Saturday, 20 March 2010

Philosophy in Film: Ridley Scott's Black Rain

This film can be seen as an expression of the cultural anxieties about Japan at large in American culture in the 1980s. The film starts with images of modern America as powerful but decaying. Nick Conklin - played by Michael Douglas - is an aggressively individualistic cop whose individualism has gone too far (a metaphor, perhaps, for the current plight of US culture itself). Nick - like the US? - is not what he once was and he finds himself having to bend the rules in order to survive in an increasingly competitive world. His world is changed, however, when he encounters the Japanese mob - the yakuza.
The film is deeply racist in many respects, but in the end strives to reach some kind of mutual understanding/recognition between Japanese and US culture (although very much on the American hero’s terms). Japan is represented in strikingly ‘orientalist’ way in the film; the film’s ‘noir style’ is used to create a sense of the Japanese as ‘mysterious’ and ‘inscrutable’. However, more than this it depicts the ‘future as Asian’; Asian capitalism is represented as the next stage of capitalistic evolution because it is a pre-eminent centre of technological innovation, a culture based upon self-discipline and a culture that is the true heir to ascetic Protestantism with its now rapidly fading work ethic. A remarkably prescient observation in many respects.

Neil Turnbull


  1. Ain't seen this one! But there was a spate of these types of movies came out in the eighties, Gung Ho springs to mind with Michael Keaton and John Goodman. This seemed to follow similar lines. It came out around the time that Japan was going through a technology and motor boom at around the same time the US was being severely hit on this front. It's working class racism is also overt but overcome in the end by mutual need, dependence and entrprenurialship! Which is nice! Which is kind of like The Full Monty when you think about it, although race was not a core issue in that.

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  3. Come to think of it, wasn't Ridley Scott's other masterpiece 'Blade Runner' - the big philosophical movie about 'personhood' also replete with Orientalism and anxieties about the rise of the east