sequence, the hitman awakes on a fire escape, coughs and spits, urinates widely, all the while praising Taipei out loud - an action which humorously combines a dog marking his territory with a small 'rainfall' of his own.
   All the falling water adds to the feeling of melancholia Miike promotes. "It's as if death hangs in the air," it is said at one point. Yuji is superstitious of working in the rain as a time when bad things can happen. (Aptly, the final scenes occur during a downpour.) On assignment he tells Lilly, by way of explanation, that he is just "touring - waiting for the rain to stop..." Whatever his excuse, while dressed in his white raincoat - the colour of death - Yuji is a distinctive figure, lurking in his gloomy rooms or stalking the streets.
   Rainy Dog's feel owes a lot to the noir tradition and, oddly, is a weakness. So oppressive are the near constant rain and the rattrap interiors that, after a while, we feel events will inevitably end badly. It's a sense of doom that considerably reduces narrative tension. In addition, as others have noted, there is little chance for the main characters of the film - a mute son and a barely speaking hero - to interact and grow, while the role of 'beautician' Lilly, which promises an opening-out of relationships, is underdeveloped. One can think of Besson's Leon (1994) as an example of film in which a growing connection between killer and kid is successful and moving, to realise what is missing here. But perhaps that is the point, that Rainy Dog posits a world where meaningful human interactions are impossible; where the only real communication between yakuza and whore is about the tattoo on his back, where two contract killers can have noodles together, before one beats the other senseless in a back alley? Occasionally Miike is successful in introducing moments of poetry into proceedings, as when the gangster strums a sad song to the woman and the rain outside. (An atmospheric use of music, incidentally reminiscent of Kurosawa's postwar noir Yoidore Tenshi aka: Drunken Angel, 1948.) Out of these elements Miike still manages to create a reasonably absorbing film, in which his command of editing and pace is very much in evidence - a tribute more to his skill as a director than to the dour script by first time writer Seigo Inoue. For completists and admirers of the director (and these are growing quickly) this will still be essential viewing.
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