Saturday, May 29, 2010

Woman-Killer in Oil Hell

"Onnagoroshi Abura no Jigoku(女殺油地獄:Woman-Killer in Oil Hell )" is a bunraku play, which was written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon(近松門左衛門). It's thought to be based on an actual incident that occurred on the 4th day of the 5th month in the lunar calendar (on May 29th in the Gregorian calender) in 1721. But it's not unidentified.

The 23-year-old Yohei(与兵衛) killed the 27-year-old Okichi(お吉) because she rejected his appeal to lend him approximately 200,000 yen in a current value.(It's the same as the average starting salary for university graduates in Japan.)

He says, "I was hell-bent on preventing my father from being accused of a crime. I couldn't care less about the others."

He is a prodigal son and borrows money in the parent's name.
His stepfather succeeded his deceased father, who was his boss, to become a shop owner and married his mother. His stepfather can't reproach Yohei with his misconduct. His mother is very strict with Yohei. Yohei's elder brother serves his apprenticeship in another shop. The family members except Yohei care for each other and refrain from speaking their minds.

Okichi's husband runs a shop selling oil for lamp. They married more than 10 years ago and have some children. Yohei and Okichi are neighbors across the street.
He feels comfortable talking with her but don't have a romantic relationship with her.

He portrays her as a woman like a candy fashioned in animal forms- it's good-looking but tastes bad. He is falling head over heels for a courtesan. So his parents asks her to reprove him for his misconduct and sometimes cares for him. When he becomes muddy while fighting together, she helps to remove traces of soil.

He understands his parents' feelings and decides to pay off his debt in order not to give them further trouble. He asks for a loan to her as his last hope, but she don't comply with his request for a loan.
The highlight of the play is the scene of trying to kill her on oil-slicked floor. Afer her death, he attends a funeral for her with a completely innocent face.

Other bunraku writers cast him as a nefarious villain, but Chikamatsu didn't so. Therefore, his play didn't become a hit. It is said that Yohei resembles today's younger generation who snaps and loses their temper quickly.

After the Meiji period, this play is considered to be his masterpiece and is frequently performanced. It has been made into movies several times. Recent movies focuses on a romantic relationship between Yohei and Okichi. Their relation is open to a variety of interpretation.

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