Bunron - Journal of Japanese Literary Studies. 2017, 4
According to John Treat in his monumental work on A-bomb literature, Ibuse Masuji’s 井伏 鱒二 Kuroi Ame 黒い雨 (“Black Rain”; 1965) is “far more widely read, translated, and taught than any other single example of Japanese A-bomb literature.”1 It won him the Noma Literary Prize in 1966, and with its excerpt often included in the high school textbooks, its canonical status as a pedagogical tool to draw lessons from Hiroshima is indisputable. Ibuse himself however is said to have been somewhat embarrassed by all the attention. As someone without the first-hand experience of the A-bomb himself, Ibuse famously refused to have it included in the anthology of A-bomb literature.2 Imamura Shōhei’s 今村昌平 filmatization of the novel, twenty-four years later, also received ample critical and popular attention, winning him five Japanese Academy Awards, even though it controversially missed the Golden Palm at Cannes.
Comparing these two works across media with focus on the process of adaptation will be the aim of the present essay, and there are a number of obvious axes of comparison for this: the change of time from 1965 to 1989, the change of medium from book into movie, and the difference between Ibuse Masuji and Imamura Shōhei,3 their strategies and concerns as individual artists. Needless to say, the trajectories of these axes crisscross each other, making it sometimes difficult to distinguish between them. To complicate the comparison even more, there is another factor that we must reckon with, which is related to the position of the reader/spectator, a medium in its own right. Our response as the reader/spectator is triggered not only by the total sum of what a given novel and film have to offer, but also by the total sum of our insight accrued from our own life experiences. Both books and films, words and visual images, especially those dealing with traumatic events (which is definitely the case with Black Rain) are known to invoke widely disparate emotional reactions in us precisely because they do not mean things on their own. I will therefore give some thoughts to the reception of these works, acknowledging at the same time that what I present here is an interpretation based on my insight. According to Carl Plantinga, film studies now enjoy a healthy pluralism which allows one to combine different methods as the occasion demands, thanks to critics such as Noel Carroll and David Bordwell, who have made efforts to counter the effects of what they call “medium foundationalism.”4 Following their cue, I will use a piecemeal approach, trying to answer specific questions about certain aspects of the two artworks, both of which are results of a complex synergy between words, images and history in the broadest sense of the term.
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