I’d be tempted to sing “It’s a Small World” right now – that is, if I didn’t hate the song with every fibre of my being and it wasn’t the stuff of nightmares. It’s ironic, but by spreading out the story geographically the way he has in this arc, Noda Satoru has begun to tie it together narratively as it never has been. It’s a great gift for any storyteller to be able to achieve something sweeping and intimate at the same time, and Noda-sensei certainly has it. But we’ve not seeing it come to full glorious flower consistently until this season – with no small thanks to the adaptation, especially Suehiro Kenichirou’s soundtrack.
I had no idea what this week’s episode title was when I noted that Kiroranke “thinks like a revolutionary”, but this week’s episode certainly bore it out. He’s a tough one to peg, because Kiroranke is extremely good at deception. But he has the air of the zealot about him, and I have no doubt that he believes it when he tells Asirpa that the gold can help ethnic minorities all across Asia. The problem with zealots is that nothing and no one is too great a price to pay to achieve what they see as their noble goals, and I fear that Asirpa – sharp knife though she is – is above her pay grade in navigating these waters.
The story of Kiroranke, Wilf, and Sofia’s time in the company of the Japanese photographer Hasegawa-san and his wife Fina is enormously effective. This season has been chock full of flashbacks, and normally that would be a major potential problem. But these have been so well-integrated, and so illuminative about the characters in question, that each one has been a mini-masterpiece. The emotional wringer this story put me through was quite something – from worrying about Hasegawa and what Wilk and his crew might do to him and his family to the stunning revelation at the end of the episode.
“Strength and beauty are the same”, Wilk’s life philosophy, is a rather chilling notion when you think about it. It’s the mantra of a purist, an extremist. I thought for a time he was the lone wolf in allegorical question here just as Ogata was the mountain cat, but it turned out to be another. As Hasegawa teaches the trio English and marvels at Kiroranke and especially Wilk’s ability to absorb it quickly, his situation seems more and more precarious. And Hasegawa seems to sense it too – it’s pretty obvious that something is off with this trio. Sofia is no peasant (she speaks French) and the mens’ interest in Japanese is obviously not to be explained away innocently.
Eventually Hasegawa sends Fina and their infant daughter Olga away, seeming to have realized who the visiting trio are. But the Czar’s secret police arrive just after her departure. Ironically the trio of revolutionaries could have left unmolested, for they weren’t the reason for the visit at all. It turns out Hasegawa is a Japanese spy who’s been found out, and he’s enormously well-prepared for this eventuality. Circumstances make allies of Hasegawa and the revolutionaries, and with the help of the Gatling gun Hasegawa has been hiding inside his camera, they slaughter the attackers with chilling dispatch (and tragic consequences).
Was I surprised at the episode’s ending? Yes, certainly – it wasn’t until I heard “Hasegawa Kouichi isn’t my real name” that it hit me what he was about to say. Once spoken, it fit like a glove. The events of that day cast ripples which are still felt in the story right up to the present tense. Sofia has never recovered from the guilt at having accidentally killed Olga, and it led directly to her decision to stay behind when Wilk and Kiroranke crossed the ice to Karafuto. As to the impact on Tsurumi, well, that’s all conjecture of course. But a great many things surely had to happen to turn him into the man he is, and this was among the most important.
In practical terms, this reveal changes the dynamic of the story in a very significant way. Tsurumi knows who his quarry is, while Kiroranke has no idea of that fact. That gives a man as cunning as Tsurumi a considerable advantage, and I have no doubt that it’s a card he’ll play at some critical juncture. Indeed, as one takes stock of the current situation, the extent to which it’s come about as a result of Tsurumi’s manipulation of events and people is striking.