“Rainy Dog” (1997) is the follow-up to Takashi Miike’s blistering theatrical debut “Shinjuku Triad Society” (1995), continuing his “Black Society Trilogy”. Once again this unique director delivers a fantastically twisted tale that packs an emotional punch felt long after the credits roll.

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Yuuji (Sho Aikawa) is a Japanese ex-patriot now living in Taipei. Previously involved in the criminal underworld in Japan, he receives a call from a former associate informing him that he cannot return home. This leaves Yuuji isolated in this foreign country without friends or allies. He carries on a monotonous existence, finding employment as a hit-man for a local gangster.

His life is interrupted by the unexpected appearance of a woman with a young mute boy. She informs Yuuji that the child is his son from a meaningless fling they had years earlier. The woman leaves the boy with his father before fleeing in a taxi. Yujiro carries on with his job as a paid killer, almost oblivious to the boy’s presence as he goes about his business of killing for money.

Later Yuuji begins a relationship with a prostitute, Lilly (Dan Li). He decides that he will skip town with Lilly and his son, the two of them being the closest thing he has to a family. But finding happiness will not be easy as the brother of a man he has killed is coming after him for revenge.

Once again, Miike displays an eye for captivating shots and memorable sequences and there are a number of nice touches that set this film apart as a great work. The heavy rain that falls during many scenes creates an oppressive atmosphere, almost becoming a character in its own right. It feels as though the characters are being constantly assaulted by the weather, from which they must either take shelter or risk being drenched. This helps establish  a cruel, unforgiving world, one in which even the heavens are against them, and can almost be seen as a metaphor for the inescapable cruelty of the world that characters can either attempt to avoid or embrace. There are many striking visual elements present, such as Yuuji’s iconic all white outfit, with a long coat and sunglasses, and the young boy who we often see crouched in the rain in his yellow raincoat. These style choices help draw the eye and make the characters instantly recognizable.

Written by Seigo Inoue, “Rainy Dog” is a pared-back drama that does not waste a single moment in advancing the plot, from establishing the characters to setting up the confrontations later in the film. The film also uses many quiet moments rather than reveal everything through dialogue. One great example of this is the scene where the young boy discovers a stray dog out in the alleyway, perhaps analogous to Yuuji who has been abandoned by his former colleagues.

The cinematography by Li Yu-hsu is nothing short of stunning with many shots being works of art in themselves, perfectly encapsulating a thought or emotion in the framing of characters and bringing out the best of their performances. Also of note is the incredible way that the many rainy scenes are filmed, as you almost feel the cold, damp misery of the weather.

The central performance by Sho Aikawa as Yuuji is wonderfully understated. There is so much going on with his character, who experiences boredom, isolation, an unwanted obligation in his young son, as well as dealing with his conscience as an assassin. Despite being a killer for hire, Aikawa presents us with such a nuanced and carefully crafted portrayal of this man that you cannot help but warm to him as the film progresses and we follow him thorugh the difficult decisions he has to make.

Also of note is the young actor who plays Yuuji’s son. The boy is mute, so his characterization relies entirely on facial expressions. We feel for the boy as his innocence is slowly eroded by witnessing his father’s violence. Xianmei Chen does a good job with her limited role in the movie, creating a sympathetic character in the prostitute Lilly, who displays a resilience and optimism despite her dire situation.

The film is a fine example of a simple story done incredibly well. The believable performances help to draw you in to this man’s story of redemption and finding a purpose in his life beyond crime. Visually stunning and emotionally charged, this is an exceptional crime drama that touches on themes of loneliness, family and the cruelty of life.

With this follow up to “Shinjuku Triad Society” Takashi Miike once again shows that he has a great affinity for stories of downtrodden or pitiable characters. It is much less flashy or eccentric than many of his other films, and lacks some of the more extreme elements of sex and violence, but is an incredibly moving portrayal of a man battling his demons and attempting to survive in a sinful world.

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