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Cult maestro Takashi Miike has succeeded in becoming one of fringe film makings biggest sensations over the past few years. Slowly but steadily, thanks to a highly prolific output and an often flashy and over the top style, he has managed to win over genre fans. In the mid 90's he began a series of films, a trio dubbed The Black Society Trilogy, that, while having no linear connection to one another, shared a common look at the cross culture/mixed breed underworld in Japan.
Of the three films in the series, Rainy Dog (1997) is easily the most downbeat entry into a pretty bleak trilogy.
Yuji (Miike regular Sho Aikawa- Dead or Alive) is a cold and indifferent Taipei hitman who regularly rents out his services to the local Chinese gangsters. Once near the top of the yakuza underworld, he now lives out a life on the bottom rung, just scraping by, living in squalor, with a price on his head. One day, a woman he had a forgotten fling with shows up with a kid, Ah Chen, who she claims is his son and leaves the unwanted child in his hands.
Yuji cannot muster any sympathy for the mute child, and leaves the kid sleeping outside in the rain, digging through garbage for food, and perpetually tagging along behind him, even during his shockingly disaffected hits, like one where he kills a gangster in front of his wife and baby son. Following this hit, Yuji spends a few days with a hooker, Lily, a similarly downtrodden individual, whose only outlet is a personal webpage dairy that reflects her dreams of getting away to someplace beyond Tapei's rainy streets.
After he does hit which results in stealing a bundle of cash from his targets, Yuji shows some traces of humanity stirring inside him. On the run for stealing the cash, which he has stolen for Lily and Ah Chen, Yuji tries to get them out of town so they can lead a better life away from the violence that surrounds him.
Short on dialog and heavy on atmosphere and simmering emotion, Rainy Dog may seem by its description to be some standard tale of redemption- the callous hitman finally finding a heart and struggling to save his innocent son and the hooker with a heart of gold. But, the film doesn't really fall into that kind of simple melodrama. Instead, the revelation, the decision, to try and get his son and Lily away from the mean streets, is played very quiet and he still remains aloof. No, the film suggests a circle to this violent life, that Yuji is too immersed to save himself, that it will always be part of him, like the yakuza tattoo that remains on his back. Miike is in a far more gentle and lyricla mood here, and he presents an affective tale of a disaffected man.
The DVD: Arts Magic is releasing all three films in the trilogy, Shinjuku Triad Society, Rainy Dog and Ley Lines.
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. The grain is heavy and the image is soft. The definition is pretty weak and the film has a number of low lighting scenes where the actors features become completely lost in the darkness. It should also be noted that there is some optical censoring of public regions, per Japanese censor laws, so no one should be surprised by the squiggles.
Now, I'm a little more kind to the image quality here based on two things. In one of the Black Society Trilogy interviews, Takashi Miike states that he had the films processed in Taiwan rather than Japan because he wanted the cheaper, rougher look, rather than the more clean and professional job a Japanese processor would deliver. Second, there is just the general quality of so many low budget Japanese releases, making this kind of transfer the norm. So, it isnt fantastic, but those familair with the genre should find it acceptable.
Sound: Dolby 2.0 Stereo, Japanese language with optional English subtitles. Competent job. The dialogue is clear and the subtitles are well done. The fx and music may have times when it lacks punch, but that has more to due with being a low budget film and in no way is a product of this being a bad audio transfer.
Extras: Bio/Filmographies— Original Trailer and Artwork— Interviews with Talashi Miike- Interview 1 (21:31), Interview 2 (9:31), and editor Yasushi Shimamura (6:10)--- Audio Commentary by "Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike" author Tom Mes.
Conclusion: Typical of the post-Kitano wave of Japanese yakuza films, Rainy Dog has moments of understated drama punctuated by violence and slight touches of humor. The DVD is okay, not the greatest image, but the extras and lack of superior alternative make it still worth a purchase for Takashi Miike/new wave Japanese film fans.