Let’s be honest. If you looked that good sitting on a motorcycle while wearing shades with a bunch of Japanese signs behind you, you’d probably pose like this too. Michael Douglas knows. Shoot, he’s probably somewhere doing this right now. Damn right, he is.
Nick Conklin is a New York City cop on the edge. His former partners have been busted for skimming off drug funds, and his hand was probably also in the cookie jar. But just as he’s getting lunch with his partner, Charlie, the yakuza walk into the restaurant with uzis and murder guys meeting up with the local mafia. Nick manages to catch the guy responsible, Sato, but Japan wants him back, so Nick and Charlie take their collar across the Pacific and immediately lose him to some fake cops. They then have to partner up with Matsumoto while trying to find Sato despite the anger of supervisors in two continents. Soon, Charlie gets killed, Nick gets pissed off, Matsumoto ends up in hot water, and the whole thing results in a violent shootout at a meeting of yakuza leadership over some counterfeiting plates. Also, Nick definitely stole money, but he’s found himself a hot blonde lady in Tokyo who for some reason agrees to kiss him in the end, so I guess he’s ok. He exchanges gifts with Matsumoto and heads back to the US…where he is probably forced into a desk job and retired early because he still stole money. Crime doesn’t pay, yo.
The 1980s was a glorious time to be terrified of the Japanese taking over everything in America thanks to their business tactics and the booming electronics industry, heavily fueled by Japanese companies. This led to a lot of fear of Japan’s economic clout, a lot of interest in Japanese entertainment and culture, and a whole hell of a lot of racism. Things didn’t quite pan out the way we thought after the Japanese economy collapsed in the 1990s, but in the meantime, we got a ton of films about ninjas, yakuza, the “way of the samurai”, and my Nintendo Entertainment System, so I’m not complaining. Now it all seems like some sort of kitsch joke, but we can still see the fear when we read the likes of Michael Crichton’s Rising Sun. At least it isn’t Showdown in Little Tokyo. Plus, Japan has been exoticised in our media for decades.
The movie also continues a trope about the Western outsider showing up in Japan, not fitting in, doing things the American way, and eventually working his way into a closed society and proving he’s the best. See The Last Samurai, The Wolverine, even The Yakuza. I prefer it when we go the opposite route at this point, so thank goodness for the hokey movie Red Sun, which features a samurai working with cowboys. But what’s really important is that Nick learns an important lesson along the way through the mysteries teachings of Matsumoto telling him, “Don’t be a dumb ass.” Thanks, Matsumoto.
For a movie with a motorcycle on the poster and motorcycles in the trailer, there are surprisingly few motorcycles in the actual film. Nick rides them like twice; you’ll see Sato on a motorcycle more often than he is, and more often then not the good guys are being harassed by folks on motorcycles. Maybe it should be Sato looking that good on the poster. Yūsaku Matsuda could have totally pulled that off. He unfortunately died a few months later of cancer at only 40 years old.
Look, this movie has flaws. It’s still wildly entertaining, particularly a scene where Charlie and Matsumoto sing “What’d I Say.” Then Charlie dies. I’ve come to the realization that whenever I hear that song in a movie, someone is gonna die. It happened in Black Rain, it happens in Tommy Boy. It tried its hand at killing Elvis’ movie career in the 1960s with Viva Las Vegas. It is the song version of the Angel of Death. You should go listen to it right now.