Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse

Black Rain - Masuji Ibuse


Thundery black clouds had borne down on us from the direction of the city,

and the rain from them had fallen in streaks the thickness of a fountain pen.



Ibuse's documentary novel Black Rain is his widely acclaimed masterpiece about the aftermath of Hiroshima, expressed through the diaries of two survivors, Shigematsu and his niece, Yasuko. Shigematsu uses the diaries to try to prove that Yasuko is marriage-worthy, untainted by any poisonous fallout. Ibuse's tale recounts the lives of innocent, ordinary people irreparably altered by the dropping of the bomb; the immediate death of many; the chronic illness and subsequent discrimination that the survivors endured within the Japanese community. Shigematsu's journal makes up a large portion of the novel and is a record of an actual person; Yasuko's memoir is the author's invention.

I washed my hands at the ornamental spring, but even rubbing at the marks with soap couldn't get them off. They were stuck fast on the skin. It was most odd. I showed them to Uncle Shigematsu, who said, " It could be the oil from an oil bomb, after all. I wonder if it wasn't an oil bomb they dropped, then?"

Ibuse uses a matrix of themes that include violent natural and historical forces, estrangement and ambivalence, the sufferings of war, the strengths of victims cast aside, the traditional spirituality in commemoration of the dead. His novelistic values are rooted in Japanese tradition, depicting village lives with their unpretentious mix of customs, prejudices, and peculiarities; he smoothly contrasts humor with horror, dystopia with hope. 

Reading Black Rain had the surrealistic effect of an apocalyptic science fiction - the construction of a natural world annihilated by a cataclysmic event that, had the reader been 'born yesterday', and therefore not privy to this world's history, would have suspended all ideas of reality and the belief in humanity. 

...the correct name for the thing that had caused the monstrous flash-and-bang over the city.. An 'atomic bomb'... It gives off a terrific radiation...They say nothing'll grow in Hiroshima or Nagasaki for another seventy-five years.

Ibuse measures his storytelling with understatement and elusiveness, but despite this deceptive muteness and almost emotionally leveled prose, the depiction of the effects of the aftermath on the survivors is acidic. It is precisely from this unsettling degree of 'soft-spokeness' that the power of Black Rain, to evoke the horror of a nuclear event, is drawn. Noticeably, too, is the absence of the author's own point of view of the bombing, making the scope of the tragedy even greater when left to the reader's personal interpretation.

Wouldn't it have been possible to surrender before the bomb had been dropped?
I hated war. Who cared , after all, which side won? The only important thing was to end it all soon as possible: rather an unjust peace, than a 'just' war.

Even after realizing the inevitable cycle of death around him, Shigematsu whispers words tainted with a small spark of hope:"If a rainbow appears over those hills now, a miracle will happen," he prophesied to himself. "Let a rainbow appear- not a white one - but one of many hues- and Yasuko can be cured."

That is the spirit of the survivor!

I highly recommend this subtle, evocative novel. Also see its film adaptation Kuroi Ame (1989)


From Pools of Water Pillars of Fire The Literature of Ibuse Masuji by John Whittier Treat, p.208:

Ibuse wanted to make sense out of Hiroshima, to find a way to make it fit into some greater truth, but : "I asked myself: Why did this happen? Everything seemed senseless... There was no justice, no humanity, no anything in what happened. Everyone died... it was too terrible."