“Retreat of Okawa River”
Days after Heizo shows off his father’s silver pipe to Samanosuke, he finds it missing from its usual place in his home. Believing it was stolen, Heizo conducts a quiet investigation to find the culprit. When Kumehachi recognizes the thief as an old friend of his, he begs Heizo to show mercy.
As many times as this series has gone back to this theme, it’s safe to say that the writer has an affinity for the ‘honorable thief’. Heizo himself has shown compassion for many of them already in his treatment of Kumehachi, Omasa, and Zenpachi. His position as head of Arson/Theft Control, despite being dubbed ‘Heizo the Oni’ has never been made to seem ruthless in this series. But what about when he feel personally victimized? With the pipe being a keepsake of his father’s, Heizo’s anger over its theft is understandably more than normal.
The viewer’s first instinct may be to suspect Samanosuke, as he was the only one who saw Heizo smoke from it that day. Of course, that’s too obvious a direction and Heizo doesn’t seem to consider the thought. But for it to be someone living and working in Edo (who happens to not recognize Heizo Hasegawa by appearance), it’s a little convenient as well. In any case, Tomogoro the boatman is quite cocky indeed to pull the pipe out in front of a customer, even if he is sure the Onihei wouldn’t report its theft to the public for fear of becoming a laughing stock.
As Kumehachi reports back on his relationship with the boatman he recognizes to be the thief Tomozo of Hamazaki, the episode teases the idea of Heizo being too committed to his duty to hear Kumehachi’s pleas. The drama is too short lived though, as no one expects Heizo to harshly punish an old man who stole more for thrills than to do any harm. A small scene where he goes to flick away a caterpillar that is killing his flowers symbolizes his resolve, but just as he spares the insect, so too does he opt to accept Kumehachi’s plan instead of arresting the old thief outright.
The ending ties in a metaphor with the retreating river, and the giant koi fish, Inkyo, that Tomogoro claims has lived there his entire long life. As the fish swims away, so too can viewers assume that Tomogoro was allowed to walk free after returning Heizo’s father’s mementos. The execution of all this, however, leaves something to be desired. What little chance there was to see Heizo live up to the ‘Oni’ moniker is mollified too quickly by his warm personality and Inkyo’s inclusion as a metaphor for the charm of an aged soul feels tacked on.
This one falls short compared to the most recent episodes, but Onihei continues to be a perfectly serviceable serial drama that is enjoyable to watch each week.
– A charming character in Tomogoro in how much he seems to enjoy his modest life.
– The show continues its trend of small comedic moments that make it fun to watch
– The symbolism is either too on the nose or too ill fitting, and the drama isn’t sold well.
It is starting to seem that Onihei is not the demon that his reputation has painted him as. In an act of pure compassion, Heizo lets another thief, who steals directly from him no less, off with only a stern warning as penance for his crime. Perhaps this can be attributed to the ‘respect your elders’ mentality?
The elder under discussion is a retired thief, Tomogoro, trading bedtime burglaries for honest fare and river air. Amid rumors of the skilled, merciless Onihei confronting criminals, he resolves to temporarily emerge from retirement for one last thrill; to prove years had not weakened his stealth.
After a silver pipe belonging to his father disappears, Heizo’s motive for apprehending the thief becomes personal. The crime not only struck a personal chord, but if news that someone was able to sneak into Heizo’s bedroom (while he was sleeping there no less) surfaced, then the reputation of his agency would suffer a harsh blow. With this in mind, a low key investigation ensues, with the aid of Kumehachi.
Foremost, it is refreshing to see a familiar face, Kumehachi, being given a decent chunk of screen time again. Even more interesting, is the decision to tie Kumehachi to Tomogoro as former thieves who ran with the same gang. Ultimately, the situation created means Kumehachi is faced with choosing between his sordid past, and loyalty to a longtime friend, or allegiance to Heizo, the man who gave him a second chance at a more honorable life.
The narrative elected to follow the old idiom “if you give a man enough rope, he’ll hang himself.” Kumehachi entices Tomogoro by explaining security surrounding the Hasegawa estate has heightened following the theft. Adding to the temptation, Kumehachi flashes a golden seal and concocts an elaborate ruse involving Kumehachi himself first ‘sneaking’ into the great Onihei’s room to plant the seal and challenges Tomogoro to swap the stolen pipe for it.
In the end, Tomogoro appears to be released with the promise not to steal (at least from the Hasegawa estate) again and offered a gold ryo in exchange for returning the seal and pipe. Though the whole arc was rather touching, I have to wonder what Kumehachi thinks of Heizo’s lax treatment of Tomogoro? On the one hand, he is a former friend of Kumehachi’s and so I imagine he doesn’t wish ill will upon him. With that said, Heizo delivered the full Onihei style justice onto Kumehachi by severely pummeling him in the premiere episode.
As contrived as the scenario was, this episode further solidifies Heizo’s true nature of someone who is compassionate and willing to grant opportunities to lost souls. This begs the question of how Heizo acquired his reputation. Perhaps ‘demon’ side does exist, but is being underplayed in favor of highlighting a more relatable, pleasing side of the title hero.
– Previous supporting character, Kumehachi, was allotted a fair amount of screen time.
– Depth of Heizo’s personality is intriguing, with his more compassionate side continuing to be explored this week.
– Scenario was a bit too contrived to be believable.
This post is part of our seasonal episodic review series. To view all the posts in this series, click the following link: Viewing Party