I’m finally getting back into the swing of watching movies again and just recently I finally sat down to watch Double Suicide, a 1969 film that caught my attention because of the obvious implications of the title, as well as my determination to get my hands on every jidaigeki film I can.
The first thing that comes to mind about Double Suicide is that it is nothing like what I expected. Throughout, there is a motif of puppeteers manipulating the action on stage, almost as if the story is a puppet play brought to life (and indeed, the story starts with puppeteers setting up a show). It’s a little strange at times, to have the masked puppeteers appear out of nowhere or sneak along behind or alongside the characters, but you get used to it after a while. It sort of reinforces the idea that the characters are not entirely in control of their actions, that they’re merely puppets telling a tragic story.
And speaking of the story….Double Suicide has one of the saddest stories I’ve ever seen. The premise centers around a hapless paper merchant named Jihei (married with two children by the way), who is hopelessly in love with a famous courtesan named Koharu. Jihei is determined to redeem Koharu from her life as a courtesan but can’t possibly hope to raise the amount of money needed to do it. Due to his fixation, his life quickly falls apart until only one course of action is possible.
In a stroke of brilliance, Jihei’s wife Osan is played by the same actress who plays Koharu. I think it’s a great choice because to me it shows that if Jihei would only open his eyes and look at the life he has with his shop, his wife and his children, then he’d see he already has a woman like Koharu in his life (in terms of looks anyway). But while Osan is loyal to an absolute fault, it’s demonstrated several times that Osan will say whatever needs to be said to get out of her situation as a courtesan. But none of this ultimately deters Jihei, he must have Koharu…or life is not worth living.
It’s also striking to me how honest the film is with how selfish the actions of Jihei and Koharu are. Unlike other tragic love stories, there’s no real attempt made to disguise this love affair as anything close to noble. Jihei and Koharu are unbelievably selfish for abandoning their respective duties to die together and openly state as much several times. And really Jihei is the more selfish of the pair because he’s abandoning his wife and two young children all for a courtesan he can’t possibly afford. His persistence leads to a horrifically sad moment when Osan’s father summarily dissolves her marriage and drags her home (without her children it should be noted). All of that because Jihei wants what he can’t have.
And finally, going back to the title of the story, I almost feel like it’s misleading. Double Suicide implies that the couple willingly kills themselves. But when you watch the scene play out….it’s not like that at all, it’s actually closer to a murder-suicide in my opinion. It just really struck me at the end that it didn’t seem like Koharu really wanted to die.
In the end I think everyone should watch Double Suicide at least once because of the unusual way the story is put together (with puppeteers controlling the story and popping in and out). It’s not my favorite jidaigeki film, but I did enjoy it.
Let me know what you think about Double Suicide in the comments below and have a great day!
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