Magazine article The Nation

Black Rain

Magazine article The Nation

Black Rain

Article excerpt

Happily, there are still a few film makers who know how to entertain and, in so doing, say something worth hearing about the world. You can see that trick pulled off more or less successfully in Black Rain-not the Michael Douglas shoot-'em-up but the most recent movie by Shohei Imamura, which has now been released after playing in last fall's New York Film Festival.

Most of Blackrain, as its director likes to point out, consists of people sitting in a pretty house, talking quietly. The setting is a picturesque Japanese village, near wooded mountains and fields of grain and a freshly stocked carp pond. The characters are a brusquely cheerful man of middle years-the most prosperous landowner in the village-his perpetually bustling wife and his beautiful, marriageable niece. But these scenes, though outwardly attractive, are not the parts of Black Rain that linger in the mind. Instead, you remember exactly those moments that the characters would like to forget: a handful of sequences recalling Hiroshima in the aftermath of its bombing.

These scenes of horror are remarkable not for being grisly-any slasher picture can outdo them in that department-but for their artifice. Imamura has re-created ground zero on a soundstage, and as his camera tracks across the tableau, you can't forget for a moment that what you see is merely a stand-in for the inexpressible. The rubble looks convincing, but it's a little too neat, like a set designer's Armageddon. The victims of the bombing are pitiable, ravaged and frightful, but they move with the deliberation of Butoh dancers. Perhaps, because of a recent exhibition of his films, I have Vincente Minnelli too much on my mind, but I can't help thinking that he might have staged Hiroshima in much this way, had M-G-M required it. This is movieland devastation.

And that, I think, is the strength of Black Rain. …

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