Black Rain (1989) 黒い雨

Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Runtime: 123 minutes
Director: Shôhei Imamura
Starring: Yoshiko Tanaka, Kazuo Kitamura, Etsuko Ichihara, Shoichi Ozawa

Theme: War

IMDB: 8.1/10 | Rotten Tomatoes: 83%

Film Festivals:
1989 Cannes Film Festival
1989 Asia-Pacific Film Festival
1989 Ghent International Film Festival

1989 Cannes Film Festival: Prize of the Ecumenical Jury / Technical Grand Prize
1989 Asia-Pacific Film Festival: Best Screenplay (Toshirô Ishidô)
1990 Awards of the Japanese Academy: Best Actress (Yoshiko Tanaka) / Best Cinematography (Takashi Kawamata) / Best Director (Shôhei Imamura) / Best Editing / Best Film / Best Lighting / Best Music Score / Best Screenplay / Best Supporting Actress (Etsuko Ichihara)
1990 Blue Ribbon Awards: Best Actress (Yoshiko Tanaka)
1989 Ghent International Film Festival: Georges Delerue Prize, Grand Prix
1989 Hochi Film Awards: Best Actress
1991 Independent Spirit Awards: Best Foreign Film

1989 Cannes Film Festival: Palme d’Or
1990 Awards of the Japanese Academy: Best Art Direction / Best Sound

Black Rain (1989) is a film based on the aftermath of the nuclear bombings in World War II. It tells of life in Japan after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed, with the film following the lives of survivors (hibakusha) who were contaminated by the radioactive fallout – also known as black rain. They struggle with social discrimination and suffer from isolation in psychological repercussions that may be much worse than the health damage they experienced. The film is based on Masuji Ibuse’s titular novel of 1965.

Essentially, the film focuses on Yasuko, a young girl who was not in Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped. However, while returning to Hiroshima to find her uncle and aunt, she was exposed to the ‘black rain’ together with other survivors who were searching through the contaminated ruins. With the ebb of time, Yasuko and her fellow survivors begin to resemble time bombs, with certain telltale signs of their sickness and ultimate death.

First of all, to fully appreciate this film, we have to understand why director Shohei Imamura shot it in black and white, and that is because he felt that this was the best way to convey the magnitude of the atomic destruction. It wasn’t just the deaths or debris, but also the way people went about their lives. Life was bleak and stark. Furthermore, the use of black and white film played an important part in amplifying the horrific nature of the incident; it evoked an eerie resemblance to the archival photos of the victims after the bombing. The choice of black and white had artistic merits.

Imamura did not set out to create a film condemning anyone for the war or the incident that led to its end. America for example, was only mentioned once throughout the film. What he did really wanted to do through Black Rain was to make a statement against war in general. Furthermore, a deeper look into the film’s narrative and focus reveals that what Imamura really wanted to condemn his own country for the way they went about picking themselves up/recovering after the bombing.

Imamura interjects realism with the underlying horror of the whole post-bomb situation gripping the country and the peoples’ attempts to recover. He intersperses shocking scenes of “impressionistic horror” (Schenker, 2009) between calm mundane domesticated scenes. Some examples include the upping of lighting and sound for flashback scenes that dramatically change the mood in an instant, and the use of haunting images of unrest. A pertinent example would be the recurrent shots of the quintessential household clock, given exceptional prominence in these scenes through the shadows cast by the hands burnt during the nuclear meltdown.

Black Rain is an excellent cinematic portrayal that explores not only what the survivors experienced before, during and after the explosion of the bomb, but also addresses how the lingering effects of such a weapon can transpire throughout a survivors life. Throughout the film, the characters constantly refer to experiencing “pika-don” (English translation: pika refers to the flash of light and don refers to the thunderous blast)— and speculate its longstanding effects that appear out of nowhere and afflict those exposed to the explosion. The opening scene is a good example that brings out pikadon – where survivors aboard a train experience a sudden bright flash of light followed by an immense blast that pulverizes through the interior of the train. The entire scene is a visual spectacle that allows us, as viewers to understand and experience the impact and disorientation of the blast. It’s as if the entire world was torn apart in one blinding instant.

The imminent message is that macro worldly decisions can have potential repercussions on the micro-individual scale. One fateful decision, one fateful day, and one’s life course can be changed forever. The weaving of past and present further reinforces the uncertainty that existed then over the collateral damage that the bomb had afflicted on survivors.


Schenker, A. (2009, October 15) Movie review: Black Rain. Retrieved October 27, 2010, from



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