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The opening of Imamura's masterpiece avoids mere
sensationalism in its depiction of the unfathomably horrifying
events of August 6th, 1945, in which 90% of Hiroshima and tens of
thousands of lives were annihilated in an instant. Instead,
Imamura emphasizes the unprecedented strangeness of the
catastrophe, focusing on such portentous images as the diabolic
mushroom cloud louring silently in the distance and the black rain
that spatters a beautiful young woman's face. The rest of the film
traces the ramifications of the latter incident, bringing the atomic
holocaust and its aftermath (over 100,000 people died of radiation
poisoning) down to the intelligible level of the plight of Yasuko
(Yoshiko Tanaka) and her small "community bound by the bomb."
The survivors strive for normalcy and continuity, most notably by attempting to find a suitable marriage for Yasuko, but the imminent possibility of radiation sickness shadows every aspect of their lives. Yasuko's potential suitors, naturally enough, shy away from a young woman, no matter how attractive, who might suddenly grow sick and die. Genuine love, when it finally does appear, does so unexpectedly and ambiguously. We are left wondering if love across class lines is more a token of Yasuko's status as "damaged goods" or of a common humanity, thrown into bold relief by harsh circumstances, that transcends class divisions.
The film's classically restrained style intensifies the impact, the spare, eloquent interior shots reminding us that Imamura began his career as an assistant to the great Ozu. Imamura's mastery is evident, for example, in the paired scenes of Yasuko bathing, the first emphasizing her lovely back and legs, the second how her hair is falling out. The shots stand almost as bookends to the narrative's trajectory, distilling its tragic essence. The film's documentary-style realism is violated for expressive purposes several times, perhaps most notably in a scene that lays bare the troubled interior life of a shell-shocked veteran. Both the score by the renowned avant-garde composer Toru Takemitsu and the stunning black and white photography contribute greatly to the film's brooding atmosphere. When, in the final shot, Yasuko's uncle (Kazuo Kitamura), the film's laconic narrator, looks to the vacant sky for a rainbow as a sign of hope and regeneration, the black and white imagery suddenly becomes so poignant that it is almost unbearable. Few films from Japan (or anywhere else, for that matter) could be compared to the great, humanist Japanese masterpieces of the 1950s. This film is one of them. When I finished viewing it for the first time, I sat stunned, unable to move for at least five minutes, overwhelmed as I was by the emotions great tragedy should inspire: terror and pity.
It infuriates me no end that, now and forever, I will have to identify this movie (which I consider a masterpiece, and I don't use that word lightly) with the qualifier "Not the Michael Douglas movie!" Not only are the titles the same, but they refer to the same thing- the radioactive fallout that rained upon the survivors of the first nuclear bombings. In Imamura's film, this is no cheap metaphor; the whole movie is about the fallout, physical and emotional, from Hiroshima and the war itself. As the deterioration of a couple and their grown niece becomes more grimly clear, the ironic imagery becomes more potent, from the old clock that is reset each night to the stone gods that gradually pile up outside the heroine's door. (These, in turn, are carved by a shellshocked veteran who is compelled, in a series of tragicomic episodes, to attack anything with a motor that approaches the town.) The bombing day itself is shown in piecemeal flashbacks that are coolly horrifying. Yet "Black Rain" ("NtMDm!") can be watched, even repeatedly, because of Imamura's compassion for his characters. I repeat: a masterpiece.
Shohei Imamaura's Black Rain was released in 1989 just at the onset of the
AIDS epidemic, a fact that gives the film about the slow deterioration of
Hiroshima radiation victims an added poignancy. The black rain in the title
refers to the combination of ash, radioactive fallout, and water that fell
one or two hours after the explosion. There have been other books and films
about the dropping of the atomic bomb but none as unique and powerful as
this one. Based on a novel by Masuji Ibuse who gathered information from
interviews and the diaries of real-life bomb victims, the film depicts how
an entire family is affected psychologically as well as physically by the
bomb years after the original explosion. It is a horrifying vision but one
that resonates with deep compassion for humanity.
The film begins in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 as soldiers and civilians go about their normal daily activities. Suddenly a blinding light flashes and a thunderous blast is heard. Almost every single building is destroyed or damaged beyond repair. The first atomic bomb ever dropped on a city is now a part of history. Survivors must somehow restart their lives, unaware of the bomb's devastating after effects. Filmed in high-contrast black and white, the story centers around Yasuko (Yoshiko Tanaka), a young woman who is caught in the radioactive rain as her boat heads back to the city to search for friends and relatives. In Hiroshima, Imamura shows us indelible images that remain with us: a young boy with skin hanging from his body pleads with his brother to recognize him, an older man is in tears over his inability to free his son from piles of debris, a mother is in torment as she rocks the blackened body of her child.
When the family returns to their rural home, Yasuko's life is forever changed. She sees her friends dying around her and waits for the inevitable bouts of radiation sickness that have already affected her Uncle Shigematsu Shimuza (Kazuo Kitamura) and Aunt Shigeko Shimuza (Etsuko Ichihara). Pretending that there is only business as usual, the family denies that the bomb has affected Yasuko. "She forgot how Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed. Everyone forgot it. They forget the hell of fire and go to rallies like an annual festival. I'm sick of it," says a friend Katayama (Akiji Kobayashi). Yasuko internalizes the tragedy, feeling shame for being different than others and guilty for being contaminated.
When her aunt and uncle try to find her a husband, the eligible men refuse to marry her because of suspicions about her health, even though Shigematsu has copied her diary to prove that she wasn't directly exposed to the bomb. The only suitor she feels comfortable with is another damaged man, Yuichi (Keisuke Ishida), who has a panic attack every time he hears the roar of an engine. At the end, the beauty of life shows itself ever so fleetingly when Yasuko goes to the pond and sees a sight she has been longing for all her life, the king carp jumping in the water, playfully as if to say that beyond despair there is still joy. Sadly we hear on the radio statements by politicians about using the bomb once again in the Korean War. "Human beings learn nothing", says Shigematsu. "They strangle themselves. Unjust peace is better than a war of justice. Why can't they see?" Immamura's Black Rain has hopefully allowed all of us to see more clearly.
"The Bomb finally got me" is a phrase used in the film by the survivors
of Hiroshima as they succumb to radiation sickness years later.
Americans prefer their stories of historic disaster, Titanic or Pearl
Harbour, to lead towards catastrophe, to build up to it and give it
final word as though it's the main attraction. Shohei Imamura opens
Black Rain on the fateful 6th of August 1945, it gave me chills to read
that title because as a Japanese professor hurries on his way to the
train station one can imagine the engines of Enola Gay whirring a few
thousand feet above in the air, and probably a clicking noise which no
one can hear and now the plane's hatch opens to drop Little Boy, and
the professor looks at a clock in the train station and doesn't even
have a way to know that life as he knows it will be over in
approximately 45 seconds.
Imamura gets over with destruction in the first reel, but he doesn't get over with death, because this is a movie that takes place in 1950, five years after the Bomb razed Hiroshima to the ground, and the Bomb still looms heavy over everyone's life, like something dark foreboding and inescapable that you can see with the corner of the eye even if you close your eyes, and Imamura's quiet domestical drama takes place in the shadow of all that so that life and death don't happen in one final furious upflare of heartbreaking disaster but in spite of it, in dogged defiance, on a bed in a quiet farmhouse in the countryside as though what happened five years before was only a bad dream.
I read a review that said Black Rain shows Imamura's apprenticeship to Yasujiro Ozu like no other of his films, and that may be true, for the most part this is a quiet provincial drama about an uncle trying to marry his young niece to anyone who may have her while prospective grooms flee at the idea that she may be sick with radiation after her exposure to the black rain. But then Imamura cuts to flashbacks of a city in flames, cauterized victims of the blast staggering around blind, crazed by pain and automaton-like, skin melting off their bodies, faces deformed. It's a chilling monstrous sight of hell on earth, and it's amazing to me how restrained is Imamura, in both depicting carnage and evoking sympathy for the survivors, the sick and the mad, who must go on with their lives.
For people who have seen and loved Come and See, this should be an interesting counterpoint. In that film Elem Klimov doesn't spare us any details, wherever he can find atrocity he's there to show us; Imamura on the other hand shows us the tragedy of war for a moment and then lifts it from our eyes, as to the survivors, literally to inhabit the memory. This is life after death.
It was evident until the final credits that this film was made in 1989,
as all the elements of its production were made to look 1960's - the
acting, the characterisations, the sets and the props all had an
aesthetic from an earlier time.
The film opens to the moments prior to the dropping of the A-bomb on Hiroshima and how this tragic incident affects one family: a young woman, Yasuko, who lives with her aunt and uncle. Even in black and white, and using special effects that are quite primitive by modern standards but emotive and effective nonetheless, the depictions of the immediate aftermath of the bomb are quite horrific. Family members become unrecognisable to each other, others resemble zombies as they wander the streets bedraggled and in shock.
The title refers to rainfall that fell soon after the bomb, which was mixed with radioactive ash, and in which Yasuko is caught. Rumors of Yasuko's being in Hiroshima at the time of the bombing affect her marriage prospects and it is later learnt that the black rain is indeed causing sicknesses. The film is concerned not just with the physical effects of the bomb on the Japanese, but on the social and psychological damage that was wrought.
I found the film compassionate and a fascinating journey into a unique culture. While the film is primarily concerned with the pain felt by one family, the film's gentle political message is relevant today and probably for all time - wars have horrific consequences, and should not be entered into unless absolutely necessary. It is said that history repeats itself, and the current leaders of the 'Coalition of the Willing' have learned nothing. While atomic warfare has not resurfaced since 1945, other deadly after-effects have. This film is compelling viewing.
This is a pretty faithful adaptation of Masuji Ibuse's novel, "Black Rain." Like the book it is very moving and thought-provoking. The story revolves around a couple's attempts to see their niece successfully married. They are having trouble finding suitors because of a rumor that she suffers from radiation sickness, after walking through Hiroshima on the day of the bombing. Well filmed, well acted, moving, tragic, horrifying and funny.
I am a pioneer to the films of Shohei Imamura. I've been aware of his
legacy, which ranks alongside other Japanese directors such as Yasujiro
Ozu and Akira Kurosawa, for a long time but I've only just started to
expose myself to his creative prowess. The first and only Imamura movie
that I have seen to date is his 1989 film "Black Rain" unrelated to the
Michael Douglas thriller of the same name. And all I can say is that
based on this one experience, I am more than ecstatic to continue
delving into this artist's plethora of films.
Mr. Imamura was celebrated for the way that he provocatively told stories that exposed the good and bad in not mankind, but the society of his own country. In this film, for example, he examines the effects of the bombing of Hiroshima on a small group of people. However, as one would not expect from a Japanese filmmaker (or any director, regardless of his race) he does not go for a sentimental approach. He does not go for a cheap shot plot that could be worked into a target for political controversy and false anti-American accusations.
"Black Rain" is not about who dropped the bomb or why it was dropped. What it is about is the way that the bombing or Hiroshima and Nagasaki influenced not only the physical health of Japanese people, but their morality and sense of ethics. After the movie's sobering open, it follows an aunt and uncle and their attempts to find a husband for their niece. The problem is that all three of them were exposed to the radiation of the H-bomb and have, in many ways, been shunned by those who were fortunate enough to escape the nuclear holocaust. During this time, radiation poisoning was like a scarlet letter: a label forewarning the healthy from the condemned as if the victims of Hiroshima had brought this tragedy upon themselves. Just as people in the United States turned on each other after the loss of the Vietnam War, the people of Japan turned on each other following their loss. And Mr. Imamura shows that with astounding detail.
That great New York Times critic Vincent Canby made a sobering remark in his excellent review of the film. Mr. Imamura's intent was not to make us weep, but to open our eyes and make us think about our own morality. Because after all, isn't there a fair amount of scapegoating placed upon people with tuberculosis, cancer, and AIDS in our own society?
Mr. Imamura, like his peer Akira Kurosawa, was clearly an artist with an eye for detail. It can be found all throughout his film, but just look at the opening sequence, depicting the bombing. There is a real sense of horror in the movie as we see the mushroom cloud, the poisonous black rain, and finally the decimation of the city itself. As many characters in this scene note, "Hiroshima is gone" and replaced with an apocalypse created by man.
Mr. Imamura co-wrote the screenplay with Toshiro Ishido and created a very memorable story. He has also has a great cast. Kazuo Kitamura and Etsuko Ichihara are convincing both physically and psychically as the aunt and uncle fearing their own deaths but hoping for a better life for their niece. She is played by Yoshiko Tanaka, a very good actress whom Godzilla fans will likely recognize. Supporing performances are created by Shoichi Ozawa, Keisuek Ishida, Akiji Kobayashi, and many others, all of whom help complete this magnificent, haunting portrait of humanity.
"Black Rain" is a very, very good movie that I think should be required study in not only film and film history classes, but sociology as well. For there is a lot of psychological footnotes made by Mr. Imamura regarding society, ethics, and social status. And furthermore, he had the guts not to wrap up with a throwaway ending, but an ending that leaves you in the place of many Japanese people of the late 40s/early 50s: hoping for the best, but fearing the worst.
Not many Japanese films have dared to confront the shame and neglect felt by victims of post-Hiroshima atomic fallout, which makes this sober, emotional portrait of slow death by radiation poisoning one of the more emotional dramas in recent memory. Most of the story revolves around a young woman unable to marry because of her condition, with vivid flashbacks to the chaos of August 6th, 1945, The recreation of Hiroshima after the blast is unflinching in its horror, but can't begin to suggest the impact of the actual devastation, and these scenes are often at odds with the rest of the film: a gentle domestic drama characterized more by its reserve, dignity, quiet poetry, and sometimes over-earnest anti-war appeals (" war is bad", observes one character). Even with such powerful subject matter, the lasting impression of the film is one of grace, subtlety, and profound sadness.
I didn't really concentrate on the larger Genocidal aspects of the story (although the horrific images at the beginning are very powerful). I was really taken with the human story of the girl and her family. Imagine living your life not knowing if you have a time bomb ticking away inside you. I was really wrenching to see Yasuko being rejected as "tainted" by the bomb. The image that stays with me most is when Yasuko stands before the mirror combing her hair, silently watching it come out in clumps.
In the light of the recent typhoon that hit the country hard (that is,
typhoon Ondoy), I thought it upon myself to re-watch "Black Rain"
(1988, Japan), Shohei Imamura's haunting black-and-white masterpiece on
the destruction and after-effects of the atomic bomb that hit Hiroshima
in the closing period of the Second World War. The destruction and
impact of both catastrophes (war and typhoon) may differ in degree and
quality, but the trauma and scar (physically and psychologically)
nevertheless are still there.
It is a testament to a film's power that its images remain as potent and as indelible as when they were first seen. It is only that the difference now, in my case, is that watching those images has assumed a greater sense of poignancy and potency due to a first-hand experience of a near-monumental weather calamity. There is a sense of kinship, so to speak.
Imamura has always been one of my favorite Japanese filmmakers. His films are always a pleasure to watch because of their anarchy, sensuality and earthiness:"The Pornographers:Introduction to Anthropology" (1966), "Eijanaika" (1981), "Warm Water Under a Red Bridge" (2001), his two Palme d'Or-winners "Ballad of Narayama" (1983) and "The Eel" (1997), to name some. Given the mood of his films, who would have thought that he once served as an assistant director to Yasujiro Ozu, Japanese cinema's most austere and minimalist filmmaker? But then, it is Ozu's rigorous formality and domesticity that Imamura was rebelling against.
But then again, with "Black Rain" one can unmistakably sense Ozu's imprints. The father (or the father-figure) being intent on seeing his daughter get married before time runs out on both of them, and the stillness and calmness of the scenes showing all members of the family together (notably, the dinner scenes or in Ozu's film lexicon, the tatami) are something that the revered master filmmaker would perennially explore in his works ("Tokyo Story", "Late Spring"). Essentially, the over-all subdued and deliberate quality of "Black Rain" is a remarkable contrast to the bacchanalian chaos and instinctual drive of Imamura's entire filmography.
Still, this is not to say that watching the film would not be an altogether unsettling experience. "Black Rain", as aptly described by American film reviewer Leonard Maltin, is "filled with haunting black-and-white images." In the film's first 15 minutes, Imamura pulls no punches in showing the immediate and graphic horrors of the nuclear bombing, one after another (stiffly-burnt bodies, hanging flesh, walking dead, fires and debris everywhere, madness all over). An assault to the viewers' senses, definitely it is, coupled with Takashi Kawamata's somber b/w photography (he did the lensing in Yoshitaru Nomura's crime drama "The Incident") and Toru Takemitsu's chilling score (he did the music in such classics as Akira Kurosawa's "Ran" and Masahiro Shinoda's "Double Suicide").
Even during the film's supposed "tranquil" phase (that is, five years after the atomic bombing), one can still never have a sense of contentment and order, with the uneasiness and pain still being strongly felt by the survivors, not only in terms of failing physical health, but more so in terms of psychological trauma and social stigma. The human race, it now indisputably appears, has been destined to bear the legacy of the Bomb, for as long as it lives.
I already wrote a piece about "Black Rain" some years earlier (posted in IMDb.com), but only in comparison to Volker Schlondorff's magnificent "Tin Drum", another film dealing with monumental human folly and global catastrophe. Moreover, it has never been my practice to write twice about a film that I already wrote something about before. It is in the light of the recent weather calamity that devastated our country that I was prompted to re-visit and write something again about this remarkable Imamura film, as there is a wealth of lessons to be learned from both the film and the recent event in regards the imperfections and dangers of scientific knowledge and action, and the long-term scars and wounds inflicted by a wide- scale destruction (whether human- or nature-induced).
There have been a number of films dealing with nuclear holocaust and destruction ("Testament", "Threads", "The War Game", each situated within their own respective countries);and "Black Rain" stands among them, if not more so, for both its unapologetic and somber portrayal of individual and communal disintegration brought about by atomic devastation and the fact that it has a historical event as its basis.
Few weeks from now, another disaster film from Hollywood, Roland Emmerich's "2012", will finally hit (no pun intended) the big screen. As we all know, this American director's bunch of "disaster/apocalypse" films--"Independence Day", "Godzilla", "The Day After Tomorrow"-- serves no other purpose than to be of mere entertainment value, with no real insight into the nature and wisdom of apocalyptic disaster and the human condition being affected. I wonder how this "gigantic" movie would exploit the trauma, disorientation and apprehensions still being experienced by our people because of the recent weather calamity. To say that this flick is a precautionary tale would probably be no more than an overstatement.
But yes, I will still watch "2012".
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