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Black Rain – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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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.

Black Rain is an adaptation of the 1965 book of the same name by author Masuji Ibuse. The story follows the lives of a small family as they deal with the immediate and long-term aftermath of the deadly Hiroshima atomic bombing that took place on August 6, 1945. The head of the family, Shigematsu Shizuma (Kitamura Kazuo) was the only member of the family to have been directly affected by the bomb when it hit Hiroshima. His wife Shigeko (Ichihara Etsuko) and young niece Yasuko (Tanaka Yoshiko) were not in the city at the time of the bomb blast, but returned afterwards to only experience that of what was known as “black rain” at the time. It was later discovered that the black rain was actually radioactive debris that fell back onto land after the blast.

We then move forward a couple of years later to as we witness Shizuma, Shigeko and Yasuko beginning to start a new life within a small village. Living within the village with them are other Hibakusha (Hiroshima survivors), most who are facing difficult health problems stemming from the experience. Yasuko is yet unmarried, which is uncommon for her age. Her attachment to the Hiroshima bombing has made it extremely hard for her to find suitable partner. Shizuma tries to help Yasuko find a partner, but people discriminate against her because she is a survivor of Hiroshima and thus “tainted”. Shizuma doesn’t believe that Yasuko could’ve been affected by the bombing due to her not being in the city at the time of the explosion, but when various members within the village community begin to slowly die from radiation poisoning, Shizuma and Yasuko ponder if they are to be next.

Black Rain is an excellent cinematic portrayal that explores not only what the survivors experienced before, during and after the explosion of the bomb, but also addresses how the lingering effects of such a weapon can transpire throughout a survivors life. What we see is the plight of the “forgotten” survivors—outcasts within their own country, they were affected by the bomb, and whether directly or indirectly, are all still one in the same when viewed by others who weren’t involved. Throughout the film, the characters constantly refer to experiencing “pika-don” (English translation: Pika referring to the flash of light, Don referring to the thunderous blast)—and speculate its longstanding effects that appear out of nowhere and afflict those exposed to the explosion. The film expertly weaves between showcasing both the past and present to reinforce how one fateful day can alter one’s life forever, but also addresses the uncertainty that existed during that time in actually understanding the true damage the bomb had afflicted upon the survivors.

Director Imamura does a fantastic job of presenting this story in such a realistic light. While all this suffering is surrounding the characters within the film, he finds a way to showcase the rather small moments within their lives—in a sense, this brings forth the notion that these are characters who are trying to move on, but the physical and psychological effects of their experiences pervade their very existence. Having escaped the bombing seemingly unscathed, they are constantly reminded of their suggestive ailments throughout their daily lives. Imamura does an effective job of showing us how humans deal with horrific events, and asks us how does one move on after experiencing such an event?

Imamura also chose the artistic approach of having the film shot entirely in black and white. The film was released in 1989, and the choice to have the film in black and white was based entirely on artistic merits, but it seems appropriate given the subject matter at hand. During the Hiroshima scenes, the horrific nature of the content shown is only amplified because of the usage black and white film; the scenes are eerily reminiscent to the archival photos of the victims taken after the bombing. I don’t feel this same feeling would’ve been attained if the film were in color. This approach really envelops the viewer into an era that has since passed.

Overall, Black Rain is a strong and poignant film for not only examining such a terrible event as the Hiroshima bombing, but also for its intimate approach in how that one event affects an entire community years after. Imamura presents issues that really delve into the psychology that existed during a post-Hiroshima era; a psychological state that is as unwary as it is appreciative towards what life has to offer. A film free from political persuasiveness and blame, Black Rain examines how the tragic effects of war don’t suddenly end when one side is defeated. For the survivors, the effects are still experienced long afterwards.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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