Half Empty, Since 1998

Summary of, and comments on the 1989 film by Japanese director Imamura about A-bomb survivors in post-WW2 Japan.

Marty's Notes On "Black Rain"

Marty Spellerberg. February 2nd, 2000

This is the story of a family that survived the dropping of the atomic bomb and their place in society as a result. It’s told in three narrative modes: the flashbacks of the uncle portraying their trek through the horror and destruction, the “present day” of their lives in a rural town and a brief flashback by the man the niece loves to the source of his shell shock. In the present day the uncle is trying to find a husband for her niece, doing all he can to prove her health despite having been hit by the black rain. All around him his friends are manifesting the signs of radiation sickness and dying, and on the radio he hears speculation that the bomb will be dropped again by the Americans in Korea. Even his wife, who had always been strong, shows symptoms and is weak. The story ends when it becomes clear that the niece does indeed have the sickness and it overtakes and kills her.

The survivors are outcasts, they are not wanted by the rest of the country. They are sick and need to rest, but their lack of work is criticized. They are resented for not dying the glorious death and not letting the bomb be forgotten. In the film no respectable family will let their sons marry the niece, for the black rain hit her and she is feared unable to bear children. For her part, she can’t talk about the bomb with any of her suitors and must put up a healthy, happy mask. So she is drawn to the boy next door, an ex soldier so shell shocked that whenever he hears a motorcar he attacks it as if it were an enemy tank, compensation for his inability to perform his function properly during battle. The climax of the film is that the uncle does concede that his efforts to reenter her into normal life are futile and resigns himself to the fact that they are different, they can only be understood and accepted by their own kind.

While I’m sure the moral of the film is wide open for attack, I understand that he has also been criticized for creating an account of the bomb’s follow up that is extremely middle of the road. I can understand why he did this, I think — an urge to fill in the large gap of silence about the period. I think it’s a double edge sword he’s faced with because if there was a stronger body of work dealing with these people he would be safer doing a more subjective, and presumably more “accurate,” piece. But as it is there are so few that his must speak for a much broader audience and the result is, consequently, somewhat watered down. Americans were never singled out as the cause of all the destruction – always characters referred to the “enemy.” Only on the radio, in reference to a different war, was the term “Americans” used.


Marty’s Japanese Film Notes

These notes were compiled in the winter of 1999 as part of Marty’s studies at the Ontario College of Art & Design. They may contain references to ideas in texts and credit is given to the authors.