Masuji Ibuse John Bester - Essay

John Bester

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Black Rain] is woven from many different strands. Given such a theme, a lesser author might—to borrow a metaphor from music—have produced no more than a steady, discordant fortissimo. In Black Rain, we have a subtle polyphony. That is not simply to say that Ibuse weaves together, around a central theme, the stories of several different people. More important, he creates an interplay between varying moods and between his main and secondary themes. It is from this interplay, rather than from the significance of its theme, that the work derives its value as literature. (p. 6)

Against its basic theme, the work creates many contrasts. These serve to give the work variety; they are also, I feel, the essence of its success as art. It is the distillation of these conflicting elements that gives it its depth—its beauty, even. A typical example is the way the author invariably balances the horrors he describes with the wry humor for which he has long been famous. At times, the effect this 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 really 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 mighty, brutal purposes of 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.

It is a truism that the...

(The entire section is 787 words.)