Two years after bursting onto the big screen with his rough and ragged first entry in his loosely connected Black Society Trilogy, Shinjuku Triad Society, the soon to be insanely prolific iconoclastic Takashi Miike followed that film up with a decidedly quieter, bleaker and oddly touching father-son tragedy in the form of Rainy Dog. Moving out of the Yakuza syndicate in Japan to the impoverished and squalid slums of Taiwan, the film concerns Yuuji (Dead or Alive star Show Aikawa) who is an exiled Yakuza assassin foraging for pay-per-hit assassination work.
Upon returning to his flat after a long day at the meat factory, his quiet and near invisible existence is complicated by the arrival of an ex-girlfriend who dumps his (supposedly) mute son at his doorstep before abdicating responsibility for the boy altogether. At first Yuuji is put off by the lad’s presence but over time after bringing a prostitute into his home, an unlikely familial bond begins to form between the three as they try and evade execution at the hands of vengeful Yakuzas.
Moving at a significantly slower pace than the first entry in the Black Society Trilogy with perpetual rainfall upon the slums/landfill, Rainy Dog is comparatively a thoroughly downbeat experience. Despite some sparse and occasional gags such as a yakuza urinating off a rooftop with neon squiggles stenciled over the footage of his crotch or a dinner table conversation that inexplicably plays entirely in slow motion, Rainy Dog is a pretty straightforward stray dog yakuza story. With a somber acoustic soundtrack by Sound Kids and less emphasis on the transgressions adorning Shinjuku Triad Society, Miike’s film depicts flailing Yakuza life on the fringes of society while exacerbating the bonds of love shining through the worst possible environment.
Take for instance a scene where the trio seek refuge in a bomb shelter with the ocean in the background, with long takes of the three traversing the beach covered in trash. Not since Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner has the combination of rain and trash evoked such a strong overall feeling of urban decay which seems to intensify as the film progresses. If you thought the Tokyo ruins director Kiyoshi Kurosawa had in his films Cure and Pulse was bleak, Rainy Dog puts you in the middle of a septic tank full of desperation to escape it’s suffocating density. Arguably Rainy Dog’s greatest success is in how it presents Taiwan as a kind of labyrinthine wasteland with stray dogs roaming freely foraging for survival.
While decidedly slower, somewhat muted and a bit on the sentimental side, Miike’s second entry in the series isn’t as strong as the first film but will leave an impression. If nothing else, it’s a snapshot of the underbelly of Taiwanese poverty and a surprisingly emotional story about a cool and distant yakuza assassin slowly developing a heart over the course of the movie. Much like Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher II, it inundates the viewer with reprehensible characters which gradually begin to reveal their humanity. It also proves Miike can deliver another yakuza picture without repeating himself, giving viewers the antithesis of Shinjuku Triad Society in every way he can.
- Andrew Kotwicki