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Film: Rainy Dog [Gokudô kuroshakai]
Director: MIIKE Takashi
Performers: AIKAWA Shô, CHEN Xianmei, GAO Mingjun, HE Jianxian, TAGUCHI Tomorowo
Production Information: Daiei, 1997 (Japan)
Breed featured: Taiwan mutt

Director Takashi Miike isn’t exactly known for his subtlety. His work often rubs me the wrong way, and there was a period of several years where I flat-out refused to watch his films. I’ve only been persuaded to give him a chance when there’s been the promise of something different, such as the anthropological exotica of The Bird People of China or the delirious musical revelry that was The Happiness of the Katakuris.

While Rainy Dog, the second in a disjointed trilogy narrating the violence and vagaries of yakuza life, is more in line with the “typical” Miike fare that I tend to snub, I had to see it for two simple reasons: 1) it was filmed on location in Taipei, and it’s always a thrill to see how foreign directors depict that city which I love so dearly, and 2) the English title contains the word “dog,” hinting at something that would be of thematic significance.

When one watches a lot of films, one is allowed to have arbitrary criteria when deciding what to bump up in the queue.

The story is simple enough. An exiled yakuza in Taiwan, Yuji, has a child dropped off at his apartment one day by a woman who claims that he’s the father. Not exactly pleased with this new responsibility, Yuji proceeds to tromp around Taipei on various assassination jobs oblivious to the kid shadowing him and witnessing each bloody hit. It’s not exactly Léon or Kikujiro, because the boy is unable to talk and his gangster father barely acknowledges his existence. There’s no emotional buildup or blossoming relationship because they just don’t interact. This wall of silence persists throughout the movie, as well as the torrential downpours that render the entire visual palette into shades of a depressing, industrial steel gray and blue.

In the eponymous scene, Miike almost achieves the trifecta of pitifulness: child, puppy… but not female. That’s okay; he still manages to milk every pathetic minute through stark montage. The child and puppy are abandoned outside in the rain, while his father is shacked up with a Taiwanese prostitute in a shabby but dry room. Between rounds, they replenish themselves with lip-smacking dishes, while the kid tears through garbage bags for a few greasy smears of leftover rice.

You’d think, in this rather heavy-handed sequence, the director could have spared us at least one gratuitous close-up of the puppy’s snorfling face. But alas, these low-quality screenshots were the best I could do.

At least Miike didn’t turn this tender moment around and strangle the puppy as he’s been known to do in other titles. The man’s not so nice to animals or hookers or, really, most living beings in his films. So maybe some dogs are better left out in the rain…

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