Back in 1989, two movies entitled “Black Rain” were released. One film was the insignificant Hollywood blockbuster starring Michael Douglas while the other was the art house Japanese film “Kuroi Ame” directed by the legendary Shohei Imamura. Movies that depicted the horrors of the effects of the Atomic bomb were often made by American producers, “Hiroshima and Nagasaki” was one such great film, but it isn’t often that we see films that portrayed Japanese views on the physical and psychological (even the cultural effects) of the nuclear attack after the war. Finally after 20 years, Animeigo brings the acclaimed film to U.S. shores in a legitimate dvd release.
This film had been endorsed by the Japanese ministry of education to be viewed by all Japanese citizens of all ages. It is also the winner of numerous international film awards including Cannes.
The film sets his groundwork against Shizuma Shigematsu’s journals in 1945. Following the dropping of the atomic bomb, Shizuma (Kazuo Kitamura) and his wife Shigeko (Etsuko Ichihara) are charged with guardianship of their niece Yasuko (Yoshiko Tanaka) and in finding her a suitable husband despite the fact that she was a victim of the Black Rain that fell after the explosion of the atom bomb in Hiroshima. As the years progresses and the 1950’s have enveloped this small Japanese community, Shizuma slowly witnesses the demise of his friends (victims of the secondary exposure) due to the effects of delayed radiation sickness. Yasuko’s hopes of finding stability in love seems all but dashed, until she meets a WWII veteran named Yuichi (Keisuke Ishida) who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder brought upon by his experiences as an anti-tank soldier.
American would no doubt feel a slight degree of guilt despite when they were born or what they thought about the atom bomb detonation over Hiroshima and Nagasaki once they’ve seen this film by Imamura. The film has several sequences that have very unsettling imagery as the viewer is taken to hell on Earth. The images are very realistic and shot in black and white, the film has the look of a news reel that makes it more effective. We see bodies everywhere; as burnt bodies are carried by a river’s current, babies burnt while at the bosom of their mothers and other horrific imagery (the film reminded me of the time I went to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki exhibits in Japan when I was in high school). However, Imamura’s intentions to his writing and direction of this film is not to question the moral implications or to point an accusing finger as to who is to blame. Imamura wishes to bring the true effects of the war and the destruction brought on by the atom bomb is only a prelude to the struggles of this family who suffers physical, cultural and psychological complications due to that awful day.
The people in this small community are sympathetic of the survivors of the nuclear attack, but at the same time, the survivors are also mistrusted and shunned because of their condition. It was common knowledge that people exposed to radiation would eventually succumb to it; they cannot work as hard as others since such activity would quicken the poison’s progress and this can provoke resentment from other hard-working citizens. It was no secret that Shizumi and his wife suffered from radiation sickness, and Yasuko was exposed to the black rain (secondary exposure); and at 25, she has been shunned by her suitors’ families, for fear that she cannot bear her husband a child.
It seems like the state of the nation, and it is safe to assume that the condition of those who survived was much more challenging than those who haven’t been exposed. Seems like gossip can also play a part in ruining one’s reputation, and it attests to the matter of personal prerogative; whether one chooses to give in and merely accept their potential fate is up to the victim. I was impressed that this family seeks to find a footing, and to make do as they see fit. The victims of the war share a strange bond among themselves, it is one birthed of understanding, compassion and need.
Imamura declines from further moralizing and a small-minded ending, he leaves it to the viewer to decide what happens next. The film was shot in black and white since the imagery may just prove to be too unnerving if shot in color. The drama is portrayed as if it was shot in the 50’s which gives it an authentic feeling of its proceedings. It also gives a mild reference that those earlier films are pressured to conform with tradition while being pulled by more modern standards (there is some nudity in the film, but they aren’t suggestive)., as it brings into exposition the stigma, weight and the social ramifications of radiation sickness.
Shohei Imamura’s “Black Rain” is a sincere and powerful portrayal of the aftermath of the atom bomb. It brings into exposition the distrust, the fear and aversion of those who survived and yet were prosecuted by their neighbors and family for merely living their life after such an experience. It is good that Animeigo had finally brought this terrific film to the U.S. with a decent dvd release.
Highly Recommended! [4 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
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Five years after the bombing of Hiroshima, Yasuko does not appear to be affected by the radiation, but her family worries about her marriage prospects, fearing that she might succumb to radiation sickness at any time.
Mr. and Mrs. Shizuma and their niece Yasuko make their way through the ruins of Hiroshima, devastated by the atomic bomb. Five years later, Yasuko is living with her aunt and uncle, and her senile grandmother, in a village containing many survivors of the bombing. Yasuko does not appear to be affected, but the Shizumas are worried about her marriage prospects, fearing that she might succumb to radiation sickness at any time.