Those who pay the price

Wednesday, August 28, 1991

By Susannah Begg and Vannessa Hearman

Black Rain
Directed by Shohei Imamura
Reviewed by Susannah Begg and Vannessa Hearman

It was a hot, still day on August 6, 1945, when the A-bomb descended from the sky over Hiroshima. Imamura's masterful Black Rain describes how those few minutes changed the lives of ordinary Japanese citizens.

The film begins with horrifying images of the devastation caused by the bomb: a woman cradling her charred baby, buildings lying in ruins and people wandering the streets crying, "Hiroshima has vanished".

Black Rain traces the long-term results of the blast for an ordinary Japanese family and a small village community. The central character is Yasuko, a young woman living with her uncle and aunt in a small village near Hiroshima. By 1950, all seems well, but beneath the tranquillity of rural Japan, the problems are just beginning.

Yasuko has difficulty finding a suitor because women who have been exposed to radiation are rumoured to be barren. Numerous eligible men turn down the beautiful Yasuko.

In the same year, tumours start to appear on her body. Her aunt and uncle do not emerge unscathed either. They develop the symptoms of radiation sickness and mental trauma. Others in the village describe themselves as human guinea pigs who "will die without knowing the truth".

Strong ties bind the small community, and the victims are not ostracised. Instead, there is a collective effort to come to terms with their experiences.

Despite its sense of inevitable tragedy, this is a moving and beautiful account of the consequences of those few minutes in 1945. It is not so much a political statement as the viewpoint of civilians who always seem to bear the heaviest burden in war. In 1950, when the US is threatening to use the A-bomb in the Korean War, Yasuko's uncle says sadly: "Human beings learn nothing".

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