The Love Suicides at Sonezaki

by Sugimori Nobumori

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 531

The Love Suicides is an 18th-century Japanese play written for traditional bunraku, oversize puppet, theater. It is a love story about Tokubei, who is a clerk for his uncle, a soy sauce merchant, and the geisha, or courtesan, Ohatsu. Much of the plot revolves around their efforts to evade another match and the duplicity of Kuheiji, supposedly Tokubei’s friend, which furthers the impossibility of their getting together. The suicides of the title occur at the play’s end; the lovers feel driven to suicide because all their efforts to be together have been thwarted.

Part of Tokubei’s dilemma is that his boss and uncle, Kyemon, and his aunt have arranged for him to marry an heiress, the aunt’s niece. He refuses to do so, because he loves Ohatsu. In their initial meeting during the play, Tokubei tells Ohatsu of his uncle’s plan.

My master . . . has proposed I marry his wife’s niece with a dowry of two kamme, and promised to set me up in business. That happened last year, but how could I shift my affections when I have you?

The situation grows more complex, as the bride’s dowry has been paid, and the aunt has already spent it. Although Tokubei collected the money to repay the dowry, he gave in to pressure from a friend, Kuheiji, for a loan, so now he lacks the necessary resources. The plot grows further complicated when the men, as well as a gang that supports Kuheiji, get into a fight over the money.

TOKUBEI: . . . I’m Tokubei of the Hiran-yo, a man of honor. . . . I’m not a man to trick a friend out of his money the way you have. Come on!

NARRATOR: He falls on Kuheiji.

KUHEIJI: You impudent little apprentice! I’ll knock the insolence out of you!

NARRATOR: He seizes the front of Tokubei’s kimono and they grapple, trading blows and shoves.

Gihei, a wealthy patron of the geisha, takes Ohatsu away from this fight scene. When Kyemon later finds her, he pressures her to tell him where Tokubei is, but she truthfully tells him that she does not know. After the uncle leaves, Tokubei appears, and Ohatsu hides him beneath the porch on which she is sitting so that the pursuing Kuheiji and his gang will not find him. Kuheiji, who has decided to use the dowry loan money to free her from Gihei’s control and thus retain a hold on her, goes looking for the rich man.

While Tokubei is under the porch, she speaks as if to herself to let him know her thoughts and try to find out his.

OHATSU: . . .His generosity has been his undoing. . . . After what has happened, Tokubei has no choice but to kill himself. I wish I knew whethero r not he was resolved to die.

NARRATOR: She pretends to be talking to herself, but with her foot she questions him. He nods, and taking her ankle, passes it across his throat to let her know that he is bent on suicide.

Later that night, the two lovers sneak off to the nearby forest, and there each of them dies by their own hand.

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