Undeniably serious, Rainy Dog has a lot going for it, least of all it’s slightly Kitano-like approach made recognizably Takashi by the distinct absence of quirkiness that Kitano manages so well in favor of a darker, more realistic humor. Not that it’s a funny film, and indeed could even be thought of as difficult to watch at times, but ultimately it is a somewhat direct, touching take on the heroic bloodshed film yakuza style.
Rather than cool and successful, hitman Yuji (Sho Aikawa from Dead or Alive and Dead or Alive 2) is down on his luck, out of favor and working for a Taiwanese triad boss in Taipei. It’s hard to tell whether the situation is to his liking or not; he just does his job and gets paid, no comment, tolerating being referred to as a son by the triad head and trying not to think about the life he left and the reasons he left it. What is obvious however is the way that things would have undoubtedly continued along the same bland, violent lines if not for the appearance in Yuji’s life of the young son he didn’t even know he had.
Dumped unannounced almost literally on his doorstep, Yuji has no idea what to do with a child and quite frankly doesn’t want one (an idea that is). It’s business as usual to begin with, the only difference being he now has a six year old shadow with stranded puppy-like loyalty and perseverance following him about as he fulfills his contracts, and it doesn’t seem to matter how much he ignores the kid’s presence. Eventually, despite himself, the boy’s persistence begins to crack Yuji’s cold-blooded killer shell, taking pity on him in almost the same way one would take pity on a mangy stray. It’s the appearance of a chink in his armor that ultimately leads to an arguably emotion based decision involving a hooker, a hit and a brief case full of money but it’s also Yuji’s chance to get out of The Life and find a measure of salvation and his humanity. Whether it ends badly or not.
Described as a love letter to Taipei, director Miike Takashi undoubtedly has a deeply felt fondness for the city and shares it through dark and twisted alleys, bright, hilly neighborhoods and almost constant, torrential rain (during which Yuji superstitiously refuses to go anywhere). Visually it’s both sumptuous and surprising and the backdrop of the city’s slums serves the issues of responsibility, relationship and freedom at the film’s heart almost gracefully. It’s not the violence that is confrontational but the rawness of the character’s lives that is shocking, and contrasted with moments of the fragility and beauty in life and living, Rainy Dog will be a film that stands out in mind long after the weather has turned.