Rainy Dog Review

After Shinjuku Triad Society established Miike as a director of considerable talent he took his time following up with a worthy project, choosing to revert back to rather standardized V-cinema productions. Thankfully he broke this trend with the release of three films, Fudoh, Young Thugs Innocent Blood and the 2nd film in his thematic Black Society Trilogy: Rainy Dog.
This time round proceedings are set entirely on the streets of Taiwan’s capital city, Taipei, where we meet Yuji (Sho Aikawa), a Yakuza soldier exiled in Taiwan for reasons unknown. What little we do know is that the incident leading to his seclusion occurred on a rainy night, so the superstitious Yuji remains indoors whenever it rains. Since that day he has been making ends meet working as an assassin for a local Triad boss. One day, a rainy one, Yuji is cooped up inside when a Taiwanese mother and son couple arrive out of the blue. Yuji recalls having had relations with the woman years ago but never knew she had become pregnant. She’s decided to abandon her mute son and wants Yuji to raise him, not that he has much choice in the matter because she’s out the door before he can react. Rather than facing up to his responsibilities, Yuji simply ignores the child, going about his normal routine with Chen following silently in tow, observing the seedy world of his father. Later, when the outbreak of rain halts the assassination of a local Triad overlord Yuji seeks shelter in a local brothel, and the company of a hooker named Lily (Chen Xian-mei). The two form a deep bond waiting for the downpour to end but inevitably Yuji leaves to finish his job once the clouds lift, unleashing the vengeful wrath of the Triad’s brother, Ku-hung (Gao Ming-jun), and gaining a fistful of cash with the completion of this task. Now a wanted man with no place to turn Yuji must face up to his responsibilities and for that he needs Lily’s help as all three try to escape the streets of Taipei and build a better life for themselves elsewhere.


In terms of stylistic approach the second film in Miike’s Black Society Trilogy couldn’t be any more different to the first. Whereas Shinjuku Triad Society was wild and violent, Rainy Dog is understated and incredibly subtle, with the characters fleshed out suggestively rather than through dialogue. It pays off spectacularly because this film represents Miike at the top of his game as a dramatic director. His predilection for presenting clichéd scenes in an unconventional manner that fleshes out the characters is realised here without the need for excessive sex and violence. Take the initial meeting between Yuji and an assassin, presumably sent by the rival Yakuza family in Japan. At first it plays out in the expected manner with a chase sequence and tense gunpoint standoff but the tone of this meeting switches completely in the next scene when the two characters have lunch together and bear their souls about their less than desirable lives in Taipei. Both characters have a mutual understanding of their similar status as outcasts, but inevitably a confrontation must occur and an unarmed fistfight concludes this meeting, shot in a dark backlit alley so the audience is spared the gory details. This brings me on to my next point. Miike incorporates new techniques to create hard-hitting violence without the need for anything gruesome, simply by moving the violence off screen or obscuring it, as with the aforementioned fight scene. Another way is by placing children within the sequences. The first assassination Yuji performs in the film is played out with not only Yuji’s son looking on but also in front of the victim’s own infant son. There is no bloodshed or close up of the victim in this scene, just a single shot of the infant’s reaction when his father is gunned in the head at point blank range. It’s just a small touch, but an effective one at that.


The pacing is also extremely deliberate. Shinjuku Triad Society opened up with a montage of sequences that assaulted the senses, this film has a much more restrained opening that establishes the tedium of Yuji’s isolated existence. This is a necessity borne out of the fact that for most of it’s runtime Rainy Dog remains a character study, becoming more plot driven in the final third. Again this is in stark contrast to Shinjuku Triad Society, which was initially very plot-driven but introduced character drama as it progressed. The languid pacing along with Li Yi-xu’s beautifully dreary, rain-soaked photography imbues an almost overwhelming sense of pathos into certain sequences of the film. Miike’s imagery in general is quite expressive and rich in symbolism, for example the constant downpour of rain that symbolises Yuji’s isolation or the subtle framing of Yuji behind a barred window at one point. His utilization of colour also introduces some interesting symbolism. Yuji’s son, Chen could be seen as a naïve soul who is yet to be fully tainted by the morally ambiguous world of his father, a fact highlighted by his colourful clothing; a deep green striped top and bright yellow raincoat that stand out heavily against the drab colour scheme of his surroundings. It’s also in stark contrast to the clothing Yuji and the other adults in the film wear. Of course, this also serves to highlight that the character has been stranded in a new, alien setting.

Backing up Miike’s assured direction are fine performances from a mostly Taiwanese cast, with Sho Aikawa and Tomorowo Taguchi being the only Japanese cast members in the film. Sho Aikawa is one of the biggest stars in Japan, a status built mostly by hit V-cinema gangster films but western audiences will probably best remember him from his starring roles in Miike’s Dead or Alive trilogy. Here he puts in a strong performance with some slightly eccentric physical acting that subtly exaggerates the character’s paranoid fear of being assassinated any time. When the mood calls for it though he does subdued melancholy very well. I believe the child actor who plays Chen is named He Jian-qin and he supports Aikawa aptly throughout the film. Seeing as his character is mute it enables Miike to hone his performance into a collection of facial expressions and actions, all expressed in a natural, unforced manner. Chen Xian-mei captures the vulnerability of Lily very well and Gao Ming-jun puts in a memorable performance as the violently grieving antagonist, Ku-hung. Final mention must go to the chameleon character actor Tomorowo Taguchi, who makes a brief but brilliant appearance as the unnamed Japanese hitman. A wiry bundle of nerves from his years of isolation in Taiwan, you’d be hard pressed to recognise it’s the same actor who played the violent Taiwanese gangster Wang in Shinjuku Triad Society.


Seeing as this is the second part in a trilogy of films linked solely by their themes, I suppose it’s only right I finish by discussing the themes at the forefront of Rainy Dog. The three major themes running through the Trilogy and this film in particular are that of alienation, formation of a makeshift family and the desire for a better life in a foreign land. At the start we discover that Yuji’s old Yakuza gang has recently been taken over by their rivals, finally providing official closure on his dream of returning to the homeland. We see first hand the isolation Yuji feels in this foreign land, but he seems to make no effort to adapt to his new surroundings in any way and when the opportunity to form a place of belonging, a family home, arises with the arrival of his biological son, Yuji makes no effort to care for him at all. This of course heightens the isolation of Chen; a child who has already been abandoned by his mother and now finds himself left out on the streets like a stray dog in the rain. It’s a metaphor which could arguably be applied to most of the principal characters but clearly Miike applies to Chen, who has the same undemanding love for his father that a dog has for it’s master and loyally follows Yuji everywhere. This begs the question: Why is Yuji so reluctant to accept his son? Well, his reasoning is given in a voice-over where he recalls the tale of a prisoner who cared for a pet fly, only to be left broken-hearted when the creature finally disappeared. Not only is this a further admission from Yuji of his own sense of isolation but it also humanises the character somewhat in the fear of his own burgeoning emotions. Entering this strange father-son relationship is Lily, a prostitute who is immediately established as a kindred soul to Yuji with a protracted brothel sequence that highlights her reluctance to be a part of this business, her dreams to establish a better life elsewhere and fear that ultimately it’s something that’s out of her grasp. Together the three characters form a makeshift family when Yuji’s actions means they can no longer remain in Taipei, resulting in the erosion of Yuji’s cool façade and an acceptance of the feelings he has for these two finally starts to set in. It is these sequences that really enthuse a lot of heart into the film. I must admit I still haven’t even scratched the surface of the themes and nuances that run through Rainy Dog, it’s a film of considerable depth and proof, if any is needed, that Takashi Miike is one of the most talented Japanese directors of his generation.


Presentation

Although this DVD has been released individually in America courtesy of ArtsmagicDVD it can be bought, packaged alongside Shinjuku Triad Society and Ley Lines, as part of the Black Society Trilogy Boxset.

Rainy Dog was shot on a small budget and processed in Taiwan, making it a difficult film to bring onto DVD without any problems in the image department. Bearing this in mind the interlaced. 1.75:1 Anamorphic transfer isn’t too bad. As per usual we have a soft image lacking fine detail and some mild Edge Enhancement, a generally pleasing but slightly hazy colour scheme with reasonably accurate skin tones. Brightness and contrast levels leave a lot to be desired with almost no shadow detail, so I’m afraid you’ll be straining in some of the darker scenes. Note that there are moments in the film that may seem over-processed, but I have a feeling this is something Miike intended to give the film a rather rough feel. The print is clean and undamaged but compression artifacts are noticeable, with digital grain and static noise creeping in from time to time, nothing too distracting though.

There are a couple of odd touches in the film that I suppose I should point out, the first being a superimposed "squiggle" effect that appears roughly 12minutes into the film and covers part of Tomorowo Taguchi’s genitalia, the second being a scene shot in a strange slow-motion style about 21minutes in. Both sequences are as Miike intended.


Stray Dog is set in Taiwan with the predominantly spoken language being Mandarin, so don’t worry that the sole audio track is a Mandarin DD2.0 Pro-Logic mix, it’s not a dub. The audio presentation is generally pleasing with solid bass and some surprisingly atmospheric use of the rears during certain external scenes in heavy downpour. Dialogue remains clear and centralised throughout and the audio rarely breaks up.

Optional English subtitles are provided with no grammatical or spelling errors that I can recall.


Extras

As usual ArtsmagicDVD have provided an involving selection of extra features. Starting us off is an excellent commentary from Japanese cinema expert Tom Mes, which provides a thorough analysis of just about every aspect of the film and imparts some useful information on the cast. Following this are three interviews, two with director Takashi Miike. The opening interview lasts about 21 minutes with the subject mostly focusing on the production of Rainy Dog. Miike shares some amusing information on the local Taiwanese crew’s working methods, the freedom they allowed him as a filmmaker and seems to look back on his time there pretty fondly. He also strays off-topic a few times to reveal some of his personal philosophies on filmmaking in general. I must admit I really enjoyed this interview. The second interview clocks in at a little over 9 minutes and focuses more on Miike as a general filmmaker. I think the most interesting fact divulged in this interview is Miike’s admission that he prefers to shoot abroad not for the location or cast, but so he can work with a foreign crew, with their own unique approach to filmmaking being quite valuable to him. The third and final interview is with film Editor Yashushi Shimamura that once again focuses on his editing process and how intimidating Rainy Dog was as a project because apparently a lot was shot and delivered for him to edit in one go. Still, it seems he enjoyed working on this film and has a lot of complements for the Director’s ability to work in foreign climates and the look and feel of the film in general. The rest of the extra material is taken up by the usual Theatrical Trailer, Cover Artwork/Liner Notes for all the DVDs in the Black Society Trilogy and Cast/Crew Filmographies, with a lengthy Biography for Takashi Miike.


Overall

Rainy Dog remains as thematically rich as the previous film in the Black Society Trilogy but far more affecting as a human drama. I made a point in my review of Shinjuku Triad Society of advising people with delicate sensibilities to avoid it like the plague. For Rainy Dog, however I implore those same people to check it out as a prime example that there’s far, far more to Takashi Miike than graphic imagery. The R1 DVD from ArtsmagicDVD provides a reasonable transfer and an enjoyable selection of extra features, making it the region of choice for Western viewers.


Film
8 out of 10
Video
6 out of 10
Audio
6 out of 10
Extras
8 out of 10
Overall

8

out of 10

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