Bonded by the Flash

Black Rain does not shy from Hiroshima’s immediate aftermath. Twice Black Rain returns to August 6th. People lay dead or dying. Others are so incinerated, all that remains is charred, ashy skin. One man meets his younger brother, but with the boy’s flesh literally melting, it’s almost impossible for them to identify each other.

The bomb’s brutality is not Black Rain’s focus though. Instead, it’s a family who survived. Taking heavy swipes at Japanese society, Black Rain lambastes a nation for putting these people through a personal hell. Unable to find a male suitor because she’s labeled as sick, Yasuko (Yoshiko Tanaka), like others, blames herself. “I’m accountable,” she says, an unfathomably awful act made infinitely worst by a structured culture who views abnormality – no matter the cause – as rueful.

Gossip spreads. That’s part of Yusoko’s trouble. Villagers around her trade theories about those in Hiroshima on that day, whether they show symptoms or not. There’s a consistent motif in Black Rain where every night at 7PM, she sets the clock, denoting another passing day, more lost time, and a march toward an eventual death.

Scarred physically and scarred mentally, it’s as if those suffering might spread a radioactive plague. Another motif is funerals, deaths frequent, but numbing. By the end, processions look robotic, as if those mourning carry a certain animosity toward the dead. While a family members acts out after hearing about a potential American A-bomb strike during the Korean war, there’s no nationalist blame. It’s not Japan’s fault for entering WWII either. The only fault lies in those who saw the flash.

A few defend themselves. Doctors recommend those enduring radiation poisoning rest, and to not exert energy. They fish most of the day, while those who do work call them lazy or worse, liars. This, even as one of their own endures grueling mental breaks when he hears an engine, transported to his days in a suicide squad. Now, he’s forced to live isolated, and other villagers attempt to silence passing vehicles, seemingly more from annoyance than any goodwill.

Released in 1989, Black Rain does not look the part. The intelligent black & white cinematography hides scarring and gore, while a static camera is more indicative of period-correct Japanese cinema. Paired with 1953’s Hiroshima, the two films feel connected despite decades between them. One is a vicious depiction of the inhumane days that followed, the other a few months after, a time that seems just as callous.

Video

Sent to American Blu-ray via Arrow Academy (in a box set of director Shohei Imamura’s works), Black Rain features exceptional mastering. A glistening, sharp image finds much detail in the surrounding scenery, the straw roofs and wide farmlands gorgeous. Resolution brings significant facial texture, and when in flashback to August 6th, the ugliness evident in the burned bodies. Nothing is hidden.

Two brief visual effect shots utilized a tape-based composite, a short-lived technique (also seen in Gamera Super Monster), a rare blight on an otherwise spotless presentation. Grain naturally exists without fault in the encoding. Source imperfections, other than minor dust on two or three shots at worst, disappear via capable restorative care.

Excellent gray scale replication finds pleasing balance. Generous contrast keeps a firm stance. Black levels don’t nail true black, but reach enough density to maintain dimensionality and depth. Whatever the case, this all keeps a steady, stable appearance.

Audio

When the score hits dramatically high treble, DTS-HD mono doesn’t waver. Given the visual aesthetic so expertly presented as from the ‘50s, hearing such clarity tricks the brain at times. One pop is the only fault, the rest clear mono, managing always audible dialog with hardly any perceptible age.

Extras

The always excellent Jasper Sharp brings his knowledge to a commentary, and scholar Tony Rayns speaks for nearly an hour in a superb appreciation/essay. Originally, Black Rain ended with a color sequence, set in the mid-1960s, and that 18-minute cut is offered here. Older interviews include star Yoshiko Tanaka and assistant director Takashi Miike. Scroll down the disc’s menu for trailers and an image gallery.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Black Rain
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Unrelenting in exposing Japan’s social ills, Black Rain looks at not only the physical tragedy of Hiroshima, but the mental and isolation terrors too.

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