21 November 2010 | TheUnknown837-1
A bold, sobering portrait of humanity with a plethora of important sociological footnotes demanding to be explored
I am a pioneer to the films of Shohei Imamura. I've been aware of his legacy, which ranks alongside other Japanese directors such as Yasujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa, for a long time but I've only just started to expose myself to his creative prowess. The first and only Imamura movie that I have seen to date is his 1989 film "Black Rain" unrelated to the Michael Douglas thriller of the same name. And all I can say is that based on this one experience, I am more than ecstatic to continue delving into this artist's plethora of films.
Mr. Imamura was celebrated for the way that he provocatively told stories that exposed the good and bad in not mankind, but the society of his own country. In this film, for example, he examines the effects of the bombing of Hiroshima on a small group of people. However, as one would not expect from a Japanese filmmaker (or any director, regardless of his race) he does not go for a sentimental approach. He does not go for a cheap shot plot that could be worked into a target for political controversy and false anti-American accusations.
"Black Rain" is not about who dropped the bomb or why it was dropped. What it is about is the way that the bombing or Hiroshima and Nagasaki influenced not only the physical health of Japanese people, but their morality and sense of ethics. After the movie's sobering open, it follows an aunt and uncle and their attempts to find a husband for their niece. The problem is that all three of them were exposed to the radiation of the H-bomb and have, in many ways, been shunned by those who were fortunate enough to escape the nuclear holocaust. During this time, radiation poisoning was like a scarlet letter: a label forewarning the healthy from the condemned as if the victims of Hiroshima had brought this tragedy upon themselves. Just as people in the United States turned on each other after the loss of the Vietnam War, the people of Japan turned on each other following their loss. And Mr. Imamura shows that with astounding detail.
That great New York Times critic Vincent Canby made a sobering remark in his excellent review of the film. Mr. Imamura's intent was not to make us weep, but to open our eyes and make us think about our own morality. Because after all, isn't there a fair amount of scapegoating placed upon people with tuberculosis, cancer, and AIDS in our own society?
Mr. Imamura, like his peer Akira Kurosawa, was clearly an artist with an eye for detail. It can be found all throughout his film, but just look at the opening sequence, depicting the bombing. There is a real sense of horror in the movie as we see the mushroom cloud, the poisonous black rain, and finally the decimation of the city itself. As many characters in this scene note, "Hiroshima is gone" and replaced with an apocalypse created by man.
Mr. Imamura co-wrote the screenplay with Toshiro Ishido and created a very memorable story. He has also has a great cast. Kazuo Kitamura and Etsuko Ichihara are convincing both physically and psychically as the aunt and uncle fearing their own deaths but hoping for a better life for their niece. She is played by Yoshiko Tanaka, a very good actress whom Godzilla fans will likely recognize. Supporing performances are created by Shoichi Ozawa, Keisuek Ishida, Akiji Kobayashi, and many others, all of whom help complete this magnificent, haunting portrait of humanity.
"Black Rain" is a very, very good movie that I think should be required study in not only film and film history classes, but sociology as well. For there is a lot of psychological footnotes made by Mr. Imamura regarding society, ethics, and social status. And furthermore, he had the guts not to wrap up with a throwaway ending, but an ending that leaves you in the place of many Japanese people of the late 40s/early 50s: hoping for the best, but fearing the worst.