Ibuse Masuji's Kuroi Ame (1965) and Imamura Shōhei's Film Adaption (1989)

Reiko A Auestad


We all know that both literature and film have power to move us, inviting us to identify with strangers, creating an opportunity to make all relations “thicker.”  It is a challenging task, however, to represent an event that involves a lot of emotions, especially traumatic ones, on behalf of someone else.  There is also a problem of priority, when there are many competing stories of “victimization” that need to be told at the same time.

Ibuse is not a victim of A-bomb himself, and his strategy in Black Rain was to draw extensively on a “real-life” diary by a survivor who has witnessed the carnage in Hiroshima, which has been received positively by some as an exemplary “non-victim novel” with a documentary look, but criticized by some as a work of plagiarism disguised as fiction.  

With Imamura’s filmatization, another issue related to representation is introduced.  Even as the film is generally acknowledged to have successfully strived for “the look of nonfiction” with its minimalism, Carole Cavanaugh argues that the film, by adding a story about the female protagonist’s romantic union with a veteran soldier suffering from PTSD, attempts to “fixate world memory on the icons of Japanese suffering” and “simultaneously blott[s] out recollection of Japan at war” and of marginalized others.[i]

Whose story deserves to be told, and how?  This paper tries to probe into these questions by using Ibuse Masuji’s Black Rain, and Imamura Shohei’s 1989 filmatization of it as case studies, with the specificity of the media in mind. 

[i] «A Working Ideology for Hiroshima: Imamura Shôhei’s Black Rain,” Word and Image in Japanese Cinema (Cambridge UP 2001): 266.


Ibuse Masuji, Kuroi Ame, Imamura Shôhei, A-bomb


PDF (English)


Primary sources

IBUSE, Masuji 井伏鱒二 (1970): Kuroi Ame [Black Rain] 黒い雨. Tōkyō: Shinchōsha.

IBUSE, Masuji 井伏鱒二 (1953). “Yōhai taichō” [Lieutenant Look East] 遥拝隊長. In: Ibuse Masuji sakuhin shū. Vol. 5. Tōkyō: Sōgensha.

IBUSE, Masuji (2012). Black Rain. Translated by John Bestor. Tōkyō: Kodansha International.

IMAMURA, Shōhei 今村昌平 (1989): Kuroi Ame. 黒い雨. Tōkyō: Imamura Productions.

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CAROLL, Noel (2003): Engaging with Moving Images. New Haven: Yale University Press.

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MORRIS-SUZUKI, Tessa (2005): The Past Within Us: media, memory, history. London and New York: Verso.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.11588/br.2017.4.839

URN (PDF (English)): http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:bsz:16-br-8394


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