5.0 out of 5 stars After the bomb was dropped, the rain fell
After the initial explosion of the atomic bomb “Little Boy” over the city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, the skies turned black and rain began to fall. This rain, black and muddy, was so welcome by the survivors of the blast that some people even opened their mouths to drink the previous water, completely unaware that a new kind of death was falling from the sky. What the Japanese referred to as “kuroi ame,” black rain, we know now as nuclear fallout.
“Black Rain” (Japanese title “Kuroi Ame”) is an adaptation of the 1965 book of the same title by Masuji Ibuse, following the lives of a small family who were affected by the radiation poisoning following the atomic blast. One man, Shigematsu Shizuma (Kitamura Kazuo, Japan’s Longest Day), was directly affected by the blast itself, known as “pika” in Japanese, and carries an unhealing wound on his cheek. His wife Shigeko (Ichihara Etsuko, Samurai Rebellion) and niece Yasuko (Tanaka Yoshiko, Ringu 0) were not in Hiroshima city during the blast itself, but were under the black rain when it began to fall.
Shizuma, Shigeko and Yasuko try to make a life for themselves in a small village where there are a few other Hiroshima survivors, known in Japanese as hibakusha, facing discrimination and health problems lasting long after the war is over. Yasuko is still a young woman of twenty-five, and yet cannot find a husband as the cloud of Hiroshima and atomic disease hangs over her. Here uncle Shizuma tries to clear her name, producing doctor’s records attesting to her health, but the hibakusha are seen as tainted, and no family will agree to join themselves to the nuclear family. One by one, the hibakusha in the village begin to become sick and die, and Yasuko wonders when the cold hand of radiation poisoning will finally come to claim her.
A story like this seems ready made for melodrama and tears, but under the guiding hand of master director Imamura Shohei (Vengeance Is Mine, The Ballad of Narayama) we are presented with a much more personal family drama. Shizuma knows he is living under a guaranteed death sentence, but strives to find a husband for the still-healthy Yasuko before he dies. They go about their daily lives, making plans for the future such as stocking a local koi pond but always with the knowledge that the future is not theirs to have.
Probably my favorite scene in “Black Rain” is when Shizuma and a fellow hibakusha share a quiet moment drinking on the porch at night, wondering why exactly it was Hiroshima that was picked for the bomb, and not Tokyo. They aren’t shouting “woe is me” or expressing rage, merely curious as to why their homes were the target of the new weapon. That kind of scene, which really shows Imamura’s humanistic touch, raises the level of “Black Rain” to something more than a pity party.
The story flits between the present day villiage life, and flashback scenes to the bombing itself and the desperate escape Shizuma, Yasuko and Shigeko made through the burning streets of Hiroshima. The flashback scenes show the horrors that have become associated with Hiroshima; the charred human beings with the melted flesh of their fingers hanging down like gloves, the mercy of lack of pain with even the most hideous wounds due to nerves having been completely cauterized by the blast, the constant cries of “water,” “water” by those whose bodies were instantly dehydrated by the heat of the blast.
I went to school in Hiroshima, and have been to the Peace Park many times, and seen the artifacts of the blast in person, the shadow figures burned on walls, the clocks stopped at the exact time of the blast, the photographs of melted humans. Imamura does an elegant job of presenting all of this horror without wallowing in it, and never leaving behind the humanity inherent in the dead and the survivors.
Animeigo clearly considers “Black Rain” an important movie, because they have gone all out on the production of this DVD. Of course they did the usual excellent job with the subtitles, providing several options including straight subtitles, subtitles with “pop-up” cultural notes, and a unique non-subtitle option with only signs translated for those studying Japanese, in either white or yellow. They also commissioned something wonderful that has never been seen anywhere before this DVD.
Director Imamura originally intended “Black Rain” to have a color epilogue. (Remember, this movie was filmed in 1983, so the use of black-and-white was entirely a stylistic choice as would be seen in later films like Schindler’s List). Ultimately Imamura was not satisfied with the color epilogue, and the ending was re-shot in black-and-white. For the first time, Animeigo commissioned an edit of the 19-minute color epilogue and included it on this DVD for the first time. I agree with Imamura’s choice not to include it in the finished film, but it is really nice to have as an extra feature.
Also included on this DVD under the title of “Multimedia Vault,” are several US-produced propaganda films about Japan and the atomic bomb, including “Our Enemy: The Japanese,” “My Japan,” “A Tale of Two Cities: Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” “Atom Blast At Hiroshima” and “Truman Radio Address (6 August 1945).” There are two video interviews produced for this DVD, one with actress Tanaka Yoshiko, who played Yasuko, and one with director Miike Takeshi (Ichi the Killer, Audition) who worked on “Black Rain” as an assistant director.