'Black Rain' -- Imamura's Masterwork

Directed by: Shohei Imamura, Runtime: 123 minutes
Grade: A
Black Rain (Kuroi Ame), Shohei Imamura's potent film about the World War II bombing in Hiroshima, delivers one of the strongest narratives that I've encountered in foreign cinema. This intricate masterwork does innumerable things correctly where other war films go awry. Instead of slapping on too much material and lambasting the viewer with ridiculous levels of military stratagems, Imamura's piece instead concentrates on afterthoughts and character reverberations through an acute visual style. Outside of the condemnation of military strife, this film serves more as a portrait of the time period instead of a message-based delivery. However, Black Rain does take on a theme revolving around the effects of human inflicted devastation, and the willpower it takes to combat succumbing to hardship.

Based on the novel of the same name by Ibuse Masuji, Imamura's film is an illustrative work that focuses heavily on the physical effects of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima -- notably on the Shizuma family and their niece, Yasuko (Yoshiko Tanaka). If the initial blast didn't claim a citizen's life, then the genetic mutation following the blast would scourge the exposed more often than not. This harrowing act and its wave of effects isn't something easy to catch on film, but Black Rain captures the moments directly after the blast that can barely be imagined -- something that we wish we never had once we've seen the possibility -- in frightening, wholly believably ways. Of course, this film stringently presses exceedingly strong anti-war messages once the effects become clear as day; however, it's the themes that walk side by side with these messages that give the viewer added strength.

Black Rain can be looked at predominately as a dramatic insight into humanity's capacity to cope with such a past, as well as a dissection of how they suppress both physical and emotional repercussions from the attack. However, it's also effective as a disturbing physical film displaying the direct horrors of atomic warfare. When a younger boy stumbles up to his elder brother with skin dripping from his bones, chills trail up and down your own skin at the thought -- and at the dramatic implications. It's not just the unsettling vision of his body, but also the evocation felt for the normal child swallowed whole by this menace. Imamura doesn't just show this to invoke fear or grotesqueness within the viewer; he thrusts this boy, as well as an implausible number of other bodies, in hindsight to illustrate the extreme effects of the atomic explosion, effects that would be mildly infused into each and every victim.

But the viewer doesn't see these "victims" in the town during the focal time frame five years later. Instead, Black Rain displays humanistic characters trying with all their might to endure amid the travesty through a tainted existence that's ready to erupt at any moment. That central conflict is one of the core themes within this film, a sense of fuming humanity mixed with the life-crippling black substance fallen from the sky on that day. Certainly, standard war and military messages leak though, as clearly stated in a translated line from the film reflecting the statement that "war is bad", but the alternative strong themes lie in human perseverance. This willpower fluctuates between each individual character, determined directly by the effect suffered from the bomb, and oftentimes alters their perception of the people around them.

For some, such as Yasuko and her aunt and uncle, they strive to achieve a life filled with as much normalcy as possible. Yasuko works to find a husband, all the while deeply vexed by the possibility of her body giving way to the imminent sickness she's taken on from the splattering of "Black Rain". Her plague, though only a potential threat at the time, fleshes out to be a deterrent during her engagement problems, but she doesn't let this completely affect her demeanor. Yoshiko Tanaka delivers a masterful performance, brimming with subdued yet struggling effervescence as she fights to find a place within her changed world. The Shizumas, also exposed to this epidemic during the explosion, purely fight to stay afloat and healthy during their strife. Health and Yasuko are their only real concerns, shown by their tear-worthy drives to outline her after-bombing existence through searching for a husband -- and resiliently insisting that she's not a direct bomb victim.

Others, however, have to deal with the mental distortion that the bomb created. Yuichi, an ex-soldier turned psychotic "road protector" who carves stone gargoyles of frightened faces, clearly lost something during the explosion, as did many others to varying degrees. Mental strife, however, doesn't just come in the form of insanity; waning morale also torments many of the townsfolk. It's clearly shown through a set of fisherman, even those without effort hold a hopeless demeanor that prevents them from trying to harness life's potential. As stated in the film, "men with narrow minds think things and imagine others". The psychological status of the survivors, both as a hive-mind and as individuals, provides the most compelling elements in Black Rain, showcasing their deconstruction following an American act seen as a brutal yet necessary war-shortening decision.

If anything is to be learned from Imamura's haunting portrait, it's that humanity holds the capacities to stomach passed the atrocities of life, war, and conflict and try ardently to force through these hardships. That is, if they muster the power to do so. Black Rain reminds that everyone is a victim that's involved in a crisis, whether physically assailed or mentally afflicted. But if they press forward and care for themselves, then they'll live out as strong of an existence as possible. Certainly, war is a horrible thing; however, no matter how ominous the effects, humanity can still salvage life amidst the corruption. Black Rain gives the viewer a devastatingly beautiful anti-war vision, but it also gives off a message of willpower delivered through a very tough narrative.


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