29 July 2002 | allan825
terror and pity
The opening of Imamura's masterpiece avoids mere sensationalism in its depiction of the unfathomably horrifying events of August 6th, 1945, in which 90% of Hiroshima and tens of thousands of lives were annihilated in an instant. Instead, Imamura emphasizes the unprecedented strangeness of the catastrophe, focusing on such portentous images as the diabolic mushroom cloud louring silently in the distance and the black rain that spatters a beautiful young woman's face. The rest of the film traces the ramifications of the latter incident, bringing the atomic holocaust and its aftermath (over 100,000 people died of radiation poisoning) down to the intelligible level of the plight of Yasuko (Yoshiko Tanaka) and her small "community bound by the bomb."
The survivors strive for normalcy and continuity, most notably by attempting to find a suitable marriage for Yasuko, but the imminent possibility of radiation sickness shadows every aspect of their lives. Yasuko's potential suitors, naturally enough, shy away from a young woman, no matter how attractive, who might suddenly grow sick and die. Genuine love, when it finally does appear, does so unexpectedly and ambiguously. We are left wondering if love across class lines is more a token of Yasuko's status as "damaged goods" or of a common humanity, thrown into bold relief by harsh circumstances, that transcends class divisions.
The film's classically restrained style intensifies the impact, the spare, eloquent interior shots reminding us that Imamura began his career as an assistant to the great Ozu. Imamura's mastery is evident, for example, in the paired scenes of Yasuko bathing, the first emphasizing her lovely back and legs, the second how her hair is falling out. The shots stand almost as bookends to the narrative's trajectory, distilling its tragic essence. The film's documentary-style realism is violated for expressive purposes several times, perhaps most notably in a scene that lays bare the troubled interior life of a shell-shocked veteran. Both the score by the renowned avant-garde composer Toru Takemitsu and the stunning black and white photography contribute greatly to the film's brooding atmosphere. When, in the final shot, Yasuko's uncle (Kazuo Kitamura), the film's laconic narrator, looks to the vacant sky for a rainbow as a sign of hope and regeneration, the black and white imagery suddenly becomes so poignant that it is almost unbearable. Few films from Japan (or anywhere else, for that matter) could be compared to the great, humanist Japanese masterpieces of the 1950s. This film is one of them. When I finished viewing it for the first time, I sat stunned, unable to move for at least five minutes, overwhelmed as I was by the emotions great tragedy should inspire: terror and pity.