Winning at what cost?

What makes a film anti-war? What is the difference between "war is bad" and "war should never be"? What is fact and what is opinion on this topic anyway? Such were thoughts in my mind as I watched this film a few days into the US-Iraqi war.

Kuroi ame, known as Black Rain in the language I'm writing this review in, shows in personal detail the consequences of one act: the first wartime detonation of a nuclear bomb at Hiroshima, Japan. We trace the lives of one family and those around them from that fateful day until long after, as their exposure to the radiation has its ultimate effects. We center on Yasuko and her aunt and uncle - her remaining family.

The opening chapter is a low-tech depiction of that fateful day, and how these three reconnect before making their escape. Yasuko is on a boat out on the water, safe from the immediate destruction of the bomb, but experiences an unusual inky fallout - the black rain of the title. Her uncle is at work, her aunt at home, and they fight their way through the confusion of pain and death to get away from the city.

They settle in the country, and spend most of the remainder of the film trying to get Yasuko hitched. The stigma of having been at Hiroshima is a hard one to shake, and even with a doctor's declaration of fitness, most suitors don't even consider her.

We get continual reminders of the effects of war. The most striking - and the film's main source of comic relief - is the man, having been in the military, goes nuts whenever he hears on engine, and believes he is in danger and must set an explosive to destroy the source of the engine noise.

The ending is mixed, with radiation sickness wreaking its toll, but an element of hope as well. It's certainly not a buoyant film, but the characters are sympathetic and the situation is more than plausible.

I find myself challenged more by figuring out Black Rain's stance on war than by any idea it is presenting. Sure, there's nothing here that can be interpreted as being in favor of armed conflict, but given the setting and characters who have had this experience, the few things that are said on the matter can be attributed to the characters rather than the film itself. The fact that these comments stick out like a sore thumb might be attributed to my political frame of mind, or more likely, the lack of strong choices. I am hesitant here not to overlook the cultural differences, that perhaps in the Japanese tradition, a more pointed stance would be impolite. That said, I only have my own experience to go by, cultural issues or not.

The most powerful messages are the ones where the listeners are allowed to make the connections themselves. The factual basis in Black Rain goes a long way down this path, but never quite finishes its argument. I am left wondering if this is merely a good story or an argument on war - or perhaps just against nuclear weaponry. If not for the few larger references made, the film could be happily ambiguous.

The story is good, the characters interesting enough, but its reach seems to exceed its grasp.

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