Shinjû: Ten no amijima (Double Suicide) - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Shinjû: Ten no amijima (Double Suicide) Reviews

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½ September 22, 2016
Even though I'm Christian and have always been brought up considering the act of suicide a 'taboo' subject, I have always held great respect for both the Japanese way of doing so to save face, and the thoroughly romantic notion, say, from the likes of 'Romeo and Juliet' (with Shakespeare's writings being probably the cornerstone of Western thought)--so from two completely different cultural perspectives--that a life without the one you love is not worth living.

I had previously only seen two of Masahiro Shinoda's other works for The Criterion Collection--the earlier works 'Pale Flower' and 'Samurai Spy', and I don't know if it was on purpose by the company in selecting the titles, but I marveled at the breathtaking variety of his scripts, all from such a short timespan (1964-69). Being a patron of the theatre (in many different modes) and as anthropologically cosmopolitan in my approach to life as is conceivable, I salute Shinoda with a profound respect, and look forward to investigating as many of his other works as possible.
August 27, 2016
This is Masahiro Shinoda's high concept staging of a bunraku puppet show with actors instead of dolls (but retaining the figures in black who control everything). The result is as highly stylized as you would imagine and starkly shot in high contrast black and white with Toru Takemitsu's minimalist score aiding in the effect. Based on a tale of doomed lovers by Chikamatsu (also a favourite of Mizoguchi's), the plot sees Jihei the paper merchant and Koharu the courtesan drawn inexorably to the fate announced in the title of the film. Even knowing what will happen, it is impossible to look away. Jihei's wife and two children are also dragged into the drama (as are his brother and her father). Everybody is so wrong-headed but erotic compulsion cannot be denied. The poor puppeteers in black can only look on in sympathy and horror (even as they occasionally assist the players); this adds another odd layer to the proceedings. The only other Shinoda film I've seen is Pale Flower (1964), a striking yakuza drama that is well worth your time.
Robert B.
Super Reviewer
September 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.
December 16, 2014
Ingeniously directed and performed.
Super Reviewer
September 26, 2014
Winner of the three prestigious Kinema Junpo Awards including Best Film, Best Actress (Shima Iwashita) and Best Director (Masahiro Shinoda), Double Suicide is a masterful cinematic retelling of a famous bunraku (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 bunraku and apply it to film, where they do not intervene in the decisions and tragic outcomes of the characters, but rather facilitate the physical 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.

June 24, 2014
awesome masterpiece of japanese new wave cinema
September 20, 2013
I have always had a soft spot for Eastern Cinema. This film, adapted from a book, and a kabuki play, is shot and performed beautifully. The theme of breaking away from social structures and trying to find love in a hopeless scenario plays well with the beauty.
½ February 17, 2013
A beautifully filmed and provocative exploration of love, desire, and the nature of cinema/theatre, Double Suicide is based on a play from classic Japanese theatre, and the film explores the nature of theatre, film, and the relation between the two. The opening credits roll over a montage of bunraku puppets and features kuroko--Japanese stagehands who appear in all-black and which Shinoda uses to creepy effect as well as to achieve a meta-level commentary on the nature of film and its relation to the everyday. While Double Suicide is no doubt brilliant, there is way to much crying and screaming. It becomes tedious before the end. I appreciate good drama and tragedy, but I found this to be a bit over-the-top and annoying. Some of Ozu's constraint might have been beneficial to an otherwise excellent film...
½ April 11, 2012
one of those haunting films I absolutely admire but dread watching the second time.
Super Reviewer
½ March 27, 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.
August 11, 2011
Chikamatsu's 18th century Kabuki classic, re-told by Shinoda with abstract realism and a haunting poetic irony, blending stage theatrics and modernist set design with real world situations. Shinoda's most famous film, and a late landmark of the Japanese New Wave.
July 15, 2011
Quirky and twisted, but amusingly creative and entertaining!
June 14, 2011
Absolument magnifique et d'une grande inventività (C) formelle. C'est dommage que le personnage masculin soit aussi pathà (C)tique mais j'imagine que c'est volontaire. Pas loin de 4 à (C)toiles...
August 20, 2010
recommended by rubystevens......
Super Reviewer
½ August 18, 2010
this is a mind blowing piece of surrealism. it begins in a bunraku puppet theater, transitioning to live actors, an emotionally off putting device at first. the effect is compounded by the highly stylized sets and use of ghostly kuroko, stagehands dressed entirely in black who help to advance the action while seemingly observing as helplessly as the audience. the merchant jihei's erotic obsession with a prostitute who loves him in return makes them outlaws from rigid societal norms. both his lover and long-suffering wife are played by the same actress, seemingly an archetype of woman. the scenes of the pair's final love-making in a cemetery and jihei's kuroko assisted death were very beautiful. i know it sounds pretentious and it was at first hard to adjust to but it's unlike anything i've seen before and well worth a look
½ August 5, 2010
a kabuki play stylized beyond the norm for this film version of a puppet play as performed by real actors. a poor merchant and his mistress, a high class courtesan, try to raise enough money to "redeem" her (buy her freedom from the owner of the brothel) but find it increasingly impossible as people from the community find out about their relationship. this is further agitated by the merchants wife and her family. the turn of events with the wife is more devastating, as far as im concerned, than the inevitable conclusion of the film. shinoda is a good director for stylized productions. he has a great eye for cinematography.
½ April 30, 2010
Difficult to sit through, but its integration of bunraku puppet theater with live-action film is ingenious.
November 23, 2009
It's like New Wave Kabuki. To be honest, some of the meaning flew over my head until I read the accompanying booklet, but I liked it anyway. Excellent cinematography. Reminded me a bit of An Actor's Revenge.
August 4, 2009
The idea of the film as a puppet-show is conceptually interesting, but the histrionics get to be a bit much. There are more than a few interesting shots, but it just never seemed to me that the content of the story was all that interrelated with the form in which it was being presented.
Super Reviewer
½ July 8, 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.
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