Japanese director and screenwriter, born 1926 Tokyo, Japan. Studied history at Waseda university. Assisted great director Ozu in early 1950s. Member of Japanese New Wave cinema with an interest in depicting the ordinary Japanese (working class, housewives, actors, feisty women) not often the subject of film and themes such as incest and superstitious belief. SI dropped out of feature film making in 1970s to make documentaries, notably about Japanese who did not return home after the war, and the Japanese "comfort women" or "karayuki-san" who served as prostitutes for the Imperial Japanese Army.


  • The Ballad of Narayama (1983) about a village where the elderly are abandoned to the elements when they reach a certain age
  • The Insect Woman (1963)
  • A Man Vanishes (1967)
  • History of Post-War Japan as Told by a Bar Hostess (1974)


The Novel

Masui Ibuse, Black Rain (1969), trans. John Bester (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1979).

Ibuse born Hiroshima 1898, studied French Literature at Waseda University and began writing short stories while still a student. One of the leading Japanese literary figures. Novel is a "documentary novel" (compare Keneally's Schindler's Ark) based upon historical records and interviews.


Meaning of the Title

The radioactive ash-laden rain which fell after the bombing of Hiroshima which lifted fine particles of soot and ash high into the atmosphere, thus "seeding" rain clouds and causing rain to fall. What is normally seen as the bringer and sustainer of life is now a bringer of death.


  • Yoshiko Tanaka
  • Kazuo Kitamura
  • Etsuko Ichihara
  • Shoichi Ozawa
  • Norihei Miki
  • Keisuke Ishida

The story of a family profoundly effected by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima which took place on 6 August 1945. The young woman Yasuko is caught in the "black rain" which fell soon after the bombing. She contracts radiation sickness, and is socially "contaminated" (one of the Hibakusha) because prospective husbands are wary of her reduced childbaring capacity. Her grandparents try as best they can to get doctor's certificates to attest to her health but to no avail. As her health falters the community of her village is also torn apart by the consequences of the bomb. Much of the film takes place in 1950 (the Fukuyama anti-nuclear rallies, the outbreak of the Korean War) with flashbacks to 1945. As the translator John Bester notes in his introduction to the novel:

... the author ... balances the horrors he describes with the wry humor for which he has long been famous. At times, the effect he creates is quite indescribable; indeed, until one has become attuned to the characteristic flavor of the work it is sometimes difficult, almost, to accept the humor as originally intended. In the same way Ibuse, with infinite nostalgia, sets against the violent destruction of the city the beauty of the Japanese countryside and the ancient customs of its people. Against the almighty, brutal purposes of the state, he lays the small, human preoccupations and foibles. Against the threat of universal destruction, he sets a love for, and sense of wonder at life in all its forms. Significantly, it is often at the points in the narrative where one feels these contrasts most strongly - where humor and horror, gentleness and violence come into sharpest conflict - that there occur those moving human vignettes that linger so strongly in the memory after one has finished reading...

Black Rain is a portrait of a group of human beings; of the death of a great city; of a nation crumbling into defeat. It is a picture of the Japanese mind that tells more than many sociological studies. Yet more than this, it is a statement of a philosophy. Although that philosophy, in its essence, is neither pessimistic nor optimistic, it seems to me to be life-affirming. Dealing with the grimmest of subjects, the work is not, in the end, depressing, for the author is ultimately concerned with life rather than with death, and with an overall beauty that transcends ugliness of detail. In that sense, I would suggest, Black Rain is not a "book about the bomb" at all. (pp. 6-8).


The Pacific War Research Society, The Day Man Lost: Hiroshima 6 August 1945 (1965) ((Tokyo: Kodansha, 1981).

John Hersey, Hiroshima (1946) (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987)

Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Physical, Medical and Social Effects of the Atomic Bombings, The Committee for the Compilation of Materials on Damage caused by the Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, trans. Eisei Ishikawa and David L. Swain (New York: Basic Books, 1981).

Kenzaburo Oe, Hiroshima Notes (1965), trans. David L. Swain and Tashi Yonezawa (New York: Grove Press, 1996)

Michiko Hachiya, Hiroshima Diary: The Journal of a Japanese Physician, August 6-September 30, 1945, trans. Werner Wells (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1955)

Robert Jay Lifton, Death in Life: The Survivors of Hiroshima (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1968)

Rodney Barker, The Hiroshima Maidens: A Story of Courage, Compassion and Survival (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986).


  • Why is the film in black and white?
  • The rarity of Japanese treatments of the atomic bombings in film.
  • The music of Takemitsu - dissonance, compare Krzysztof Penderecki, "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima" (1962).
  • How convincing ("realistic") is the 10 minutes of the film in which the bomb explosion is recreated?
  • The possible influence of the art
  • "The Hiroshima Murals" of Iri and Toshi Maruki (1950) especially the series "Ghosts".
  • The ex-soldier who suffers trauma ("shell shock", "battle fatuigue") at the sound of tank engines.
  • References to the Korean War - the threat of the Americans using it to overcome superior numbers of Chinese Red Army