Shinjû: Ten no amijima (Double Suicide)

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A masterpiece of Japanese New Wave cinema, renowned filmmaker Masahiro Shinoda directs this brilliant modernist reworking of a famous 1720 bunraku (puppet theater) play written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon. Set in Osaka in the 18th century, the film centers on the doomed romance between Jihei (Kichiemon Nakamura), a down and out married paper merchant passionately in love with doe-eyed courtesan Koharu (Shima Iwashita), whom he cannot afford to buy out of servitude. Koharu herself has also fallen in love with Jihei; she even starts turning away other patrons to be with him. Their love is further imperiled by Tahei (Hosei Komatsu), a rich, obnoxious merchant who flaunts his ability to buy Koharu's indenture. Suicide is the only way for the two to be together. Jihei's wife Osan (also played by Iwashita) senses the couple's intent and writes Koharu a letter pleading for his life. Touched by the sincerity of the letter, Koharu feigns reservations with killing herself, prompting Jihei to tearfully renounce her. Later, as Jihei skulks about the house as his wife runs the family business, he overhears that Tahei has at last bought his former lover's contract. Knowing that Koharu would just as soon kill herself, Osan -- the ideal of the dutiful wife -- offers Jihei her kimonos to pawn to save her husband's lover. Just as everything seems to be working out for the better, Osan's misinformed father bursts in just before Jihei is about to leave. The enraged old man cannot believe that Jihei is sacrificing his family for a prostitute and drags Osan away, demanding a divorce over Osan's protestations. Later, Jihei and Koharu--together at last--steal into the night, cut their hair -- absolving them from societal obligations -- and make love all night in a graveyard before they commit double suicide. This film won the prestigious Kinema Jumpo "Number One" prize for both Best Picture and Best Actresses. ~ Jonathan Crow, Rovi


Critic Reviews for Shinjû: Ten no amijima (Double Suicide)

All Critics (4)

Audience Reviews for Shinjû: Ten no amijima (Double Suicide)

  • Sep 30, 2015
    Double Suicide is a film which I do not completely understand but nonetheless rate up. I rate flat or down many other films I do not understand because they feel hollow or pretentious or have no positive qualities I can appreciate. With Double Suicide, I cannot rate it as average given the very interesting filmmaking and choreography. I expect that with better understanding of Japanese theater and with repeated viewings I would come to better appreciate the film. That said, I find the (intentional) overwrought acting with overdub sound to be grating and give Double Suicide a low four stars.
    Robert B Super Reviewer
  • Sep 26, 2014
    Winner of the three prestigious Kinema Junpo Awards including Best Film, Best Actress (Shima Iwashita) and Best Director (Masahiro Shinoda), <i>Double Suicide</i> is a masterful cinematic retelling of a famous <i>bunraku</i> (puppet theater) Japanese play of 1720 set in Osaka and written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon. Potentially Shinoda's highest peak of cinematic artistry and theatrical melodrama, this psychological spectacle is a Shakesperian tragedy of striking visuals, overwhelming performances and strokes of surrealism that simultaneously invade a tragic story about loyalty, love affairs and societal obligations that range from the marital to the family-related. Surprisingly, the film opens with present-day (1969) documentary(?) segments, featuring the cast, the crew and the organization of the attrezzo, where we see them organizing the scenography, but seemingly preparing everything necessary for a puppet play. The puppets are clearly displayed. While the initial credits are displayed, we hear a conversation between Shinoda and one of the writers, Taeko Tomioka, discussing the difficulties involved in finding a proper shooting location for filming the "final suicide sequence in the graveyard", and considering what parts of the script should not be followed closely. As we advance through the credits, the puppets fade out and are transformed in the main actors, whereas the crew assume supernatural, ghastly forms of dark ghosts supposedly representing the puppeteers. Let's just omit saying that this is one of the most ingenious opening scenes ever, and focus on Shinoda's honorable homage to the theatricality of the time. There are very rare cases in which the performances, the cinematography, the script, the music and the artistry involved in the set designs and art decorations correlate perfectly and harmoniously to create a complete, melodramatic masterpiece from every possible angle. Notorious is the work of actress Shima Iwashita, who portrays BOTH roles of Osan, Jihei's wife, and Koharu, the deplored courtesan. Stunning is the usage of the color WHITE to make the film seem like it is taking place in an otherwordly realm surrounded by light, but not necessarily heavenly. Interesting is the decision by Shinoda of keeping the concept of the "puppeteers" from the tradition of <i>bunraku</i> and apply it to film, where they do not intervene in the decisions and tragic outcomes of the characters, but rather facilitate the <b>physical</b> circumstances forming part of the contexts of the characters' decisions. It is like an alternative take on the role that the Chorus had in the ancient works of Sophocles, such as "Oedipus Rex" and "Antigone", where they would chant between one act and the next, highlighting unspoken emotions, unclarified actions, or explaining the tragic circumstances that were surrounding the characters. They were a complement to the story. In this case they are too, but rather working mysteriously like shadows lurking in the dark, awaiting for the execution of their tasks, like symbols of fate. 99/100
    Edgar C Super Reviewer
  • Jan 09, 2012
    Adapted from an 18th century play, Masahiro Shinoda's "Double Suicide" is a classic tragedy. The story was originally written for a form of Japanese puppet theater called "bunraku," hence the opening credits roll over footage of such puppets being readied for performance. The plot is initially simple but soon turns trickier. Jihei is the struggling owner of a paper shop. He has two young children with wife Osan but unfortunately has fallen in love with Koharu, a local courtesan. (Remarkably, the same actress portrays both Osan and Koharu -- between Osan's blackened teeth and Koharu's thick geisha makeup, this detail is easy to miss.) Koharu loves Jihei too and, against all odds, the two actually have a monogamous relationship (Jihei no longer sleeps with Osan, and Koharu refuses other clients). Jihei hopes to buy Koharu's freedom but can't afford the price, and a wealthy cretin may buy her first. Meanwhile, Osan and her family naturally resent Jihei's infidelity. Will this conflict resolve happily? Re-read the film's title. The story's pull is not so much about foolish Jihei, but about the unlikely empathy between Osan and Koharu. Koharu doesn't want Osan saddled with a husband's suicide, and Osan worries about Koharu's potential misery with the unwanted rival suitor. It's an interesting angle to emphasize, given a culture where women were strictly secondary. Also interesting is how Shinoda stages the action. In typical New Wave fashion, "Doubie Suicide" continually reminds us of the film's false reality. The main set has oversized characters painted all over the floor (a purely stylistic move) and, more importantly, a variety of black-hooded figures lurk around the frame, serving as onscreen stagehands. They silently observe, supply props, rearrange sets and even assist in the climactic act of violence, but are never acknowledged by the main players. Spooky and fascinating.
    Eric B Super Reviewer
  • Jul 08, 2009
    From The Criterion Collection Spine Number 104. If you don't know what the Criterion Collection is you need to do a Google Search on it and check out about 400 of the best films you will see in the lifetime. if your idea of a good movie is Spiderman, Harry Potter or Ghostbusters, then the Criterion Collection IS NOT FOR YOU. In this movie a Paper Merchant who is married with children falls in love with a courtesan (Whore), and must choose between the two. By the title you can guess the ending. Its in Black & White and the Language is Chinese with English Subtitles. This is Art house stuff try it, I will warn you it takes a little to get used to but when you do your hooked to these movies. 4 1.2 Stars.
    Bruce B Super Reviewer

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