The Love Suicides at Sonezaki by Sugimori Nobumori

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Summary

The basic plot of this Japanese puppet (bunraku) play is one of ill-fated love that ends tragically. The play is also a work of social commentary: the reasons for the lovers’ demise are intertwined with deceit, corruption, and hypocrisy in eighteenth-century Japan. The audience is first introduced to Ohatsu, a noted geisha, and Gihei, a wealthy gentleman who desires her favors and then learns of her love for a poor but respectable young man, Tokubei. Not only is he caught in the geisha’s world, but he is being urged to marry for money. Tokubei feels that he should not refuse the match because the young woman in question is a relative through marriage, and Kyemon, the uncle who is pushing this marriage on him, is also his boss.

When Tokubei decides to do the right thing, however, and decline the arranged marriage because he loves Ohatsu, the situation takes a bad turn; his uncle’s wife has already spent the dowry money. Tokubei tries to rectify the situation by saving this money, but he foolishly lends it to a friend, Kuheiji. When he tries to recover the loan, Kuheiji makes up a story that Tokubei is lying and trying to defraud him. Ohatsu almost gets caught in the middle of the men’s fight, but Gihei takes her away in his carriage. Tokubei is compelled to go on the run.

Kyemon finds Ohatsu and tries to persuade her to give up Tokubei, blaming her for his troubles. When Tokubei reappears, Ohatsu hides him under the stairs of a porch where she is sitting. Kuheiji also turns up, offering to free Ohatsu from Gihei—essentially buying her services using the illicitly borrowed money. As the young lovers realize that the situation has become hopeless, Ohatsu and Tokubei manage to communicate through verbal and tactile codes that they are prepared to die for each other. In the end, both lovers take their own lives.

Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Gihei, a rich man from the country, is trying to decide how to spend the evening in Osaka. Two friends urge him to hire O Hatsu, the famous geisha, or courtesan, for the evening. She begs off, however, and remains with her maids, meanwhile thinking about her lover Tokubei, a clerk, who has been neglecting her. To her great joy, he arrives a short time later, but he tells her that Kyemon, his uncle and employer, had arranged for Tokubei to marry to an heiress and that his aunt had already received and spent the dowry. Tokubei had refused to marry the young woman, but this meant that the dowry had to be returned. Tokubei managed to collect the money, but later he lent it to his friend Kuheiji. Now Kyemon wants Tokubei to leave Osaka.

O Hatsu, in spite of this disturbing news, is happy once more; she had feared Tokubei no longer loved her. While the lovers are talking, Kuheiji and a group of his friends appear. When Tokubei asks for the money owed him, Kuheiji pretends to know nothing about the loan. Desperately, Tokubei attacks Kuheiji, whose friends join the fight and overwhelm Tokubei. During the uproar, Gihei returns and compels O Hatsu to...

(The entire section is 811 words.)