Our Akira Kurosawa Film Club’s movie for February will be Shohei Imamura‘s 1989 film Black Rain. It looks at the consequences of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and is thematically related to the two works that we will be watching and discussing in the coming months: Kurosawa’s Rhapsody in August (March) and Studio Ghibli’s animated Grave of the Fireflies (April). In terms of content, the following three months may well be the bleakest stretch in our film club’s seven year history.
Since our recent and long overdue foray into the social media world has brought us a few hundred new followers and visitors, here is a quick introduction to the workings of our film club:
- Each month, there is a film that we watch which is either by Kurosawa or somehow related to his works. We currently have films scheduled until July this year.
- At the beginning of the month, a short introduction to the film of the month is posted here.
- Anyone wishing to participate in the discussion watches the film whenever they have the time to do so. You are responsible for finding a copy for yourself.
- Everyone is warmly welcome to discuss the film either in the introductory post’s comments section, or by opening a new forum topic (this is recommended if there is something specific that you wish to explore). You can even join the discussion after the month is over.
- All of this is done in a friendly and open-minded atmosphere.
For more information, including past and future schedules, see the film club page.
Now, let’s briefly look at Black Rain (黒い雨, Kuroi ame) to get us started for this month. It was director Shohei Imamura’s 18th film, and his second after the 1983 The Ballad of Narayama, which we watched and discussed last year. The two films share similar themes and concerns as both works are framed by death, although whereas in The Ballad of Narayama death is a certainty that one prepares for and controls, in Black Rain it is unpredictable and disease-like. In the earlier film, death is quite literally removed from society, while in the latter it invades it from the outside.
Despite showing the devastating consequences of war, Black Rain was not intended as an anti-war film, a position that it shares with both Rhapsody in August and Grave of the Fireflies. Yet, in all three cases many viewers have chosen to interpret the works as such, or even as attacks on those who dropped the bombs.
Black Rain was based on Masuji Ibuse‘s 1965 novel with the same name. The book has been translated into English and is in print — in fact, the book’s availability in the English speaking countries appears to be better than the film’s. The film won multiple awards, including nine at the prestigious Japanese Academy Awards, and it was also in competition in Cannes on the year of its release. The film is notable for having been filmed in black and white, and many have naturally pointed to Imamura’s training as an assistant director under Yasujiro Ozu when discussing the film’s compositions and camera use in depicting a 1940s and 50s Japan.
There are also a couple of Kurosawa connections. The actress playing the senile grandmother, Hisako Hara, appeared in Kurosawa’s first post-war film No Regrets for Our Youth, playing Itokawa’s mother. The doctor is Hideji Otaki, who played the role of Masakage Yamagata in Kagemusha. Also, the score is by Toru Takemitsu, who also composed music for Kurosawa’s films Ran and Dodesukaden.
The home video availability of Black Rain is worse in the English speaking world than one would expect for a film of its stature. For purely English releases, there is only the region one DVD by Animeigo which appears to be more or less out of print. In fact, the best bet for an English speaker would probably be the French region two release, which also comes with English subtitles. There is also a Spanish release, but it has no English subtitles.
Fortunately, at least in some countries the film also appears to be available on Netflix and other similar services, and one would imagine there to be a fairly good chance of a well-stocked home video rental shop carrying it — provided, of course, that such places still exist in your area.
I do hope that all of you will be able to hunt down the film (if not, you may want to do a YouTube search), for it is more than worth watching if you haven’t seen it. The floor is now open for comments and thoughts. And do remember that the full film club schedule can be found on the film club page.