Masahiro Shinoda’s Double Suicide is an adaptation of a 1720 banraku play. And it wears its theatrical roots on its sleeves. Aside from the actors, the movie shows stage hand wearing black clothing and veils. This somehow makes the film an unintentional comedy to cynical millennial viewers. But it still contributes to its intended effect. These stage hands are agents of death, leading its protagonists to their tragic fates. The sets also engenders the same effect. There are no walls dividing the interior and exterior spaces. As if privacy doesn’t exist in this fictionalized version of the Edo period in Japan. The actors invade each other’s spaces, and thus, their sense of security. Everything is precarious. The actors in interior spaces, reflecting their anger, also can’t control their voices, letting the world know their feelings.
A sex worker, Koharu (Shima Iwashita) juggles three customers and lovers. One is a struggling paper merchant, Jihei (Kichiemon Nakamura), who seems to be genuinely in love with Koharu. There’s the richer businessman Tahei (Hosei Komatsu). And a new customer, who everyone suspects is Jihei in disguise. He claims to be a real samurai who insists on Koharu. Jihei and Tabei know each other and got into fisticuffs to claim Koharu’s heart and freedom. But as it turns out, the samurai is actually Jihei’s brother. He’s trying to rescue Jihei from the financial ruin he’s causing. His way of doing that is by exposing what he thinks is Koharu’s deceit, seducing her to prove her inconsistency. That’s just one of many plot twist of many that show how tragically connected these characters are.
The performances here are delightful. Both Iwashita and Nakamura lend themselves to the risque material that’s appropriate to the Edo period. Postmodern viewers interested in the risks of what most see as sexual deviance will also like what they see here. Iwashita is the standout here, playing both Koharu and Jihei’s wife Osan. The latter of which is a role that requires a lack of vanity from here. This is one of the rare instances where actors yelling at each other feels genuine and urgent. Even the narrator joins in on the action, telling the audience what amounts to Edo-era real estate information. Although intentionally ridiculous, it still reminds us of the fragility of Jihei’s situation. A situation that will lead him and his beloved to their inescapable, tragic fate that reflects real life.