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Rainy Dog - Black Society Trilogy (Miike Takashi 1997)


Rainy Dog
[Gokudo Kuro Shakai]

Genre: Yakuza Existentialism

review in one breath

"I heard a story once of a prisoner who was alone in his cell so long that he started to care for a fly. Then one day, he found that the fly had disappeared. From that day, he began to lose his mind."

Rainy Dog is the second film in director Miike Takashi's Black Society Trilogy. Each of the three tales in this trilogy is an independent story involving different characters and storylines. The commonality among the three (besides their all being yakuza stories) is that each of the main characters is of mixed Taiwanese/Japanese blood and is thoroughly bi-lingual and bi-cultural. By choosing such an mixed ethnicity for his protagonist, Miike immediately taps into an inevitable atmosphere of social isolation and ostracism. Miike's characters thus not only find themselves outside the mainstream of normal society (due to their criminal behavior) but also outside the mainstream of both cultures. Rainy Dog, as will the other films of the Black Society Trilogy, leads audiences, perhaps as never before, through the violence, desperation, and social isolation within this ethnically marginalized criminal group.

Black Society Trilogy

Shinjuku Triad Society (1995)
Rainy Dog (1997)
Ley Lines (1999)

Yujiro (Aikawa Sho) is a yakuza killer of Taiwanese-Japanese blood who has travelled to Taipei, Taiwan in hiding for a killing he committed in the Kansai region of Japan. He ekes outs a living amidst the urban squalor of Taipei, holding down odd jobs and waiting for the call to return to Japan. Yujiro's fortune hits rock bottom when on a particularly rainy day two monumental things befall him. First, he receives a call from the Kansai yakuza group informing him that they no longer require his services (but they do require the services of his girlfriend and thus will keep her) and therefore they have no plans of retrieving him. Second, on the same day a Taiwanese woman who Yujiro slept with but whose name he cannot remember, drops a five year old boy, Ah-Chen, off at his apartment and thereby informs Yujiro for the first time that he has a son. She then quickly bids the two adieu and leaves, never to return.

Abandoned by the yakuza, Yujiro is solicited by a local leader in the Taiwanese Mafia for some killing for hire. Yujiro proves to be a lethal and ruthless assassin and quickly begins to hunt down his boss' enemies in broad daylight, all the while being followed by little Ah-Chen. Yujiro soon discovers that another (culturally mixed) yakuza assassin from a rival gang has been sent to Taipei from Japan to hunt him down for the killing he committed in Kansai. Things turn doubly dangerous when the brother of the rival Taiwanese boss Yujiro just gunned down is willing to make an alliance between the two gangs if Yujiro is handed over. Thus Yujiro quickly finds himself being pursued not only by little Ah-Chen and a rival yakuza assassin, but also by both sides of the Taiwanese Mafia. Within this desparate struggle for survival Yujiro will be forced to decide whether he has found any meaning in the fact that he now has a son or whether he will use all his energy and skill to save merely himself. Rainy Dog is the story of Yujiro's struggle between his instinct for self-survival and the gradual understanding that Ah-Chen may hold more value for him than that of a tag-along, rain-drenched dog.

Rainy Dog is an excellent film on several levels and truly demonstrates Miike's skill at effectively telling complex stories. The locations and scenery throughout the film adds significantly to the squalid atmoshpere permeating the situation of Yujiro. Believe me when I say this film likely put Miike on the blacklist of the Taiwan Tourism Department for bringing audiences into some of the seediest, most polluted and depressing corners of the country. Added to this slum-like condition is the nearly non-stop torrential rain of Taiwan's rain season. (The rain here rivals that of Tokyo Dragon!). Taiwan's rain is so persistent and drenching, that its presence takes on almost mythological proportions in the minds of our characters, who deem it bad luck to pursue any activity until the sun appears every two or three days. For this reason, most of Rainy Dog takes places under thunderous downpours which will make you feel damp merely watching.

As with Shinjuku Triad Society, the first of this trilogy, the most impressive aspect of this film is its exploration into a bi-cultural, bi-lingual world (of crime). One thoroughly developed aspect of this film which unfortunately does not get past the subtitles is its complex use of Chinese and Japanese languages. A character's use of one or the other of these languages, of course, immediately betrays whether the character has any tie to Japan or not, and Miike intentionally constructs the dialogue to include these types of clues. In the case of Rainy Dog, which takes place exclusively within Taipei, this use of Japanese language is often the only means of identifying whether a character has any ties to Japan. Unfortunately, those either relying solely on the subtitles or unable to distinguish Japanese from Chinese language, will tend to view the dialogue as a homogeneous whole, which it certainly is not. Thus, for example, when Yujiro sings a little song in Japanese, it alludes to his homesickness and desire to return, or when the Taiwanese triad boss repeatedly and exaggeratedly uses the Japanese term for "son" (musuko) when speaking to Yujiro, it implies a sense of the boss' jibing Yujiro for now being out of his cultural element. The film's narration by Yujiro is in flawless (non-accented) Japanese, while much of the story observes him speaking in Chinese. I believe it is this linguistic (and thereby cultural) aspect of Miike's Black Society Trilogy which really had an impression upon Japanese audiences. Rainy Dog not only explores the historic ties of Japan's yakuza syndicate with its neighbor Taiwan, but also nearly serves as a (depressing) travelogue whereby Japanese audiences are lead through the slum alleys of a squalid, urbanized Taipei.

This movie will undoubtedly impress Miike fans. There is a depth of creative storytelling here which Western audiences may find entirely new in their perception of Miike. Despite its theme, Rainy Dog does not resort to the violent or sexual extremes which permeate Shinjuku Triad Society and much of his later work. Instead, Miike here relies on convincing characters, dismal locations, and an action-packed storyline.

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
This yakuza tale takes place entirely within Taipei, Taiwan, and so scenes and impressions of this island neighbor of Japan abound. Miike does an excellent job as your tour guide to the Taipei underground. Moderate gun violence and some fight scenes. No extreme violence either onscreen or implied. Absolutely no sex and no nudity! (Can you believe it?) Despite Yujiro having to spend three whole days in a brothel while the storm passes, this amounts to nothing you won't find in the lingerie section of the Sears catalogue. (Believe me. I know that catalogue section inside and out.) Excellent cross-cultural yakuza tale which will introduce you to the dangerous backstreets of that squalid metropolis, Taipei. Miike's slightly eccentric characterization of Yujiro reminds me a little of the yakuza hitman Hanada in Suzuki Seijun's Branded to Kill.

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