Black Rain

Original title
Kuroi Ame
Japanese title
  • 黒い雨
Running time
123 minutes
8 June 2006
Black Rain Black Rain Black Rain


At first glance Imamura's adaptation of the novel of the same name by Masuji Ibuse appears one of his least typical films, especially after the grandiose productions of Eijanaika and Zegen. An intimate home drama set mostly at the beginning of the 50s, its carefully composed monochrome photography reminds us that Imamura began his career as an assistant to Yasujiro Ozu at Shochiku. With its story centred around the attempts of Shigematsu (Kitamura) and Shigeko (Ichihara) to marry off their niece Yasuko (Tanaka), her blood tainted after the atomic blast that destroyed most of Hiroshima, Black Rain sometimes feels like a hibakusha take on such films as Early Spring.

A slightly closer look betrays the hand of its master. Unlike Ozu's immaculate visual tableaux the framing is slightly skewed, with doors, window frames and other assorted foreground clutter intruding into the edge of the frame. Imamura's rural lower class characters are also not as restrained by social etiquette as Ozu's. His vivacious, down-to-earth women in particular are the lifeblood of the community, refusing to let themselves be quashed by the cancerous legacy of the bomb, as the men put on a brave face and resign themselves to the fact that they could be cut down by radiation sickness at any point. The dark mushroom of Hiroshima, August 6th 1945, hangs over everything as years later they attempt to pick up their lives, laying aside a nearby pond to raise carp, apparently an effective cure for diseased blood, and cultivating pots of aloe plants to alleviate the continuous suffering of their burns.

The explosion itself, effectively if modestly staged (it seems almost perverse that animated recreations such as Barefoot Gen capture the full horror better than live-action can), occupies only a small part of the film, with its surviving characters including Yasuko avoiding the main blast only to fall victim to the radiation as they are caught in the black rain returning across the Inland Sea. The rest focuses on the zestful interactions of this small community of survivors, featuring such memorable characters as the shell-shocked war veteran Yuichi (Ishida), whose Pavlovian response to passing vehicles is to dive beneath their wheels clutching a pretend bomb, and the primitive Shamaness who offers spiritual snake oil to Shigeko against the advice of her husband.

Beautifully shot, and featuring such sobering visions as that of the beautiful Yasuko watching her hair come out in clumps as she combs it in front of the mirror, Imamura's masterpiece is definitely not to be confused with the Ridley Scott action movie starring Michael Douglas, Ken Takakura and Yusaku Matsuda that came out with the same title the very same year.