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BLACK RAIN (1989)
Published by Miranda on 2009/12/7 (1084 reads)
BLACK RAIN (1989)
Directed by Shohei Imamura
Review by Jason Tosta
Released by: AnimEigo
Running Time: 123 Minutes
Color format: B/W
Audio/Subtitles: Japanese Audio/English Subtitles
Region Code: 1, NTSC
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic 1.85:1
16:9 Enhanced: Yes
Special Features: Color Alternate Ending, Cast/Crew Interviews, Multimedia Vault, Image Gallery, Cast/Crew Bios, Program Notes, Trailer
Trailer Online: Yes
BLACK RAIN is an extremely powerful film from acclaimed Japanese director Shohei Imamura, based on the novel by Ibuse Masuji. It deals with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and the physical and psychological devastation left in its wake. This is a film that is as heartbreaking as it is haunting.
On August 6, 1945 the United States drops the first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The Shimazu family lives right outside the city and sees the flash as the bomb hits. Their niece, Yasuko, is in a boat off the coast and is exposed to the fall-out laden “black rain” that comes down afterward. Once on land, she runs to her aunt and uncle’s house. The group flees through the nightmarish devastation that used to be Hiroshima.
Now, we move to 1950 and the Shimazu family, along with Yasuko, is living as normal a life as possible in a village containing many bomb survivors. Many people here who lived through “the flash” as they call it, have gotten sick and died. Those who are not sick seem to be waiting to become sick. Yasuko’s aunt and uncle have been trying to arrange a marriage for her, but none of the families of the grooms want a “flash victim” in their family. Her uncle tries to tell them that she was not exposed to the flash itself, but only the “black rain” that followed. He even goes as far as having a local doctor write her a certificate of health. This doesn’t help.
As the film progresses, more characters become sick and die. It almost seems as if the whole village is the walking dead. They all live a lonely existence, fearful of the future. Yasuko becomes infatuated with another victim of the war, a local boy who was part of an anti-tank military unit. Now, mentally scarred, he chases after any motorized vehicles that come by and attempts to disable them with a stick and a pillow. It’s sadly funny. Eventually, the sickness strikes the Shimazu family closer to home. They all must brace themselves for the most uncertain of futures.
BLACK RAIN is an incredibly heavy viewing experience. Watching all of these innocent characters deal with the mental and physical horrors of the atomic blast aftermath is very depressing. Their constant struggle to find normalcy in their lives, as well as the ever present reality that sickness and death loom near, really tear your heart out. The acting is spot on and very powerful, especially Yoshiko Tanaka’s turn as Yasuko. Her character anchors the film, and she delivers a stunningly strong and tender performance.
On the production side, the directing by Shohei Imamura is masterful. As I watched this film, I felt as if weights were being added to my shoulders every few minutes, until finally at the end, I was physically slouching in my seat. He constructs scenes in a way that maximize their power and effect. The black and white photography by Takashi Kawamata is suitably stark. This is a bleak film and his cinematography reflects this perfectly. Even though BLACK RAIN was shot in 1989, the late 40’s and early 50’s time period is represented flawlessly. All of the production aspects are top notch, especially the bomb blast sequence at the beginning of the film.
If the film has any weakness at all, it’s the length. At 123 minutes, things start to drag a bit in the middle section. I never got bored, but there were instances when I thought, “Do we really need this scene?” One of these scenes involved the introduction of a villager woman’s daughter who comes back to visit. She has left her job at a big city cabaret because of Yakuza trouble. This character is never fleshed out any further and her storyline seems unnecessary.
BLACK RAIN reminded me in a way of the 1983 American film TESTAMENT. In that film, a nuclear bomb is dropped on the west coast of the U.S. The fallout drifts east and people in Middle America start dropping like flies. You never see the blast. People just start getting sick and dying. It too is powerful and immensely depressing, but at least it isn’t based on a real event. The atomic bomb was really dropped on those poor souls in Hiroshima and the whole time that I was watching this film, I was left thinking how many innocent people actually suffered the same fate as these characters. BLACK RAIN at times feels more documentary than narrative. That adds to the strength this movie has to affect its audience.
BLACK RAIN is a wonderfully crafted film that delivers an engrossing two hours of drama. Highly recommended.
Animeigo creates a packed special edition for this film. First, we have two interviews, one with Assistant Director Takashi Miike and the other with Actress Yoshiko Tanaka. Both interviews are informative and reveal some behind-the-scenes tidbits. Miike, now a very accomplished Director himself, refers to his role in the crew as “more like that of a dog.” Hilarious. Next, we have a section entitled “Multimedia Vault.” Contained here is a photo gallery of images of the “Fat Man” and “Little Boy” bombs themselves and the graphic aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Up next are four U.S. war department films from the time. These short government films are interesting and provide a historical context for the feature. These are followed by a short radio address by U.S. President Truman from 1945 regarding the bombings. The most interesting extra though is the 19-minute color alternate ending. It is a dramatic change in tone compared to the one in the film. Some may think it’s the more “complete” ending, but I like the original one as it stands. It’s much more powerful. As if these extras weren’t already enough, we also get a production image gallery, and wonderfully detailed text-based extras, including program notes and cast/crew bios. Lastly, the film’s trailer is provided. Animeigo produces an amazing disc for an amazing film.
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