The commentary on “Sonezaki Shinju”
1) Historical Background
The lovers suicide of young man and woman happened in a forest of Sonezaki Tenjin （曽根崎天神*1）of north Osaka in the spring of 1703. The young man’s name was Tokubei (徳兵衛)who was 25 years old and a sales clerk at the soy sauce shop, Hiranoya （平野屋）. The young woman’s name was Ohastu(お初)who was 21 years old (there is the opinion with 19 years old) and a harlot at Tenmaya （天満屋） of Douzima Shinchi. This lovers suicide became a public great topic then.
In those days Such famous cases had often been dramatized off the cuff in both Bunraku(Japanese puppet theater) and Kabuki. They were called "Kiwamono" （際物）which meant products on the (short-lived) topic of the day. These productions played a role such as the article of the gossip magazine.
“Sonezaki Shinju” was written by Monzaemon Chikamatsu (近松門左衛門) who was invited as a new special playwright for Takemotoza (竹本座,one Bunraku theater). Although this theater was stressed financially then, Sonezaki Shinju was said to become the record-breaking big hit to recover this condition at a stretch. In addition, mimicking this play, the cases to commit lovers suicide have appeared one after another.
2) On“Sonezaki Shinju”
Speaking of Monzaemon Chikamatsu, there is no person in our time who does not know him as the best playwright in the Edo era. However, Chikamatsu’s productions which were staged in Kabuki at the end of Edo era were limited. This may be because “Kabuki-tic sentiment” of Osaka merchant at Genroku (元禄 around 1700) era was too impulsive to understand for people at the end of Edo era. Many of Chikamatsu’s productions staged in Kabuki at the end of Edo era often depended on the new scripts which were renewed by the causality. Curiously Sonezaki Shinju which is the most popular product now was staged in 1953 in Kabuki at first. Of course the evaluation of Chikamatsu was high in the Edo era. The lyric of the music at the scene “Michiyuki” (道行*2) where Tokubei and Ohatu walked for a place to die was praised as the most beautiful composition in those days. Donald Keene talked as follows when he saw this product.
“In the West, such a play does not exit absolutely. At the 2nd scene (Tenmaya), (Tokubei) appeared on the stage with a figure wretched, entered the space under the floor and clung to Ohastu’s ankle. There must not had been such a miserable main character in the western play. Then why did such an unreliable man have a qualification to become a main character? It was because there was a scene Michiyuki. Without Michiyuki, there could not be the play Sonezaki Shinju. Ohastu and Tokubei go to a place to die as representatives of Karma of human being or Weltschmerz. Therefore they become tall or great while walking. And Tokubei became excellent when he arrived the forest of Sonezaki. He died as a great person.”
3) Summary of “Sonezaki Shinju”
Ohastu, a harlot at Tenmaya of Osaka Shinchi met Tokubei a sales clerk at the soy sauce shop, Hiranoya in the precinct of Ikutama shrine (生玉神社). When she grieved that he did not meet her, he explained his situation.
Tokubei’s master had a plan that he would marry his niece with Tokubei and handed a dowry to Tokubei’s mother. Although Tokubei refused this plan and claimed back the money, he lent its money to his friend Kuheizi (九平次) temporarily as he asked.
Then Kuheizi appeared there and Tokubei told him to return the money with showing a deed. But Kuheizi insisted that the seal of the deed was an imitation and the deed was a phony. Without paying the money to his master, Tokubei was not able to live as a merchant.
When Ohastu worried about Tokubei in the evening of the day at Tenmaya, Tokubei appeared and she concealed him under the floor.
In front of Kuheizi who came to Tenmaya with his colleagues, Ohastu exchanged the promise of the death with Tokubei sending signals each other through her legs.
*2 A dance play, which is part of a Kabuki drama. It generally depicts two young lovers on the way to commit suicide or two travelling characters with a romantic implication attached to their journey.
Written by Yamamoto Kichinosuke
Translated by Rakunosuke
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