This episode is very untypical of Tenko as a whole in that rather than focusing on two or three of the regular characters it chooses to follow pretty much all of them as they continue to adjust to their post-camp lives. Unfortunately the end result is a narrative that feels more disparate and less coherent than normal. Thankfully one central theme goes some way towards knitting it together: the giving of evidence, as Yamauchi’s arrival in Singapore prompts wildly different reactions from the former internees.
Christina’s recent decision to finally deny her British ancestry and take up the native cause is very apparent throughout the episode. However, what is particularly disturbing about her shift of allegiance is the fact that she seems to have simultaneously lost any compassion for the other women. When Joss is arrested, it is clear that all she can think of is her uncle’s welfare as she ignores Stephen’s questions about Joss’s wellbeing. Later, after the Centre has been turned over by the police, she even states aloud: ‘What does it matter?’ adding: ‘All I can think of is my uncle and what they’re doing to him.’
When Marion reveals that Yamauchi has arrived in Singapore, Christina chooses to defend him on the dubious basis that everyone behaves heartlessly during a war, actively seeking to make the gathered women feel guilty for what she considers to be equally heartless actions on the part of the Allies, as she details their delayed decision to arm the natives before the Fall of Singapore. Her example appears to have the desired effect on Maggie (‘I’m sorry, I didn’t know’) but it doesn’t stand up to too much scrutiny, after all it was the Japanese rather than the Allies who massacred them, whereas the Allied crime was one of indecision. That Christina seems to be blaming her former friends for this simply because of their nationality is also illuminating. The rest of Christina’s speech is similarly unconvincing as she seeks to defend her uncle’s collaboration on the ridiculous sweeping premise that most of Europe had to work for the Nazis and were therefore just the same as him. She may accuse the women of not knowing very much, but her own knowledge is sketchy, generalised and one-sided to say the least. Thankfully Beatrice makes a brief stand when Christina declares that her uncle is only behind bars because he is Chinese, but regrettably this is the full extent of the women’s response to her accusatory monologue. She ends it by stating that, like her uncle after his imprisonment, she will ‘never be the same again’ and given this tirade we can well believe it, as foundations are firmly laid for her future actions. If this scene is meant to make us question Christina’s self-righteous anger and her loyalty then it does its job, however, if we are meant to be convinced by her dubious arguments then it misfires badly and Christina should perhaps have been given more arresting and persuasive examples.
Christina’s later revelation about the circumstances surrounding her cousin’s execution, which brings the episode to a rather too abrupt conclusion, offers slightly more food for thought than her earlier outburst, but it doesn’t change the fact that it was the Japanese who executed him and not the British. Furthermore, Christina’s ferocity suggests that the loyalty and/or value of the Chinese people is being questioned by those who are gathered around her, and that is just not the case. As we know, Ulrica loves the East and its people and has just volunteered to visit her uncle, while Joss and Stephen are selflessly running an amateur relief centre out of the goodness of their hearts, and Kate is spending her days nursing the sick. So, once again, Christina’s outburst feels off target. That might be intentional, but there is a strong sense that it is not.
While Marion, Christina and Ulrica all elect not to give evidence against Yamauchi, who has recently arrived in Singapore – the former much to Clifford’s fury – the likes of Beatrice and Maggie are quite certain of his guilt and together with Mrs Van Meyer offer their testimony. It is fascinating that the reasons why the different characters elect to give or not give evidence are nearly all different and very personal. Marion is uncomfortable with a type of justice that will ignore any of Yamauchi’s good points, Christina clearly feels a connection with the man, while it is Ulrica’s faith which leads her to forgiveness. In the other camp, Beatrice cannot forgive the withholding of medicines that would have saved so many of the sick and dying, Maggie cannot forget the punishments and Blanche’s terrible demise, while Mrs Van Meyer simply wants to tell the truth for a change!
It is testament to Burt Kwouk’s performance that despite his unflattering new garb – effectively an over-sized nappy – and status as a prisoner, Yamauchi still remains an imposing presence in the two short scenes in which he features. The first, in his cell at night, is particularly atmospheric due to the slow camera pan from the barred cell window, across the blackness, down to the composed countenance of the prisoner, Japanese-style incidental music perfectly underscoring the scene. The second, in which he is visited by Christina, serves to emphasise his calm resignation to his fate, as he accepts her gift of biscuits not for himself but for ‘the bird that comes, it will much like the little pieces.’ It is rather charming that he has named the bird after his grandson whom he has never met and is surely dead. Although this scene cannot erase the fact that the women suffered terribly under his command, it is a reminder of that which Marion is keen to hold on to: his humanity.
After the liberation of the camp, Joss admitted to Maggie that she felt ‘whacked.’ Later, when she was first approached by Stephen to help him at the Centre, she complained that she was ‘past it.’ However, unsurprisingly neither pronouncement preceded a lull in her activities, indeed, if anything she has been busier than ever. Although her flesh may be willing, in this episode there are the very first signs of the Lady Jocelyn’s emotional frailty…
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.