Rainy Dog (1997) – By Duane L. Martin

Unlike the first film in Miike’s Black Society Trilogy (Shinjuku Triad Society), Rainy Dog is more of a story film rather than a quirky, shock type of a film. Both styles of film have their place, but it’s odd to see a trilogy of films where the style changes so drastically from one film to the next.

Rainy Dog is the story of a hit man in Taiwan named Yujiro who suddenly has his young son thrust upon him by the boy’s mother who hasn’t even seen Yujiro since the night the son, Ah Chen, was conceived. Yujiro couldn’t even remember the woman’s name, but she dumped the kid on him and took off before he had a chance to stop her. As she was pulling away in the cap, she shouted out to Yujiro that the boy couldn’t speak.

Yujiro worked for a crime boss named Mr. Ke who ran things in the city and often sent him to kill off various individuals, for which he was paid a considerable sum of money. Yujiro’s first job in the film was to kill a rival gang boss named Shu Wen Long who was going behind Ke’s back and working deals for himself. Yujiro, with his son following along behind, shot Shu in the head right in front of his wife and young son, and then shot him several more times as he lay on the ground, already dead. Yujiro’s second job was to kill a man named Ku-Chiping, who according to Mr. Ke, was sleeping with his best friend’s daughter. Yujiro, with his son tagging along again, kills the man. Unfortunately, this begins a chain of events that leads to disaster in the end after Ku-Chiping’s brother Ku-Hung takes over the gang and swears vengeance.

I don’t want to go too in depth into the story because it would be hard to do that without giving away some of the surprises that come up at the end of the film. I will say however that I wish that there had been one final thing happen at the end of the film that didn’t, and when you see the movie, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Miike’s films, at least the ones I’m familiar with, tend to have large parts that are paced slowly and are designed to build characterization or plot elements. I’m personally not a fan of that style of film making because I get bored easily. I prefer to see things moving along and building at a normal pace. Taking twenty minutes to build some characterization that could have been compressed just fine into two or three minutes doesn’t do much to make me appreciate the film maker’s vision. All it really ends up doing is making me want to hit the fast forward button, which is something I tend to do when I happen upon such slow, plodding scenes. The pacing of this film is more or less slow all the way through, but in this case, it’s not being used so much as a device as it is an overall style of storytelling. In this particular film, the slow pacing works and it helps bring out the drama of various situations that wouldn’t have been as dramatic had the pacing been faster. The slow pacing combined with the lack of dialogue and the seemingly endless rain that falls throughout the film creates a really depressing mood that permeates every aspect of the story. I mention the lack of dialogue because the film relies more on imagery and situations to shape the story than it does on any seriously meaningful dialogue. It’s hard to craft a film that uses imagery in this way effectively, yet Miike has succeeded in doing so with this particular story.

Miike deals with relationships on many levels as well. The relationship between a father and a son, between a man and a prostitute he falls in love with, between a mob boss and his underlings and the closeness between brothers. Some of the relationships in this film worked while others did not. The interactions between the mob people, including Yujiro, all work out and develop quite well. The relationship between Yujiro and Lily, the prostitute he falls in love with (as much as he can love), develops ok, but I think more dialogue between the two would have aided in building the relationship that you knew was supposed to be developing between the two. Yujiro was not a likeable character in any sense of the word, and it wasn’t until the end that he started changing in any visible way, finally allowing himself to actually care about the safety and well being of Lily and Ah Chen. Unfortunately, by that point it was too late, and basically you’ve spent the entire movie not really caring about him at all because of his own seeming lack of caring about anyone else throughout the rest of the film. This is a man who left his own son out in the rain for two days digging through garbage for food and sleeping in an alley while he was nice and warm inside with Lily making love, smoking drugs, and eating nice hot food. This is a man who killed a man in front of his wife and child without thought or remorse. This is a man who essentially didn’t care about anything except the next hit and the next payoff throughout most of the film. I think this was a failure on Miike’s part, because until the very end, the only people in this film you can even remotely care about are Lily and Ah Chen. It creates an unpleasant feeling when you can’t really care about the person who’s supposed to be the main focus of the story. I wanted to care about him, but Miike never allowed me to until it was too late. I think the story would have worked better had Miike made the change in Yujiro more gradual and developed that change throughout the film rather than to just make it happen suddenly towards the end.

Still, overall the film wasn’t bad and it tells a good dramatic story. You really feel sorry for the poor kid being dragged along to all the hits and getting left outside in the rain for days at a time, and you feel sorry for Lily who only wants to get away from her life as a prostitute so she can find something better and make a positive change in her life. Sadly, in the end, neither character is allowed to reach any sort of a happy conclusion.

The film is depressing from start to finish, and although I know that’s how Miike intended it to be, not having a happy conclusion for any of the characters really leaves you feeling like you’ve had no respite whatsoever from the deeply depressing mood that permeates this film.

The shocking sex scenes and the over the top violence that tend to be commonplace in Miike’s films are conspicuously absent in this one. Instead, they’ve been replaced by overly long scenes of people walking from place to place and for the most part not doing much of anything. I’m not sure it was a good trade off, but if there had been any of the usual sex and ultra violence included in this film, I think it would have ruined the overall feel of it and destroyed what Miike was trying to accomplish all together. So ultimately, it was a good decision to leave those kinds of situations out and keeping what violence there was at a normal level rather than going for any shock value with it. Unlike the first film in the trilogy, this one felt pretty much consistent all the way through, and the scenes flowed nicely from one to another.

If you’ve had an overdose of happy lately or you’re really into heavy drama and you’re in the mood for a film that will bum you out, then Rainy Dog is the movie for you. It’s definitely not one you’ll want to watch if you’re already feeling down, because it’ll only make you feel worse.

Now, irregardless of how I feel about any of the films I review, ArtsmagicDVD always does a top quality job with their releases and this one is no exception. Like all of their releases, this one is loaded with extras. There’s a full length commentary with Tom Mes, two interviews with Takashi Miike, an interview with the film’s editor Yashushi Shimamura, trailers for the film and a biographies & filmographies section. As usual, the translations in the subtitles are excellent, and there’s one thing in particular I want to mention about them right now because it’s definitely worth mentioning. There was a part in the film where Mr. Ke writes a note, and they actually put into the subtitles what the note said. I can’t tell you how annoying it is to watch Asian cinema and to see a sign or some other writing that’s relatively important and they don’t put what it says in the subtitles. If you’re going to do subtitles in a movie, you gotta do it right, and from what I’ve seen, ArtsmagicDVD works really hard to do it right. There’s not many companies out there that you can count on quality releases from on a consistent basis. With companies like Something Weird Video, ArtsmagicDVD, Criterion and a few others, it’s always a safe bet that you’re going to get your money’s worth.

If you’d like to pick up this disc, or check out some of ArtsmagicDVD’s other releases you can check out their website at http://www.artsmagicdvd.com.