The Love Suicides at Sonezaki

by Sugimori Nobumori

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

As the title suggests, the play is primarily a tragic love story. The protagonists are the young lovers Ohatsu, a geisha, and Tokubei, a clerk. They die by suicide together at the play’s end. Tokubei's uncle, Kyemon, and his friend Kuheiji also play important roles. As is typical in the bunraku puppet format, the play also features a Narrator. He speaks from outside the action to explain it to the audience.

Ohatsu, a well-known geisha or courtesan, has fallen in love with Tokubei. Her profession demands that she entertain wealthy men.

Ohatsu’s patrons include as Gihei, a wealthy, rural man who comes to the city to spend time with her. After he abducts her from the street one day, he tries to sell her favors to Kuheiji.

Tokubei, a young man with little money and limited family connections, works as a clerk in his uncle’s business. The uncle and his second wife plot to have him marry the aunt’s niece, who is an heiress. Tokubei, who loves Ohatsu, decides he cannot go through with this faux marriage. When his supposed friend, Kuheiji, accuses him of fraud, he fights him and runs afoul of the law.

Kyemon is a prosperous soy sauce merchant. He is Tokubei’s uncle and employer. He and his wife try to arrange a financially advantageous marriage for the young man, but his wife squanders the dowry money. Her actions endanger Tokubei’s life.

Kuheiji, who initially seems to be Tokubei’s friend, proves to be the villain of the piece. Not only does he falsely claim not to have borrowed money from Tokubei but he also accuses him of falsifying his seal on the contract letter, which puts him in trouble with the law. They also have a physical altercation. He wants to use the money to take Ohatsu from her beloved and away from Gihei.

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