Crunch crunch crunch
(Sui ga mi wo kuu;
“Worldly pleasures devour the man”)
Too much pleasure will destroy you. A man, specifically, who spends all his time and money on dissolution with geisha (i.e. entertainers who provide music, song and dance, and conversation) and prostitutes will eventually come to ruin.
The governing verb of this complete sentence is 食う (kuu), “to eat,” in conclusive form. The direct object of this verb, marked by the particle を (wo), is the noun 身 (mi), often “body” but in this case referring to one’s person as a whole or one’s place in society. And finally the subject, marked by the particle が (ga), is the noun 粋 (sui). Fundamentally this character means “purity” or “essence,” but by extension came to refer to “the best (stuff),” “stylish,” and eventually “worldly,” as in the worldly pleasures of song, dance, rich food, alcohol, and women. In this case its meaning rests solidly in the final zone: 粋 here refers to the world of entertainers and prostitutes.
The す (su) entry of the Edo iroha karuta set is actually 粋は身を食う (sui wa mi wo kuu), using a topic-marker particle rather than a subject-marker particle and technically making the following verb phrase into an independent clause commenting on the topic of 粋 rather than its predicate. In practical terms, though, there is no difference in meaning; apparently it just happens to be the case that the standard version has shifted to using が.
粋 on its own is often read as iki, but in this saying only sui is considered correct. Similarly, the character 酔 (“drunk”) also has sui as a reading and may seem appropriate, but is not considered a correct version of the saying. On the other hand, 粋 may be swapped out for 芸 (gei, “art,” “performance”; cf. geisha 芸者) in a variety of synonymous formations. Contrast antonym 芸は身を助く.
This phrase is attributed to a sharebon titled 『大通どらの巻』 (Daitsuu dora no maki).
(“Sono touji no ruumumeeto wa akigakki no aida, maiban no you ni kurabu de nondari odottari shite, kekkyoku sui ga mi wo kutta you ni, totsuzen daigaku wo yamete jikka ni kaetta sou da.”)
[“My roommate at the time spent the fall semester drinking and dancing almost every night at the clubs. Apparently all this partying was their undoing, because it ended with them suddenly quitting school and moving back to their parent’s house, I hear.”]