Combustible Celluloid
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With: Shima Iwashita, Kichiemon Nakamura, Makoto Akatsuka, Kamatari Fujiwara, Jun Hamamura, Sumiko Hidaka, Tokie Hidari, Yoshi Kato, Shizue Kawarazaki, Hosei Komatsu, Yusuke Takita
Written by: Masahiro Shinoda, Toru Takemitsu, Taeko Tomioka, based on a play by Monzaemon Chikamatsu
Directed by: Masahiro Shinoda
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: Japanese, with English subtitles
Running Time: 104
Date: 05/24/1969

Double Suicide (1969)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Strings Attached

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The outstanding Double Suicide (Criterion Collection, $29.95) is a film unlike any I've ever seen. Director Shinoda (considered a member of the "New New Wave" along with Nagisa Oshima) adapted a 1720 play about a paper merchant who sacrifices his wife and kids for the love of a courtesan. Shinoda begins his movie in a modern-day theater with puppeteers preparing for the show. When the story itself begins, Shinoda replaces the puppets with real actors, but the puppeteers' presence remains. Figures dressed entirely in black move among the characters, helping to position them and manipulating the story. This framework provides the story with an extra level, a feeling of fate or destiny controlling everything. Shinoda plays his trump card near the film's beginning by having his hero (Kichiemon Nakamura) walking over a bridge, then panning down to show the bodies of the soon-to-be-deceased lovers underneath. Shinoda also cast his real-life wife Shima Iwashita as both the courtesan and the paper merchant's wife. No matter where he turned, he was stuck with the same woman. The film is shot in lovely black and white with lots of constricting vertical lines trapping the characters into their destinies. Even in the end, when the lovers run away to an open field, the tall, dry grass forms vertical lines against their bodies.

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