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Published on Sun, Jun 23, 2019

By: Doug Stokes

Motorcycle scene from “Black Rain” (Paramount Pictures)
Motorcycle scene from “Black Rain”
(Paramount Pictures)

I was working for a company that was contracted to handle racing PR for Suzuki Motorcycles, we were involved in every aspect of Suzuki’s professional racing efforts working with both moto-x and road racing teams publicizing their efforts at racetracks across North America. The year was 1989.

One day, at a regular race team strategy meeting with our main company contact our guy mentioned that “corporate” (PR) had apparently scored a “big one”.

He was told that the corp. people had made a “very juicy” product placement deal with the producers of a new movie that was set to star Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia.

The film was called “Black Rain” and was set in Japan amid the intrigue and savage dealings of the “Japanese Mafia” … the Yakuza.

It takes place in modern day New York and Japan and the title refers to the deadly atomic fallout that fell from the skies for weeks and weeks after atomic bombs were detonated above Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

… The premise sounded very serious if not dour and foreboding. Needless to say, well-known movie director Ridley Scott (“Blade Runner”) saw to that sort of atmosphere with great fervor.

If we may … let’s fast forward here to the big night of the premier.

We were invited and went along to the viewing but the big show was over on the corporate PR guy’s side of the wine and cheese reception. Many of the top leadership of Suzuki (from here and abroad) were on hand for the viewing and (obviously) much-anticipated, and promised to be v. strong, product recognition.

What was coming down was that the corp. PR peeps (not us) had gone and put Suzuki yellow into a new, major, kick-ass movie … and they were hardly shy about telling everyone who’d listen how v. absolutely cool that was (dog). We just listened and tried to stay (fairly no … very) low profile.

My guess here is that few remember the movie frame for frame as I do, so I’ll paraphrase a few feet of the OPENING SEQUENCE here just for fun.

Is that a Suzuki or Harley that Michael Douglas is riding on? Poster from “Black Rain” (Paramount Pictures)
Is that a Suzuki or Harley that Michael Douglas
is riding on? Poster from “Black Rain”
(Paramount Pictures)

Open on: panoramic shot of the NYC waterfront, sound of a motorcycle running along on the shore drive, the bike comes into view, single rider in a very long shot, the wind blowing and the bike cruising. Cut to a close up of the rider … Why it’s our protagonist NYC plainclothes cop, Nick Conklin (played by Michael Douglas) hair-tossingly helmetless, motoring right along, wind in his teeth, ultra-dark tint Ray-Bans on, and …

RIDING ON A HARLEY … Yeah, a (freakin’) Harley (made in Wisconsin) Davidson.

There was an audible gasp from out section of the audience that almost drowned out the (rather annoying)  thumping sound of the Harley…

In due time that sequence ended and order was restored … that is, until Michael D. and his NYC plainclothes cop partner “Charlie Vincent” (played by a young Andy Garcia) get to Osaka to try to capture and escaped, and very, very bad Yakuza guy.

As the movie plays out the bad guys on bikes eventually corner Garcia’s character (on foot natch) in an underground parking garage and (let’s make this part quick) hack him to death with samurai swords that they first sharpen by dragging them on the concrete floor of the garage (with a shower of sparks each time) before eviscerating Garcia while Douglas watches helplessly … Have you guessed the rest?

If you figured that I would not have labored so long on this story unless Suzuki was further implicated you are correct …

Here you go: those dirty bastards who slice and dice nice guy Garcia are ALL riding on (BINGO!) brand new Suzuki bikes and the name on the tank is quite clearly visible as they maniacally wield their razor-sharp swords…

Let me ask you a question: have you ever seen the Mel Brooks film “The Producers”? There’s scene in the film where the audience (after a particularly Nazi-themed opening number) just sits, frozen, stone-faced, not really able to process what had just happened. Our Suzuki section was all of that, an instant dumb, deaf, and blind oil painting.

My partner and I made our way outside, both staring dead straight ahead, no eye contact, no stopping to say good night, no human interaction save a look at each other that silently screamed: “… just shut your mouth and keep walking to your car… NOW.”

I have no earthly idea if the Suzuki Corp. PR people went to the after-party (if there even was one). But we heard that Suzuki USA HQ out in Brea, California was not exactly buzzing with excitement about the picture the next day or any time after that.

I heard that the movie was a hit and made a good deal of money.

…To the best of my knowledge, not a word was ever spoken about that film (at least in my presence) ever again at Suzuki.

A Moral here?  You’ve got to be kidding!

We all know that when Hollywood calls that the clouds part … this time they slammed shut on the (REDACTED*)s of the Suzuki corp. PR peeps.

It was a good day not to have brought that deal in. -DS

JUST REMEMBERED SIDEBAR:Part of the deal with working for Suzuki was that we were offered product to ride. I chose a 750cc road bike that I rode to work (SGValley to the West Side) a couple of days a week. My late brother Scot taught me how to ride in my 40’s and I had a great time with that machine. In recalling the above story I realized that the model name of the bike I rode was sort of eerie … Katana.

*Lower body parts

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