Invitation To  BUNRAKU

Plays Famous Plays: Sewa-mono (Contemporary, domestic plays)

Sonezaki shinju (The Love Suicides at Sonezaki)

Chikamatsu Monzaemon
First staged:

SummaryA legendary masterpiece that established the genre of sewa-mono

This story dramatizing a true event that actually occurred is about a couple that committed love suicides. Written for the narrator Takemoto Gidayu, this work became a major hit, bringing the Takemoto-za theatre back on its feet. It is a monumental masterpiece that established the new genre of sewa-mono plays showing the lives of the commoners of this period.

While this tragedy written in beautiful sentences is highly acclaimed also for its literary value, it was not performed for over 200 years. Parts of the story were rearranged and the play was revived in the mid-20th century, and it continues to be performed to this day.

Acts that are frequently staged include "Ikudama Shazen (The Precincts of the Ikutama Shrine)," in which Ohatsu, a courtesan, and Tokubei, a shop clerk, meet each other and fall in love, "Tenmaya" (The Tenmaya Teahouse [Ochaya]), in which the two decide to kill themselves, and "Tenjin no Mori" (The Forest by the Tenjin Shrine), in which the couple heads to the forest to find a place for their death.

Highlight: "Tenmaya (The Tenmaya Teahouse [Ochaya])"Ohatsu conveys her decision to commit suicide with a man hiding under her kimono hem

Tokubei is tricked and his money is stolen. Ohatsu sneaks Tokubei under the hem of her kimono, and in a monologue-like discourse, asks if he is willing to die with her. Tokubei strokes her ankle with his throat to express his consent.

This scene in which the couple expresses their feelings with each other, without exchanging words and without being seen by others, is made visually stunning with the stage being divided into a teahouse and the underneath its veranda.

February 2010
National Theatre, Small Theatre
"Sonezaki shinju" Tenmaya

Main cast

Narrator: Toyotake Shimatayu VIII
Shamisen player: Tsuruzawa Seitomo II
Ohatsu: Yoshida Minosuke III
Tokubei: Kiritake Kanjuro III

The lines in the video

Pretending to talk to herself, Ohatsu asks Tokubei with her foot, “You had intended to help a person. However, this has turned into a misfortune, and you were deceived instead. Since there is no evidence, you cannot even make up an excuse. Given the situation, it is your fate to die. I want to ask you if you are prepared to die.” Below her, Tokubei nods, holds onto her ankle and strokes it with his throat, informing her that he would commit suicide.