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The enormous, instantaneous destructive power of atomic weapons is the first, and sometimes the only, image that comes to mind when thinking about them: the blast radius, the concrete and steel pulverized, the pressure-wave impact deaths, the enormous mushroom-cloud.  There is more, however.  As Daniel Ellsberg tells us in his The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner the effects of the fire-storms that follow exceed the impact-deaths by almost double, a known effect that early estimates of nuclear casualties by the U.S. Air Force did not include — as undercutting their push for more weapons.

Years after the use of “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945, the likelihood of a “nuclear winter” following a wider use of such bombs, became known.  As enormous volcanic eruptions have in the past, the ash, soot and soil raised into the sky would lessen the amount of sun-light falling on the earth and, given the right conditions, make crops fail world-wide and lead to end-of-life famine everywhere.

The first instance of change in weather following nuclear bombs occurred within forty minutes of their 1945 detonation.  The rising column of super-heated air in both cities carried ash and dust aloft which mixed with the in-rushing cooler air to form rain — black rain.  Though disgusting to behold, and terrifying in its mysterious appearance, the full effects were not apparent for years following.

Two movies, one from Japan and one from the U.S. lay bare the effects on lives of those who survived the blasts and were left with sickness and fear of sickness for decades after.

Black Rain. (Kuroi ame, 1989) by Shôhei Imamura is one of the rare “war movies” whose attention is not on the war itself but on the effects long afterwards for a family.  Members are caught up in difficult circumstances and we watch them over time trying to cope, playing out like many family drama films from countries around the world. The circumstances in this case, however are not adultery, earthquake or death of a parent or child; they are the slowly dawning realization that though uncle, aunt, and niece survived the bombing and even seem recovered and well at first, they each, slowly fall ill, at first with no diagnosis and to the end with no cure.

Yasuko (the truly lovely Yoshiko Tanaka –and star of two Godzilla movies!) is of marriageable age.  It is the guardians’ duty in 1950s Japan to arrange a suitable match.  As she is quite pretty, and traditional, it should be easy.  However they, and she,  know –and we have seen– that she experienced the black rain on the day of the bombing.  Whether that means she will fall ill isn’t certain, but from the evidence of many others it is rationally expected, and feared, not only by the three but by possible suitors and their families.  Uncle and Aunt and marriage broker try to conceal her location on the day of the bombing, claiming she was far outside the area affected.  Her natural honesty however, especially as one young man is truly smitten with her, insists on revealing the truth; therein lies the dramatic tension, not of decreasing health alone but illness, the unknown and how people respond.

Though many of us avoid books and movies of such sorrow and loss –“I know that, why should I see more?”– Black Rain, is a quiet, intimate look at a family which lifts beyond the mere pitying of victims or polemic of one-sided evil. It tells how,  in the gentle ways of certain Japanese manners and customs, people respond to not only great tragedy but to almost complete inability to see the future.  Recovery after a typhoon or earthquake has a predictable, slow upward path.  After the bomb, the radiation was unseen, unknown and took years to reveal itself.

By seeing it, our knowledge , mostly forgotten or ignored, that wars last for decades after the treaties are signed, is reinforced,  the two hours instructive and moving.  It does include some flash-back scenes of deeply injured people, and the mangled dead,  in the moments after the bomb –the prosthetics for which, in 1989, are quite remarkable– but the film we are watching is of village and family  as life begins to re-emerge from the wreckage.

The Black Rain was drawn from a novel of the same name, by Masuji Ibuse, a contributor of the title story in The Crazy Iris  [my review].  Two stories in the volume are of similar experiences of women, childbearing, radiation sickness and ostracization in the years after the bomb

Black Rain  — not to be confused with an Ozzy Osborne or Ridley Scott’s by the same name– is available  on YouTube..  Search for Kuroi ame to be sure.  The copy is quite good.


White Light /Black Rain (2007) is a documentary by Japanese-American  Steven Okazaki.  Without the narrative drama of Black Rain it brings its own power and moving effect with a familiar contemporary reportage feel.  Okazaki found and met with over 500 survivors of the blasts, interviewing 100 of them before selecting 14 for the film. From six years old to twenty-eight at the time, their memories are intense, as are their hopes that the world has learned something from their experience.  Plentiful video footage and still photos from the days after the bombings and clips of the American Presidents involved, as well as interviews with a doctor who treated radiation wounds give a strong, indelible picture of the results of such weaponry.

It is available on Amazon Prime, and perhaps elsewhere.

[How odd it is, (how horrible, how dangerous) that while “the production, stockpiling, and use of” chemical and biological weapons are illegal under international treaties, as are recently — except for non-signatory United States– land mines, nuclear weapons are not.]

You might also be interested in Okazaki’s first, and 1991 Oscar award winning film Days of Waiting about Estelle Ishigo, one of the few Caucasians interred with the American citizens and residents of Japanese ancestry during World War II.

p.s. a good App for IOS and perhaps Android”JustWatch.”  It searches all movie sources for titles of your choice, telling you where and how much to view.