Imamura’s Hiroshima film: “Black Rain”


Imamura’s Hiroshima film “Black Rain” (Kuroi ame, 1989) was made after Kinoshita’s Nagasaki one (“Children of Nagasaki,” 1986). Both have some horrific scenes of those dying or dead immediately following the blasts, but both primarily follow those exposed to radiation poisoning and dying later (without showing much of the physical agony).

The stalwart trying to help others as he weakens in Imamura’s movie is Shizuma Shigematsu (Kitamura Kazuo). Unlike in Kinoshita’s film, the beneficent protagonist’s wife, Shigeko (Ichihara Etsuko) is not killed in the initial impact; he has a wife but they have no children. The wife’s sister’s daughter, 20-year-old Yasuko (Tanaka Yoshiko), was staying with them and stays with them. She was not in Hiroshima for “the flash,” but had some of the black rain fall on her (and crossed the radioactive ruins of the city).


Much of the movie shows Shigematsu’s frustration at not being able to arrange a marriage match for Yasuko. (It is 1950 and they are living in the village of Takafuta, still within the prefecture of Hiroshima.) Even the clean bill of health from a physician is cause for suspicion that she will not be able to bear children (or live, but the primary concern of) families with sons is reproductive capacity).

The post-traumatic stress disorder is most flagrantly represented by a neighbor, Yuichi (Ishida Keisuke), who freaks out whenever he hears the motor of a vehicle (bus, truck, even motorcycle). He rushes out to stop what he believes is an American tank. He is also a talented carver of soft stone. Aside from going crazy whenever a vehicle comes down the road, he is of distinctly lower social station that the Shizumas (Yasuko is not one, but is of comparable status).

There is also Shigematsu’s semi-senile mother, and two friends with greater radiation damage, one of whom is particularly distressed that he is going to die without understanding why Hiroshima was targeted, since the war-makers were concentrated in Tokyo.

The movie is somber with more western funereal music from Takemitsu Toru than in most of the Takemitsu soundtracks I have heard. It was shot in black and white by Kawamata Takashi (Cruel Story of Youth, The Castle of Sand, The Demon), who won the Japanese Academy Award for cinematography for his efforts. (Japanese movies of the 1980s, including Kinoshita’s earlier Nagasaki film, were shot in color.) It lacks the bawdiness of most Imamura movies, though the dismay at Japanese intolerance (blaming the victim) dovetails with his other films.

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

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