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FREEDOM IN THE SUICIDAL ACT 49 death. There is, of course, the biological finality to consider. Simply put the person, male or female, ceases to exist. Of course in performance an actor returns home at the end of the play in which he/she commits suicide. But insofar as art imitates life, these same choices were made available to real Japanese men and women, many of whom witnessed suicide as a legitimate and sometimes justified option in kabuki performances. The death of Lady Onoe in Mirror Mountain is an explicit expression of the desire to escape the constraints imposed by feudal society. In what has come to be called the female Chushingura, Mirror Mountain is also centered on a rivalry between members of unequal status and features a similar plot to Chushingura. However, the moniker for the play is troubling in that it reinforces the notion that Japanese women are passive or somehow derivative from male initiators. A closer reading of Mirror Mountain reveals that simply re-gendering the more famous Chushingura title elides the innate complexity and potential significance of the play. Unlike Chushingura, the action of the play takes place entirely within the ladies’ court. It clearly portrays a female-dominated world in which even male gender privilege can be trumped by class distinctions given the appropriate circumstances. The sole male present at the outset of the play, Motome, objects to the brewing altercation between two of the lead characters of the play, Lady Iwafuji and Lady Onoe. Yet despite his vocal opprobrium, Motome is quickly put in his place by Lady Iwafuji. She tells him in no uncertain terms: “The women’s quarters are the responsibility of the chieflady-in-waiting and, with all due respect, this is not your domain” (Oshima 2002, 180). Thus, the power of a discrete homosocial space is invoked, and Motome wisely refrains from further comment. Some parallels to Chushingura can be drawn from the remainder of the narrative structure of Mirror Mountain. Lady Onoe is a commoner put into the care of the court to improve her marriage prospects. Lady Iwafuji, the “senior lady-in-waiting to the clan,” resents Onoe’s encroachment into a world inhabited mainly by women from samurai bloodlines (Ibid., 176). Iwafuji’s displeasure peaks when she strikes Onoe with a dirty sandal, an attack on strict standards of cleanliness and dignity that Onoe cannot bear. When Onoe is also blamed by Iwafuji for the theft of a sacred Buddhist image, Onoe is driven to suicide. Just before committing the act she proclaims: “I may be a woman, but I serve in a samurai mansion and must live by its values” (Ibid., 203). Here Onoe calls attention to her two most distinct class and gender markers in the same sentence. Implicit in her statement is an acknowledgement of the lesser strength and status of women and a reconfirmation of the privilege of the samurai class. Mirror Mountain echoes Yuranosuke’s role in Chushingura by presenting a female protagonist in the character of Ohatsu, Onoe’s loyal maidservant.

Sagar XVII — 2007