Movie Impressions: Black Rain (Kuroi Ame)

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki occurred over sixty years ago, though they are still a topic of regular conversation, especially to those whose families were involved in the blasts. Even political figures regularly hotly and firmly debate the efficacy and moral standing of the last-ditch effort to end the war. Even films and television shows created to address the issue are tough to pick apart, seeing as many either paint one or both of the nations in dissenting lights – America as the victor, Japan as the victimized country, and so forth. As one of the seemingly few films to address the tragic end of the war, Shohei Imamura’s Black Rain is a harrowing account of those caught in the aftermath of the bombings and paints a picture that soundly illustrates both the implications and repercussions of war in all forms.

Little Yasuko is a young Japanese girl who has fled to Hiroshima to tuck herself away from enemy fire and being put to work in a war factory. Upon returning to the city from a staccato away trip, she is covered in a dusting of “black rain,” the radioactive soot under the calming guise of regular rain. Though diluted a bit by water, it isn’t any less dangerous than being caught in a nuclear blast, or being caught in the radius of a mushroom cloud. Yasuko journeys with her uncle and aunt through the city to speak with uncle Shigematsu’s supervisor, who instructs him to visit a monastery to send off the thousands dead properly. In this, Yasuko believes she’s found a sort of calm. The war is really over now, right?

Wrong. In the not so distant future, we see an older Yasuko who has found a home with her aunt and uncle in a peaceful town inhabited by victims from the nuclear blast. Many of their neighbors are sick with radiation poisoning, dying off slowly and agonizingly. While they may have “survived” the blast per se, many still suffer and live each day knowing that it could be their last. Yasuko lives amongst this pain and suffering, acutely aware of all of the sadness that exists around her, a relatively normal teenage girl who should not be worrying about such grave consequences. While no one is absolutely sure what radiation poisoning is actually capable of, Yasuko is extremely pessimistic about what will happen to her since she was caught in a bout of black rain. She cannot even find a partner in a relationship, not even via the village matchmaker, her status as a Hiroshima survivor forever etched into her being. The stigma attached to survivors is extremely eye-opening, as one would never really stop to think of being a survivor as a bad thing. Still, since the villagers are uneducated about the effects of radiation poisoning, they see her as a potential contaminant to both their health and seemingly peaceful way of life.

As waves of death surround Yasuko, her family, and the villagers, she finds strange comfort in the company of Yuichi, a sculptor who is a bit on the slow side of things. He suffers from a wartime illness, which puts a strain on their already bizarre relationship, but at the very least the two young people share calm in a time of unrest that is in startling contrast to the stark realism the rest of the movie showcases. It is not a gleeful movie and it is not one filled with hope. It is a movie that silently protests war in such a way that most people will not walk away from truly understanding, and a message about pacifism that most would learn a lot from.

It helps that this movie is presented in clear, sharp quality from AnimEigo, much like the rest of their recent reprinting and first issuing of classic Japanese films. There are a plethora of additional features on the disc to aid in your enjoyment of the film, such as an unused color ending that encompasses 17 entire minutes. It is a very bizarre alternate ending, and one that I am on the fence about whether or not it should have actually been included in the theatrical release for several reasons, one being its almost unholy attitude. It’s all very dreamlike and strange after seeing a movie that’s in crisp monochrome, presenting so much sadness and hopelessness turning into a Wizard of Oz-toned Technicolor paradise.

Aside from the extra ending, there is an interview with Takashi Miike, a director many of us know from gory classics such as Ichi the Killer, about his time spent assisting Shohei Imamura. There are also copious amounts of subtitle explanations, discussions of the former and current controversy surround Truman’s infamous decision, and even American propaganda created to incite hatred for the Japanese. It’s all very unsettling and strange to watch now, when we know the facts (or do we?) and can view it all from an unbiased vantage point.

Black Rain is quite disturbing, yet in its austerity it presents a calming and somber message that we can all take something away from.  It’s a film that should be recommended viewing for anyone looking to become educated about the events in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as a film for those looking for a window into the human psyche when it’s at its breaking point. It’s a masterful film made even more so by AnimEigo’s faithful reproduction. Perhaps if more films like this were made, we would not have the troubles we are facing these days. Just like Yasuko, one can only hope.

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