Masuji Ibuse Robert Jay Lifton - Essay

Robert Jay Lifton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Kuroi Ame (Black Rain) marks a new dimension in "A-bomb literature." A portrayal of the intrusion of the atomic bomb into the ordinary rhythms of a small farming village, its special blend of "the usual" and "the unprecedented" enables it to transmute that experience into significant artistic form. The violence and conflict surrounding the bomb are illuminated by means of a leisurely chronicle of seemingly inconsequential everyday events, in the manner (as one critic put it) of "an old-fashioned family novel." (p. 543)

As a survivor of holocaust Shigematsu does not believe that any record, least of all his diary, can convey what really happened ("Not even a thousandth of what I really saw is described in it"), but he persists in recording small details as well as large scenes…. However he demeans his own efforts, he sees value in the information as such: "The style of my writing is bad realism. But facts are facts." Carrying out one's responsibility to history is the only way to recover meaning and vitality….

In this sense one can understand the novel as depicting the gradual individual movement, however hesitant and incomplete, toward mastery of the A-bomb experience. Shigematsu's initial psychic stance is that of numbing: at the time of the bomb, as we have observed; and shortly afterward, when people's insistence upon talking to him about bomb horrors results in his being "drawn into those actual feelings" and experiencing "an unpleasant form of fear" which makes him "feel like running away."… Caught in the dilemma of trying to conceal the unconcealable, he can react only by "fuming" (puripuri). But as the book proceeds the urge to "run away" is replaced by a determination to stand fast and record everything….

[Shigematsu moves] away from denial toward transcendence. His form of transcendence is a combination of incessant recording and continuing attention to the obligations of a family head in a Japanese village—always against a background of the timelessness of everyday rituals and of nature's perpetual re-creation of life and beauty (his wife refers to his eager inspections of his carp pond as "acts of homage"). And the sense of timelessness is stylistically reinforced by the multiple layers of flashback made possible by the intricate use of diaries. (p. 551)

Not that the A-bomb is "defeated."… But what has been demonstrated is that one can undergo the survivor's ordeal with honor and dignity; through records one can achieve that most difficult level of expression, authentic protest.

The book's ending is enigmatic. Shigematsu's diary told earlier of a bad omen in the form of a "white rainbow" seen by the factory chief during the worst days of the bomb, just prior to the Emperor's surrender...

(The entire section is 1155 words.)