The Love Suicides at Sonezaki

by Sugimori Nobumori

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Love Suicides at Sonezaki by Sugimori Nobumori is a love-suicide Bunraku, which is basically a puppet play that has been performed as a component of Japanese culture for quite some time. The story features an orphan merchant named Tokubei and Ohatsu, a courtesan with whom Tokubei is in love.

It can be considered as a work of social realism that represents aspects of society that were undoubtedly true during this time, and it positions the act of suicide as a culturally important phenomena—both Tokubei and Ohatsu die by their own hand at the very end of the play. However, as this is a puppet play, the act does not hold the same gravity were it to be performed by "real" actors.

The story includes Tokubei's refusal to conform to traditional societal standards, such as when he refuses to marry his aunt's niece. As the story progresses, Tokubei's situation becomes more and more dire as he refuses to conform to society's standards at the behest of his beloved Ohatsu.

The format of this story could also be compared to Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare, as it involves the actions and fates of two "star crossed lovers"; Tokubei is unable to marry Ohatsu as a result of his occupation, his personal circumstances, and Ohatsu's position as a consort. Therefore, themes of love and loss are heavy, as are themes about the pitfalls of traditional culture and expectations: Tokubei is expected to follow his uncle's orders without regard to his personal feelings or beliefs and the feelings and beliefs of Ohatsu. Thus, themes of unfair patriarchal rules and cultures match with other love-suicide cultures, despite the unique cultural context of this play in Japanese history and theatrical performance culture.

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