The Love Suicides at Amijima(Written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon)
Forward: Coming from a nation with a rich culture(I’m Ghanaian), everything about culture fascinates me. I love learning about other cultures and even though I would love to travel the world to do this; right now, I’m doing this through literature. It is impossible to read a literary piece from a particular place without learning about the culture of the people, in other words, writers always infuse their culture in their writings. You may not learn about the entire culture of the people but you will definitely pick up a thing or two. Exploring culture made me realize that we are not so different like we think we are. Now, come on this journey with me and lets explore Japan through Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s The Love Suicides at Amijima. The story was written at a time in Japan when lovers who did not belong to the same social class were committing ”love suicides” because they believed that they could be reborn with their lover “on the lotus” in the Buddhist Pure Land if they committed suicide together.
Chikamatsu Monzaemon, real name Sugimori Nobumori(1653-1725) was a Japanese dramatist of joruri, the form of puppet theater that later came to be known as banraku. Monzaemon is one of the best-known and most loved dramatists, who specialized in jôruri (puppet plays). Chikamatsu wrote about one hundred puppet plays. His earlier plays were mostly historical dramas common at the time, but this subject changed in 1703, when he poineered a new sub-genre: the “contemporary-life play.” These plays became so popular that the authorities intervened. The Love Suicide at Amijima is one of his famous domestic plays. A year after The Love Suicides of Amijima premiered, the government banned plays on “love suicides” because it inspired real-live sucides of lovers whose love was frowned upon because of the differnce in their social class
Summary: Jihei, a paper merchant, is married to Osan, his niece, and has two young children. He has fallen hopelessly in love with Koharu, a prostitute in the Gay Quarter. They have vowed eternal love but because he is unable to redeem her, have been promising each other to commit suicide at the first available opportunity. Osan, fearing exactly this, writes a letter to Koharu in secret imploring her to sever her relationship with Jihei and thus save his life. The giri (sense of duty) to a fellow woman compels Koharu to discharge her obligation and she pretends to disavow her promise. The distraught Jihei renounces their love and returns home. When his wealthy rival in love, Tahei, buys Koharu off, Jihei faces a public humiliation that he cannot bear. At the same time Osan realizes that Koharu will commit suicide rather than go off with Tahei because she is not unfaithful (as Jihei thinks) but has been prevented from killing herself only by Osan’s plea, which will no longer bind her. Osan, the epitome of the faithful wife, urges Jihei to pawn their last clothes and buy Koharu off to save both her life and his dignity. At this moment, Gonzaemon, Jihei’s father-in-law appears and forcefully takes Osan away, ending the marriage. Jihei and Koharu manage to slip away at night, journey (michiyuki) along the bridges to the Amijima, and commit suicide.
The story has been masterfully translated to the screen by Shinoda Masahiro in his 1969 Double Suicide. It is a fairly faithful rendition of the play and is the definitive statement, which combines elements ofbunraku and modern cinematography. Very stylized and subtle, it retains all the tragic qualities of the play but manages to makes them more effective through the skillful exploitation of the medium.