Liberation (Review of Series 3, Episode 2)

3.2After the climactic conclusion to the preceding instalment, this episode deals with the difficult period which immediately follows, in which the women have no choice but to remain incarcerated in camp under ‘Japanese protection’ but are no longer official internees. The distinction is somewhat lost on the majority of the women, who are understandably less than enthusiastic about the prospect of having to endure extended captivity. Kate’s feelings on the matter are representative: ‘When he said the war was over, I just imagined I’d be free. I’d be with Tom in a matter of hours. So frustrating.’ In dramatic terms, the women’s interminable wait – which naturally for Tenko is historically accurate – affords further examination of the series’ Japanese characters and of the uncertain future that awaits the surviving women.

Picking up precisely where the last episode left off, the opening sequence concerns Marion’s prevention of an attack on Sato led by Maggie. Although Maggie curses Marion for her interference and initially talks about wanting to enjoy torturing Sato, it is patently clear that neither she nor the other women present are capable of meting out revenge to their former captor, regardless of the suffering and death he has inflicted. As Maggie later admits to Alice: ‘It wa’n’t Marion who stopped us.’ Maggie’s declaration that she wishes that she could have taken Kasaki’s role in Sato’s hara-kiri is also empty bravado. However, while the women may not be able to exact revenge, they are absolutely determined that they will no longer be treated like prisoners – even Alice protests aloud about drain duties – and the concessions that Marion has agreed with Yamauchi mark the first material turnaround in their fortunes.

Dorothy receives some fascinating development as she is presented as the only woman in the camp reluctant to leave its confines, especially once they are able to barter with traders for food. As she states aloud: ‘It’s not that bad here now. We’ve got food and fags. They leave us alone.’ Being left alone is clearly what Dorothy desires most of all, presumably because she can neither face nor contemplate a better alternative in the outside world. Her decision to stay put rather than join the others as they race to meet the Allies and her distracted demeanour as the ‘poached egg’ is lowered says it all. The question remains: when it comes to the future, is Dorothy more realistic or just more pessimistic than her fellow survivors? Fittingly enough, it is a certain aspect of Dorothy’s character, as presented here, which will directly contribute to the gradual rebuilding of her life: her natural aptitude for trade and business. Before now, of course, Dorothy has been very successful in selling the only commodity she had: her body. Upon discovery of the storeroom’s material bounty, Dorothy alone sees the options now open to them, chiding Christina for thinking they can live off butter and condensed milk (although Metro-Goldwyn has a good go at the latter!), and realising instead that they need to use it to barter for food from the natives. Dorothy’s lack of concern at the prospect of wringing the neck of the first chicken she purchases further underlines her hard-nosed practicality. Given her experiences since the Autumn of 1941, it is little wonder that Dorothy is less than ready to accept that the grass will be greener for her outside the camp and we can hardly blame her for the tentative way in which she clambers onto the lorry that will take her back to civilisation.

Christina’s reaction to the prospect of freedom is the complete antithesis of Dorothy’s. Despite her treatment in camp and Yamauchi’s pointed definition of her as ‘half British,’ the Eurasian appears to optimistically believe that she will pick up where she left off, even down to the possibility of hooking up with Simon Treves again. She even manages to ignore Van Meyer’s dig that: ‘We are European women of high class – some of us.’ Where Dorothy may be too pessimistic, it seems distinctly likely that Christina is far too optimistic and appears to have learnt little from her time in captivity.

As in the previous instalment, we witness little that warms us to Yamauchi. Although there is no doubt that Marion is accurate in her assertion that he is ‘a soldier of honour,’ his decisions relating to the management of the camps in the area and specifically of the distribution of supplies bring his moral judgement into serious question. The discovery of vital medical supplies just a few rooms away from the sick bay (‘Quinine, vitamins, bandages, antiseptic – all the things we’ve been crying out for’) presents a situation in which his actions can only be seen as unpardonable. However, this does not stop the Major from holding forth, and thus adding insult to injury, by confidently declaring: ‘You would have received many things if Allies had not blown up Japanese Red Cross ship bringing many parcels… You blame American submarine, Mrs Jefferson, not Japanese.’ His explanation singularly fails to explain or excuse the fact that supplies were held back when Beatrice and Kate had none left with which to tend the sick, resulting in many unnecessary deaths. His description of the American sub destroying the Japanese ship is also notable for conveniently presenting America as the mighty aggressor and Japan as the vulnerable defender. While Marion disappointingly fails to challenge Yamauchi here, later she does manage a pointed comment in response to his statement that it is good for children to see their fathers and grandfathers, saying: ‘Those that still have them.’…

This is an excerpt from Andy Priestner’s acclaimed book Remembering Tenko in which this episode is reviewed in full. The book also explores and details how the series was made and boasts hundreds of behind-the-scenes photographs. You can purchase Remembering Tenko on Amazon.

About Andy Priestner

Consultant and trainer on user experience (UX) research and design, failure, leadership and LEGO Serious Play
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