Directors Note

Chikamatsu(1653-1724) wrote eleven 'lovers' suicides' plays between 1703-1720. The first was Lovers' Suicides at Sonezaki(1703); the last, Lovers' Suicides at Amijima(1720). Both have been in the repertoire of Bunraku and Kabuki, and have even been made as films. Unlike them, however, the eighth play, Lovers' Suicides at Imamiya(1711),has been staged only infrequently. Ours may be the first production for many years.

Lovers' Suicides at Imamiya does not have obviously dramatic characters: there is no pitifully ill-fated, economically-imprisoned courtesan, no shopkeeoer or shopkeeper's son obsessed by her but too poor to buy her out or even to see her often.. Instead, the lovers in the play are rather or dinary. a seamstress and a young shop assistant, living in a merchant town in eignteenth-century Osaka. Neither are the play's other characters particularly special: there is a kind-hearted shop-master, his family and hard working colleagues. Perhaps it is because the characters seem so very ordinary that there have been few productions of the play. Bunraku and Kabuki were always entertainment for the people, so plays lacking spectacular pleasure-quater scenes, or large numbers of elaborately-costumed courtesans, might have struggle to find audiences.

As was his custom, Chikamatsu wrote this sewa-mono(a domestic or contemporary play) based on actual event: in the case, something which had happened only a year previously. A widowed merchant wanted a shop-maid as his sencond wife. Everyone in the shop, at least, thought it an ideal marriage proposal. But the play charts the wider consequences of the relationship. Chikamatsu created as his heroine an unmarried, 26 years-old seamstress, Kisa, skilled enough at her job to earn enough money to feed an entire family. However, in those days girls normally married in their teens and had their children young, courtesans had already reached the end of their working lives by the time they were Kisa's age. With contemporary standards such as these at works, we can see that even though she is financially independent Kisa is under enormous social pressure.

And in the matter of age, things were little different for men Trandesmenin the Edo era(1603-1867) formed their own guilds, which licensed their members. Without a license, no dencent merchant could run a shop in the mercantile world of Osaka. The license was either inherited or granted through the recommendation of a senior figure, such as the master of the shop. A boy started his apprenticeship at around the age of ten, by the time he had completed his junior and senior shop-assistantship and become independent, he could well be in his mid-thirties. Only then was marriage feasible or desirable. As emplyees usually lived in the shop premises, marrying young was neither very common nor easy. Living in a tight-knit society, it was extremely hard to even think of going against social convention.

From most points of view, Kisa and Jirobei do not make a good match. But the innocent Jirobei sees in Kisa only a beautiful, warm-hearted woman. And he loves her. Kisa accepts his love without hesitation. Perhaps it is the kind of love for which she has been waiting her man did not come to her only for her skill or labour.

Committing 'lovers' suicides' was prohibited; when it did happen, victims' bodies were exposed to public view. There seems little romantic here: the reality of the love pact was harsh. So why did they do it? Chikamatsu wrote,

The lovers are making a journey to the Pure Land for eternal togetherness. Killing them selves together is the act of walking across the bridge to the Pure Land.

It is an idea which owes something to Buddhist philosophy. Kisa and Jirobei achieve their freedom by breaking away from the constraints of a feudal society in the only way they can. And that is their tragedy.

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