Imamura ProductionRun Time:
123 minutes (+extended ending)Rating:
Historical Fiction/ DramaReview By:
Anthony CaraSeptember 3, 2010
- In film school we were taught to seek out “the films with the palms on the DVD box,” because more often than not, those palms were all that separated the dime-a-dozen low-budget-foreign-indy-art-house films from the truly gorgeous pieces of true cinema. When I first saw the box for Black Rain (not to be confused with the moderately decent Michael Douglas action film of the same title) my former film school student blood began to bubble with excitement at what was there. Black Rain has garnered more critical claim than can fit comfortably on the front cover of its own DVD- 25 awards and 4 nominations. It has garnered awards that cover nearly all aspects of the film making process- from technical excellence to acting and more, and I dare say it has earned them all!
Black Rain centers on the life of a young girl, Yasuko, and her aunt and uncle as they try to pick up their lives after the unparalleled devastation resulting from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The story begins the day of the bombing, at ground zero, and continues on for a few years as it shows the less often considered aftermath of such a tragedy. In covering such a somber, tragic story, films of this nature run the risk of being overtly sentimental, exploitative, and ultimately pedantic. While this film may at times, seem all of these things, it clearly avoids the temptation to sensationalize events and provides viewers with a film that is disturbingly beautiful and brutally honest.
After about ten minutes, the film’s story leaves Hiroshima, though in flashback in returns frequently throughout the film. The majority of the film is spent in Fukuyama City focusing on the lives of the Hiroshima survivors and their families. Though based on actual events and places, the rest of the film becomes strangely surreal. Fukuyama City appears normal enough- at first- as its citizens seem to have an average quality of life (albeit a contemplative one). The men fish, and speak of days past, women continue to seek suitors, and the busses continue to run. It doesn’t take long before the illusion of normalcy is shattered. The kind and gentle Yuichi, driven insane by his time spent in the military, leaps into attack mode at the sound of any engine, families are torn apart by the Yakuza prostitution scene, and one by one “survivors” begin to perish as a result of fallout-related illness. As the film progresses, the small town appears to become more and more remote, and eventually evolves into a type of purgatory, where its denizens can only wait passively for their time to come. [Not really a spoiler ahead but some may consider it one]
The small town’s fate runs a perfect parallel to Yasuko’s, as her own fears and insecurities slowly eat at her mind (and body) and she loses all semblance of reason. Though seeming to be the healthiest of the Hiroshima-surviving family, her fate too- is sealed by the Black Rain.
As previously mentioned the film is loaded with technical excellence and various elements worth mentioning. One of the films received accolades was for music. The score is indeed very powerful, but at times, it enters completely into the realm of melodrama. This melodramatic score, however, when combined with the black and white cinematography serve to accurately replicate the era in which the film supposedly exists. Ironically enough, a film about such subject matter, would never have been allowed in Japan’s tense, post-war atmosphere of censorship. The films sound track is also used to great effect. The lack of ambient sound just before the bomb’s destruction is unleashed is very powerful once contrasted with the violent cacophony which follows. Countless examples of careful choice in sound, lighting and set design can be found all throughout the film. Even the beautifully crafted Buddha statues that Yuichi sculpts, are eerily reminiscent of the charred, blackened corpses which littered the streets of Hiroshima in the film’s opening sequence. Just as the film makers took great care in crafting this film, the localization team did an excellent job of preparing this DVD for American release.
As I have come to expect of AnimEigo, they have once again gone the extra step in releasing a quality, feature loaded DVD. Extra touches one can expect to find on this DVD include interviews with the actor who portrayed Yasuko (Yoshiko Tanaka), cast and crew biographies, a vault of WW2 multimedia (not for the faint of heart), program notes, customizable subtitles an image gallery, trailers, and an interview with Takashi Miike. I suspect the last one was thrown in to boost sales as Miike had about as much to do with the creative process of this film as Tarantino did with any of the multitude of low grade films released in his name. The final, most interesting bonus feature is a twenty minute long full color alternate ending to the film.
Though the alternate ending was indeed interesting, I can clearly see the reason for its omission. The featurette continues on into the later life of Yasuko and actually carries on into the present- ultimately ending in a full color helicopter shot over modern-day (as of late 1980’s) Hiroshima. Though interesting, the alternate ending takes the film to a more blatantly obvious level of sociopolitical didacticism and cheapens the original story of this beautiful film.
For fans of Japanese film, World War 2 history and good cinema in general – this film is a must see. 8.5/
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