Kuroi ame (Black Rain) (1989) 

 

 

Director:     Shohei Imamura.

Starring:     Yoshiko Tanaka (Yasuko),  Kazuo Kitamura (Shigematsu Shizuma),  Etsuko Ichihara (Shigeko Shizuma),  Shoichi Ozawa (Shokichi),  Norihei Miki (Kotaro),  Keisuke Ishida (Yuichi),  Akiji Kobayashi (Katayama),  Kenjir Ishimaru (Aono),  Mayumi Tateichi (Fumiko of Ikemoto-ya),  Taiji Tonoyama (The Old Priest).

aunt and uncle try to prove their niece is not unhealthy due to radiation fallout and is, therefore, suitable for marriage 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

August 6, 1945.  Yesterday, the niece of the Shizuma family, named Yazuko, told the factory manager she would not be at work.  They used their neighbor's, Mr,. Nojima's, truck for purposes of evacuation. The young woman, a graduate of a girls' high-school, is staying with another family. 

The early morning was already hot.  Mr. Shigematsu Shizuma, was hurrying to the Yokogawa Station to catch the Kabe Rail train.  The atomic bomb goes off.  One of the men away from the blast asks:  "What the hell is that thing?"  It's the mushroom structure associated with an atomic bomb.  People in a boat wonder why the sky has become so dark.  The pilot says it must be a powerful new weapon of war.  Black rain starts coming down on the people in the boat. 

Mr. Shizuma tells his wife that there is no radio reception.  Mr.. Nojima has good relations with the fishermen.   They will probably come back by boat and Nojima will most likely dock at Ujina.  They must go to Ujina to meet their niece.  But Yazuko shows up at their place.  Mr. Shizuma wonders why she has so many spots on her face and coat.  Yazuko explains about the black rain.  She starts to clean her clothing.  The fire, however, is spreading in their direction, so the family must move to the factory where uncle works. 

Movement over the rubble is excruciatingly slow.  They have to get around myriads of downed wires.  A young boy named Kyuzo who is burned over 90 % percent of his body cannot be recognized by his brother.  The elder brother has to examine his belt buckle to make sure it is Kyuzo he is looking at.  Many people cry out for water.  A woman holds her completely charred baby in her arms.  A man hangs out of a upper story window and shouts:  "Where is Hiroshima?"  He falls out of the window.

Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Prefecture, May 1950.  Yazuko has just been given a clean bill of health from the doctor.  She and uncle are very happy about that for now she can find a husband.  An announcement is made from a roving loudspeaker that there will be a meeting tonight in commemoration of the Stockholm Proclamation for the abolition of nuclear weapons.  They will also have a rally against atomic weapons. 

Uncle and niece travel on a train and then take a bus up a mountain.  Uncle tells Yazuko that there is an opening at the post office because somebody quit.  But if she takes the job and then quits to get married, they might be very angry with Yazuko.  So Uncle says he will tell them that his niece cannot take the position.  They get off at the stop for Kobatake.  A fellow there named Yuichi suffers from shell shock, and thinking an arriving bus is an enemy tank, he rushes out to place rolled up cloth under the wheels of the bus in order to "explode" it.  After he has done this, he shouts that he destroyed the enemy. 

Uncle and niece walk to their home.  Uncle tells his wife that Yazuko's good health report will dispel the lousy rumors going around about her. 

Three guys fish for carp in the local stream.  A woman comes over to chide them about not working when everyone else has lots of works to do.  One of the men, Mr. Shokichi, explains that they are all A-bomb sickness patients.  They are fishing because it's by the order of their doctors.  If they do hard work, their bodies will rot away.  The fellow gets so irritated with the woman's sarcastic comments that the lady quickly scurries away. 

The young and pretty Fu-chan (or Fumiko) gets off the bus.  She asks about the health of Yuichi who placed another bomb under her bus.  She is a cabaret worker now.  Fumiko walks downhill to her mother's house.  Mother is "entertaining" a guest, another flash victim.  Fumiko tells her mother to tell no one she is here for she has Yakuza (Japanese organized crime) problems. 

Uncle has to admit that the health certificate backfired.  The mere presentation of the certificate aroused suspicions.  He speaks with his friend Kotaro, telling him that Yasuko was never exposed to the flash of the atomic bomb.  She was in Furue at the time.  He wants to speak to the family directly, but Kotaro explains that they have already made another choice for their son. 

Yazuko has had three tries with the match-maker and failed and, worse, she is already 25 years old.  Women talk about Yazuko saying that there is a rumor that she was actually at ground zero when the bomb went off.  Uncle hears his niece crying and he goes to her.  He asks her for his diary.  He is going to make a clean copy of the diary material dealing with the bomb and show the diary material around to prove that Yazuko was not in the flash.  He tells his wife he will add material from his own diary and account for the movements of all three family members.

Uncle thinks back to that day.  He remembers seeing charred bodies looking like black clay models. It was like hell there.  With fires in the area there were dangers of being injured by explosions.  Numerous bodies float down the various streams.  The family sleeps in a bamboo forested area.  The family gets up and walks into the night.  They finally reach their factory where they are warmly received by the other employees.  The next day the factory manager has Shizuma get some Buddhist funeral service books so he can read out passages for the many dead.  Later, on the radio, the Emperor makes a public broadcast announcing the surrender of Japan.  After sleeping for three days, the hives on uncle's head go away. 

Yuichi is still trying to blow up enemy tanks.  This time the drivers of a truck don't know him and they hit and kick Yuichi before other village residents can stop them. 

Yazuko has another potential match.  A meeting is set up between the aunt, uncle and niece on the one hand and the prospective groom, named Aono, on the other.  Kotaro is the go-between.  The suitor asks permission to court the niece.  Permission granted.  Aunt and uncle are sure this time the match will be a successful one, especially since Yazuko seems to be very enthusiastic about the match. 

A villager known as Katayama Kenjiro dies.  Some of the flash victims says it's strange that Katayama, not a victim of the flash, should have died before them, the flash victims. 

Shizuma has another flashback to Hiroshima.  He remembers getting together with other members of his village military unit.  Katayama was there, as well as Kotaro.  They comment that Hiroshima is no more.  Shizuma says nothing good comes of war. 

Aono is together with Yazuko again.  He says that the Korean War has really helped his factory.  She tells him that Mr. Katayama died recently and he had just walked through Hiroshima.  That is what Yazuko herself did. 

The family is worried.  They have learned that the old health issue has raised its ugly head again.  Kotaro speaks with uncle about it.  Yazuko comes over and tells the two men that she told Mr. Aono that she could become like Mr. Katayama at any time.  But Mrs. Aono knew about this before Yazuko told her prospective groom because of all the gossiping.  Uncle wonders if someone is sabotaging them again.  Kotaro says he will go directly to Aono and ask him how he feels.  Now Yazuko chimes in that she is not going to get married.  This news really bothers Kotaro, aunt and uncle.  Yazuko tells her aunt and uncle that she just wants to stay with them and help them as they become sicker.  Aunt and uncle say they can take care of themselves, but grandmother says she won't be able to face her ancestors if she marries.  (Grandmother thinks Yazuko is her daughter, rather than her granddaughter.) 

Auntie thinks that perhaps the spirit of Yazuko's deceased mother needs to be placated.  They must go visit the mother's grave.  Maybe this is why Yazuko is never lucky in love.  Uncle and Yazuko now visit Yazuko's father.  The father says he thinks Yazuko should come back to their home, since she is a burden to uncle.  Uncle tells Takamaru that the three of them are bonded by the Hiroshima bombing.  He asks Takamaru to please let Yasuko stay with them.  Yazuko also asks her father if she could stay in Kobatake.  Takamaru agrees to their wishes. 

At night news arrives that auntie has collapsed back home in Kobatake.  Uncle and Yasuko return to Kobatake.  Auntie has been using a medium and she tells her things that uncle thinks are ridiculous.  The medium has upset auntie again.  Uncle goes to the temple to tell the medium to stop telling his wife these ridiculous things.  He tells her if she comes over to his house, she will be sorry.  Meanwhile, Yuichi brings over one of his small statues to give to Yazuko.  She goes with him to look at some other of his statues.  But a man on a motorcycle comes up and Yuichi goes into another fit.  Yazuko runs out to the man on the motorcycle to tell him to turn off the motor.  The man thinks that she is Fumiko and won't listen to Yazuko's protests that she is not Fumiko.  Yuichi arrives and knocks the man down not once, but twice with his big stick.  

Uncle visits one of his friends, Shokichi, who is not feeling well at all.  He says he can hardly see anything anymore.  Shokichi asks uncle why did the Americans drop the A-bomb on them?  Uncle says that the Americans say it was to quicken the end of the war.   Shokichi is not quite satisfied with that answer, for he asks why didn't they A-bomb Tokyo then? 

Back home uncle learns from the doctor that his wife is not doing very well.  Uncle gives the clean copy of the combined diaries to the doctor and asks the doctor to read it and issue Yazuko another health certificate.  The doctor agrees.  Yazuko tells Yuichi that the three of them walked around in Hiroshima not knowing that the city was full of radioactivity.  She also says that she won't be surprised if suddenly she develops flash sickness.  Yazuko now asks him about his flashbacks.  Yuichi starts talking about it and again sees American tanks coming at him in his head.  He says his head feels like it just splits open. 

Kotaro rushes into the home to say that something has happened to Shokichi, but before he can get it out, he goes down.  A funeral is held for Shokichi and Kotaro.  Uncle says that now all three of the secondary effects victims have died, while he and his wife and other primary effects victims are still alive.  Yazuko studies her face in the mirror closely looking for signs of the flash sickness. 

The aunt starts to go crazy.  She screams:  "The flash is coming!"  She also sees images of the dead men Katayama and Shokichi.  She goes so crazy that her husband has to slap her to bring her back to reality  Yuichi's mother comes over to ask uncle if Yazuko can marry her son?  Yazuko now comes out and says that she likes Yuichi very much.  She finds him a good and a gentle man.  She leaves.  Uncle tells his neighbor that he will have to think about it for awhile.  She agrees and leaves.  Uncle now asks his wife what she thinks and she says she likes the idea.  It's the first real relationship that Yazuko has had with a man. 

Yazuko goes outside.  She cuts a piece of a plant off and seems to chew it.   She is not at the breakfast table and the aunt doesn't find her in her room. Uncle and aunt go look for her.  Uncle points out that somebody has been eating the aloe plant and figures it must be Yazuko.  He says they must find her right away. 

Yazuko is with Yuichi.  The doctor is called for her.  He gives her an injection.  Doc says Yazuko has been treating herself with the aloe plant for the tumor she has on her bottom, but it's getting worse.  He says her real problem is that she is convinced that  the flash has got her now.  The doctor wants all three of them to go back home.  They can keep Yazuko's spirits up there.  All three of them need a lot of rest.  At home Yazuko becomes very concerned as her hair starts to fall out.  (Some nudity in this scene.)  The aunt sees this and she also becomes very scared.  She tells her husband what is happening.  He runs to see Yazuko and his wife falls to the ground. The aunt dies one month later.  Yasuko's condition has stabilized, but she has to have a lot of rest.

Yuichi's mother tells the uncle that Yazuko is in great bodily pain and throws up her medicine.  She thinks she should be in a hospital. 

The news says that President Truman says he would think about using the atomic bomb in Korea but it would depend on the assessment of the generals in the field.  Uncle says:  "Humans are obstinate creatures."

Yazuko is very sick and has to be rushed to the hospital.  Yuichi goes with her.  Uncle is left to ponder if he will be the only one of the three left. 

 

Good movie.   I especially liked watching the reaction of the Japanese to the devastation caused by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. But the suffering for many survivors did not end there.  Many of these survivors fell victim to what they called flash sickness.  Uncle and Aunt of niece Yazuko watch as uncle's friends die one by one.  Surprisingly, those not having faced the flash itself start dying before those who did.  What many of the survivors didn't realize was that walking around in Hiroshima was a death sentence because many became victims of radioactivity.  The film is good because it shows the direct devastation of the atomic bomb, but then the long range devastation from radioactivity as well. Yes, aunt and uncle desperately try to convince the families of possible suitors for Yazuko that she is healthy, but also had to deal with the realization on the part of Yazuko that she is going to be a victim anyway of Hiroshima, even if she hadn't seen the flash.  Yazuko resigns herself to taking care of her aunt and uncle because she knows they will die early, but also resigns herself to her own death from radiation sickness.  The atomic bomb just kept on killing, even after the clouds cleared away.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

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