A married merchant falls in love with a courtesan. Meddling family members conspire to tear them apart. Unable to find happiness in life–to overcome the expectations society imposes upon them–the lovers resolve to spend eternity together in death.
It would be a typical Japanese social melodrama… if not for them: the kuroko, black-clad puppeteers transplanted directly from bunraku theatre. They lurk at the edges of the frame, invisible to the doomed protagonists even as they subtly shape their fate. But while director Masahiro Shinoda implicates these grim stagehands in the tragedy, he does not condemn them for the unhappy role they must play. Like the two lovers, they are bound by traditions and obligations: it is their duty to observe, to participate, to manipulate–to tell the sad, sad story.
And unlike the lovers, the kuroko–and Shinoda–cannot break free of their restraints.
[Originally written June 30, 2012.]