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Black Rain (1989)

Also known as Kuroi Ame, this film has the look and feel of a film shot in 1950. The film is about the devastation caused by the dropping of the atomic bomb, on the survivors. The film begins in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 as people 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. Zombie like creatures with their faces melted away roam the streets begging for water. 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.

The film tells the story of Mr and Mrs Shizuma, and their niece Yasuko, make their way through the ruins of Hiroshima, just after the atomic bomb has dropped. Yasuko was not exposed to th “flash”, but did have drops of black rain fall on her face in the aftermath of the bombing. Is she “damaged goods?”

Five years later, Yasuko is living with her aunt and uncle, and her senile grandmother, in a village containing many of the bomb survivors. Yasuko does not appear to be affected by the bomb, but the Shizumas’ are worried about her marriage prospects, because there are “rumors” about her exposure to the bomb.

The movie begins to unfold like a story of Ozu, who Imamura had begun his career under, except the tone is much, much darker. But the same desperation is there : the family must find an appropriate spouse for Yasuko for the sake of the family honor (and also for Yasuko herself).

There is an interesting dialogue about half way throught the movie between Mr. Shizuma and a friend.

“Something’s been puzzling me. Why did the Americans drop the A-bombs? Even if they hadn’t done it, Japan’s defeat was already certain.”

“Why did they do it …? They say it was to end the war quicker.”

“Then why didn’t they do it in Tokyo? Why did they bomb Hiroshima?”

“I don’t really understand it.”

“I won’t be at peace if I die without understanding why.”

As Yasuko prospects fade Mr. Shizuma begins carrying exerpts from her diary and a doctor’s report that “proved” she was healthy, and wasn’t exposed to the “flash” but only to the “black rain.” It almost takes on the aspect of his marketing an animal for sale in the market.

There is also a former soldier in the village, Yuichi,, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and runs out whenever he hears a motor and tries to place a rock (bomb) under the passing vehicle. During the was he was on a suicide squad that tried to blow up enemy tanks. The scenes almost play like comic relief, but Imamura keeps the tone very serious.  Yasuko finds she can talk to him and they soon form a bound. When the subject of marriag is brought up Yasuko is not against it.
Imamura examines the horror inflicted on the thousands of people (over 100,000 people died of radiation poisoning) by showing us the tragic lives of Yasuko and her family. The movie is slow moving and really doesn’t have a compelling narrative story, but the overall story presented is compelling and very important.

It’s hard to believe that a director who was so irreverent and comedic in Warm Water under a Red Bridge could be so serious in this movie. But when you think about it it is because of the subject matter. By 1989 Japan was able to take a look at the devastation that had been wrougth on them by the atomic bombs. I think they are going to begin to examine the issue of whether nucleur weapons was a reasonable response to their milartism, which they take responsibility for. I’m sure future Japanese film makers are going to examine this in even greater detail.

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