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BLACK RAIN – Hans Zimmer

September 5, 2019 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

I’ve written this sentence about other scores before, so I apologize for the repetitiveness, but I think it’s important to acknowledge the fact that there are very few scores in the world that you can point to as being a literal turning point in the history of film music. Black Rain is one of them. The film itself is not especially famous these days, despite actually being rather good. The film stars Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia as Nick Conklin and Charlie Vincent, two New York City cops who witness a murder in a bar and arrest the assailant. The killer is a man named Sato (Yusaku Matsuda), who is a member of the Japanese Yakuza crime syndicate. Sato is extradited to Japan, and Nick and Charlie agree to accompany the gangster back to Osaka for his murder trial. However, when they arrive at the airport, Sato’s fellow Yakuza free him from police custody by tricking Nick, which brings shame and tension to the already fraught relationship between Nick and his Japanese counterpart, Detective Masahiro (Ken Takakura). Determined to find Sato at any cost, Nick enters the dangerous underworld of Japanese organized crime. The film was directed by Ridley Scott, and was a box office success, combining a classic cop thriller revenge story with one of the first mainstream American depictions of Japanese Yakuza gangster culture.

The score for Black Rain is by Hans Zimmer and is important because it essentially served as the debut of Zimmer’s ‘power anthem’ style of writing. Prior to Black Rain Zimmer’s work had been predominantly in the drama and comedy fields; ignoring some early small-scale and direct-to-video releases, it was only the fifth or sixth score he had written solo, away from Stanley Myers, with the others including the drama Burning Secret, the comedy Twister, A World Apart, and of course Rain Man. What Zimmer did on Black Rain was to take his groundbreaking sound – the orchestral-electronic blend, written with the lyrical sensibility of a pop-rock song – and apply it to action music for the first time. It’s difficult to explain exactly what it was that made Zimmer’s music so unique at that point in time. My former colleague and MMUK contributor, writer Edwin Black, described it in his novel Format C: as ‘the hot, defining composition of Zimmer’s career,’ and that’s how it felt at the time. There was an energy, a brashness, a sense of heightened emotion, a touch of prog rock, and an indefinable connection to popular culture, all wrapped up in Zimmer’s music. Of course there had been plenty of electronic action scores before, but Zimmer was doing something that had never been done before, not in that way, and every touchstone 1990s action score that followed it – Days of Thunder, Backdraft, Thelma & Louise, Crimson Tide, even The Lion King – can trace its lineage back to Black Rain. That’s what makes it so important.

Unfortunately, as appears to be the standard modus operandii for Ridley Scott, much of the music Zimmer actually wrote was butchered in the final cut of the film, amid clashes between producer Stanley Jaffe, and the head of Paramount Pictures. Whole cues were excised, moved around, chopped into bits, and placed in the film apparently at random, and Zimmer’s thematic integrity was almost entirely undermined as a result. As such, the best place to hear the score is on the CD album, which has been released twice. The original CD, released to coincide with the film in 1989, featured six songs, plus an extended score suite broken down into four long cues. The more recent, and better, release came out in 2012 and was produced by Dan Goldwasser for La-La Land Records; it features an extended version of Zimmer’s score on the first disc, and then a reprise of the original soundtrack presentation on the second disc, plus various bonus cues and alternates.

Musically, the score is rooted in Zimmer’s highly recognizable 1980s-90s sound. It features an orchestra for strings and brass only, conducted by Shirley Walker, augmented by all manner of electronic ideas based around keyboards, drum machines, and metallic percussion effects. An electric guitar performed by Jennifer Batten acts as an instrumental leitmotif for Nick, while an array of exotic woodwinds – shakuhachi, bass flute, bass recorder – and a koto zither offer a musical acknowledgement of the film’s Japanese setting. There are three recurring themes and one recurring ostinato idea that run through the score – one for Nick, one for the city of Osaka itself, and one for the honorable gangster Sugai who helps Nick in his quest to track down Sato, and whose American employee Joy becomes Nick’s love interest. Both the Osaka theme and the Sugai theme have their roots in Asian music, in terms of specific chord progressions and intervals, while Nick’s theme is unapologetic American rock. There is also a recurring rhythmic device that I’m dubbing the ‘revenge ostinato,’ which emerges in the score’s second half to underscore Nick’s increasingly obsessive need to avenge his partner’s death.

The opening cue, “Sato (Part I)/One-Way Glass,” begins with deep brooding synth chords and oriental ideas, moody, dark, and sinister, as well as some vaguely Japanese-sounding chord progressions in low strings. This cue also features the score’s first action sequence, as Nick chases Sato through the streets of New York accompanied by the sound of heavy percussion hits and a wailing electric guitar. “Osaka/Phony Cops” introduces the Osaka theme, huge electronic pulses and percussion beats augmented by Japanese fue flutes and the tinkling koto. It’s a wonderful fusion of sounds and styles, a collision between modern America and ancient Japan, and is kinetic and attention-grabbing. “You Gonna Be Nice?/Sato (Part II)” continues much of the sound from the previous cue, but it’s important as it also introduces both Sugai’s theme and Nick’s theme; Nick’s theme emerges in the cue’s second half, beginning at 3:19, on an electric guitar coolly overlaid with various brooding synths, before segueing into the first developed statement of Sugai’s theme at 3:48 for kota underpinned with breathy synths, before concluding with a statement of the Osaka theme on low, foreboding basses.

Cues like “Sato Watching/Circling Motorbikes,” “Sugai’s Photo/Sato (Part III),” and “Sato (Part IV)” offer much of the same, with the three main themes circulating around amid a bed of menacing synth pulses and Japanese combo writing. “Sugai’s Photo/Sato (Part III)” is excellent when it eventually bursts forth into a bold, masculine, testosterone-fuelled statement of Nick’s theme as he hits the streets of the city looking for the missing gangster; the melody is underpinned with heavy percussion beats, electronic flourishes, and some of the score’s most prominent orchestral writing. “Charlie Loses His Head” is the pivotal moment in the movie where Nick helplessly watches his partner being attacked and eventually murdered by Sato and his thugs. Aggressive, clattering percussion and rapid, stylized string figures accompany a foot chase through a mall and eventually leads to the moment where Sato attacks Charlie on a motorbike like a bull attacking a matador, only this time the bull wins. The aftermath of Charlie’s death is accompanied by dejected statements of Nick’s theme and the Sugai theme, but ends with more forthright and determined performances of Nick’s theme and the Osaka theme as Nick vows to avenge his friend’s death; the relentless synth pulses in the cue’s conclusion is one of the first examples of a Zimmer writing technique that would become a staple throughout his action scores.

“Sequins” sees Nick and his new Japanese counterpart/partner Masa begin the search for Sato, staking out nightclubs and following suspects all over Osaka. Zimmer gives the Sugai theme a new lease of life by underpinning it with pop beats, funky syncopated keyboard rhythms, and more prominent strings. Then, in “Masa’s Reprimand/Sugai (Part I),” Nick’s theme is used as a motif for the developing friendship between Nick and Masa for the first time, with a performance for synths, bongos, and woodwinds. It eventually gives way to a prominent statement of the Sugai theme that gradually develops into a chase sequence, aggressive but fun, with multiple action settings of the theme amid unusual breathy synths, growling electric guitars, rock percussion, and Japanese flutes down in the mix. The first performance of the Revenge Ostinato kicks in at 4:49, and it’s just brilliant.

“Steel Mill Chase/Airplane/Escape” features yet more relentless percussion, a chase sequence for angry brass and intense kotos underpinned by synth pulses, but Sato gets away, and Nick is arrested and put on a plane to be sent home. Zimmer’s solo trumpet line gives a brief militaristic feel to the score, while the statement of Nick’s theme on zither is filled with regret at his partner’s death. However, the finale of the cue is again filled with ticks, pulses, and dance-like measures from the keyboards, as Nick escapes from the plane intending to send him home; the Revenge Ostinato returns in earnest, clearly illustrating Nick’s state of mind. The subsequent “Sugai (Part II)” is an extended sequence of tension and drama, with multiple layers of rhythmic writing that allows statements of the Osaka theme and the Sugai theme to float freely within the cue. Interesting instrumental moments include a set of menacing cello textures, fluttering pan pipes, and heartbeat-like pulses, which give a sense of drama and weight to Sugai’s story as he explains to Nick the concept of the ‘black rain’ that fell over Japan after the Americans dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, triggering Sato’s hatred of American culture. The cue ends with another determined statement of the Revenge Ostinato, as Nick accepts Sugai’s help in tracking down Sato and bringing him to justice once and for all.

“Arrival of Oyabuns/Sato’s Arrival/Meeting” is full of tension and edgy apprehension; the Sugai theme is heard on high synths and fluttering flutes, fues and koto zithers perform an edgy duet as Sugai and Sato face off, monk-like low male voices growl in the background, and the Revenge Ostinato continually inserts itself into the rhythm section. “Bikes/Fight/Nick and Masa” is the film’s big action finale, and places the Sugai theme into a massive, energetic extravaganza of killer rhythmic ideas, wildly impressionistic howling and growling electric guitar textures (representing Nick’s obsession with catching Sato), and the Revenge Ostinato. The conclusion of the piece sees Zimmer allowing Nick’s theme to come to full fruition, in glorious heroic power anthem mode The music celebrates Nick’s redemption and successful avenging of his partner’s death; this is the birth of an entire genre, right here. Complementary statements of the Osaka theme – this time more refined, dignified – represents the new relationship Nick has with the city, while the final guitar statement of Nick’s theme allows for a powerful send off.

Of special note in the second disc bonus cues are two score pieces. “Airplane Muzak Source Music” is an original composition by Shirley Walker full of sweet and pleasant strings, while the ‘Monks Wild’ version of “Charlie Loses His Head” combines the eerily menacing and sometimes quite disturbing voices of growling Buddhist monks with the synths from that cue, to unsettling effect. This ‘Monks Wild’ version would actually appear in the movie several times, but never in the place Zimmer originally intended. It’s also worth noting the two original songs, “Livin’ on the Edge of the Night” written by Zimmer’s then-partner Jay Rifkin with Eric Rakin and performed by Iggy Pop, and “I’ll Be Holding On,” which was written by Zimmer with Will Jennings, is performed by Gregg Allman, and is based on Nick’s theme.

Black Rain is a truly groundbreaking score, representing the genesis of the Zimmer sound which would come to dominate the Hollywood film music scene over the course of the next decade, and shows no sign of abating thirty years later. However, Black Rain is not just a museum piece – it’s an exciting, energetic, enjoyable score in its own right; the three inter-weaving themes, the bold and uncompromising rhythmic and percussive ideas, and the fusion between western and eastern instruments are all things that Zimmer does with great confidence and talent, and anyone who has an affinity for the ‘power anthem years’ as I do will find this score to be firmly aligned with their taste. The 2CD set from La-La Land Records is an essential purchase, not only for its historical importance in the annals of film music, but because the score itself remains vibrant and vital today.

Buy the Black Rain soundtrack from theMovie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Livin’ on the Edge of the Night (written by Jay Rifkin and Eric Rakin, performed by Iggy Pop) (3:38)
  • The Way You Do the Things You Do (written by Robert Rodgers and William Robinson, performed by UB40) (3:16)
  • Back to Life (Jam on the Groove Mix) (written by Beresford Romeo, Simon Law, and Paul Hooper, performed by Soul II Soul feat. Caron Wheeler) (5:07)
  • Laserman (written and performed by Ryuichi Sakamoto) (4:48)
  • Singing In The Shower (written by Ron Mael and Russell Mael, performed by Les Rita Mitsouko and Sparks) (4:23)
  • I’ll Be Holding On (written by Hans Zimmer and Will Jennings, performed by Gregg Allman) (5:39)
  • Black Rain Suite: Sato (4:45)
  • Black Rain Suite: Charlie Loses His Head (7:04)
  • Black Rain Suite: Sugai (6:52)
  • Black Rain Suite: Nick and Masa (2:55)
  • Sato (Part I)/One-Way Glass (6:34)
  • Osaka/Phony Cops (1:46)
  • You Gonna Be Nice?/Sato (Part II) (5:21)
  • Sato Watching/Circling Motorbikes (1:59)
  • Sugai’s Photo/Sato (Part III) (3:58)
  • Sato (Part IV) (2:05)
  • Charlie Loses His Head (8:22)
  • Sequins (2:42)
  • Masa’s Reprimand/Sugai (Part I) (5:33)
  • The Steel Mill (2:45)
  • Steel Mill Chase/Airplane/Escape (6:18)
  • Sugai (Part II) (8:50)
  • Arrival of Oyabuns/Sato’s Arrival/Meeting (7:55)
  • Bikes/Fight/Nick and Masa (9:29)
  • Livin’ on the Edge of the Night (written by Jay Rifkin and Eric Rakin, performed by Iggy Pop) (3:38)
  • The Way You Do the Things You Do (written by Robert Rodgers and William Robinson, performed by UB40) (3:16)
  • Back to Life (Jam on the Groove Mix) (written by Beresford Romeo, Simon Law, and Paul Hooper, performed by Soul II Soul feat. Caron Wheeler) (5:07)
  • Laserman (written and performed by Ryuichi Sakamoto) (4:48)
  • Singing In The Shower (written by Ron Mael and Russell Mael, performed by Les Rita Mitsouko and Sparks) (4:23)
  • I’ll Be Holding On (written by Hans Zimmer and Will Jennings, performed by Gregg Allman) (5:39)
  • Black Rain Suite: Sato (4:45)
  • Black Rain Suite: Charlie Loses His Head (7:04)
  • Black Rain Suite: Sugai (6:52)
  • Black Rain Suite: Nick and Masa (2:55)
  • Airplane Muzak Source Music (composed by Shirley Walker) (2:05)
  • Charlie Loses His Head (Part I – Alternate Percussion) (2:32) BONUS
  • Charlie Loses His Head (Part II – Alternate Version with Koto & Oboe) (2:47) BONUS
  • Masa’s Reprimand (Alternate Version) (1:49) BONUS
  • Bikes/Fight (Alternate Version) (3:18) BONUS
  • Bikes (Alternate Version – Percussion Only) (1:35) BONUS
  • Charlie Loses His Head (Monks Wild Version) (2:12) BONUS
  • I’ll Be Holding On – Main Title Version (written by Hans Zimmer and Will Jennings, performed by Gregg Allman) (2:36) BONUS

Running Time: 48 minutes 30 seconds (Original)
Running Time: 140 minutes 54 seconds (Expanded)

Virgin Records 91292-2 (1989)
La-La Land Records LLLCD-1229 (1989/2012)

Music composed by Hans Zimmer. Conducted by Shirley Walker. Orchestrations by Shirley Walker and Vic Sagerquist. Recorded and mixed by Jay Rifkin. Score produced by Hans Zimmer and Jay Rifkin. La-La Land album produced by Dan Goldwasser, MV Gerhard and Matt Verboys.

  1. CAHet
    September 9, 2019 at 7:11 am

    Where can I find the La-La Land Records extended release? Thanks!

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