days, fifty-five is a relatively young age to pass, especially for a former pop
idol. For the family and fans of Yoshiko Tanaka, it would be a tragic case of
symmetry. Justly lauded for her role as
a “hibakusha” Hiroshima survivor, Tanaka succumbed to cancer in 2011. Although
not exactly the sort of wrong-side-of-the-tracks noir that made his early reputation,
Shohei Imamura’s Black Rain (trailer here) will make a
fitting capstone to the Asia Society’s Vengeance is Imamura retrospective when it screens tonight (for free).
was not in Hiroshima proper when the bomb was dropped, so she should be
unaffected by “the flash.” However, she was caught in the “black rain” during
the immediate aftermath. Despite her beauty, that is enough for most parents to
put the nix on inquiries from her marriage broker.
her matchmaking woes are more painful for her uncle Shigematsu Shizuma and his
wife Shigeko. They had taken their niece into their home for safe keeping
during the waning days of the war, promising to arrange her betrothal. Her
potential old maid status grieves them personally and represents a potentially
loss of face with their family and ancestors. Yet, as Yasuko’s prospects dim,
she becomes increasingly devoted to the ailing Shizumas.
served an early apprenticeship with Yasujiro Ozu, so it is not so surprising to
see his mentor’s influence imprinted on Rain.
Like many of Ozu’s signature films, which focus on fathers and daughters or
uncles and nieces, Rain is defined by
the relationship between Yasuko and old man Shizuma. The way their bond
steadily deepens is absolutely beautiful and agonizing to behold.
Yasuko, Tanaka is exquisitely beautiful, profoundly moving, and in retrospect,
sadly eerie. Likewise, Kazuo Kitamura is a wonderfully complex figure of strength
and pathos. Their screen rapport is real and affecting.
is also impressive on a technical level, vividly
recreating the chaos and destruction of Hiroshima. Nevertheless, it is a far
cry from an Irwin Allen picture. It is
also world’s removed from Ridley Scott’s Black
Rain, which was also partly set in Japan and released in the same year. However,
it makes much of the criticism leveled at The Wind Rises look largely misplaced. While Miyazaki’s animated feature
addresses the repressive tactics of the militarist government’s secret police, Black Rain presents the Japanese war
experience entirely in terms of passive victimhood. Yet, its overt anti-nuclear sentiments earn
it a pass. Regardless, Black Rain is a mature and engrossing
work from a master filmmaker. Highly recommended, it concludes the Vengeance is Imamura series tonight
(2/1) at the Asia Society.
Labels: Asia Society, Japanese Cinema, Shohei Imamura