Similar to the fate of the star-crossed lovers in Romeo and Juliet, Double Suicide by Masahiro Shinoda is Shakespearean in its theme of lovers who are forbidden by society's rules to be together and can only find fulfillment in death. The film is based on a 1720 Kabuki (or Bunraku) puppet play, The Love Suicide at Amijima by Monzaemon Chikamatsu, who has been called the Japanese Shakespeare. As the film begins, black-clad puppeteers known as kurago are busy assembling puppets and setting the stage for the drama. Soon live actors replace the puppets but the puppeteers remain in the background, silent participants changing the sets, assembling the props, and "pulling the strings", representing perhaps the inexorable hand that guides our lives or as Shinoda has said the `thin line between truth and falsehood". The film is intensely emotional and has the feel of grand opera but the puppeteers make clear the artificiality of the drama and keep us distanced.
In the film, Jihei (Kichiemon Nakamura) is a paper merchant who is married with two young children. Though he loves his wife Osan, he has been secretly seeing a courtesan Koharu (Shima Iwashita who also plays Osan) for two and a half years. He has dissipated his fortune at the brothel and now cannot raise enough money to redeem Koharu from her enslavement to the brothel's owner (Kamatari Fujiwara). Though his family finds out about their romance and Osan tries to persuade Jehei to sever the relationship, it becomes apparent that the bond is unbreakable and we watch helplessly as the inevitable tragedy unfolds. Double Suicide has a haunting score by Toru Takemitsu and amazing black and white photography, shown in sharp detail and contrast in the new Criterion DVD, and is highly recommended for a unique viewing experience.
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During feudal times in Osaka, Koharu, a courtesan, and Jihei, a married paper merchant, fall in love, they having met in he being one of her regular customers. Their passion for each other is all consuming, especially for Kihei who leaves the running of the paper store in the hands of his wife, Osan. At the beginning of each month - twenty-nine months thus far - Jihei writes a vow to Koharu to free her from her life so that they can be together. However, he doesn't have the money to pay her ransom, he spending whatever money he has in paying for her services. In the meantime, anyone can pay her ransom, she who would be his possession. Jihei and Koharu have vowed to commit suicide together so that they can be together for eternity if they cannot be together on Earth. Jihei and Koharu's journey is affected by several people: his brother, Magoemon, and Osan's parents, who want Jihei to to do right by Osan as her husband and father to their two young children; wealthy Tahei, who believes money should be able to get him anything, including Koharu, who she detests in return; and Osan herself, who knows more about what Jihei is doing than she may let on to him, and who has a special relationship with Koharu in getting what she wants out of her marriage. Jihei and Koharu's plans for the double suicide are also affected by thoughts of the negative consequences of doing so on the living.—Huggo
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