Double-episode blog here, as I marathoned 10-11. And my goodness, what utterly brilliant episodes they were.
Episode 10 focused in large part on Yagi-san, who is proving to be a fascinating character despite his relatively limited screen time. Much of his past and that of Yaichi is reveled, as we finally learn what has been suspected since the beginning – Yaichi is Seinoshin, the unwanted heir who was kidnapped and presumed dead. Yagi was one of the lonely boy’s few friends, and now has largely deduced his true identity. He goes to Masa for confirmation that Yaichi has the leaf-shaped scar on his back, but only gets it when Masa lies badly in telling him that he doesn’t. Did Yagi befriend Masa only to get more information on Yaichi? I want to think not – he’s a hugely likable character. But as with so much in this show, it isn’t spelled out right away.
Meanwhile, we also close the loop on Masa’s little sister, who goes back to their hometown richer by a silver hairpin (courtesy of Matsu) and newly determined to stand up to her older brother. She was an adorable character – and she certainly came away convinced she had stolen Matsu’s heart, thanks to Masa’s clumsy conversational skills.
Meanwhile Jin – the kidnapper who decided to spare the young Seinoshin’s life, has arrived in Edo and is staying with the Elder, planning his revenge against Seinoshin – though for what, we’re not let in on yet. The Five Leaves have finally made another kidnapping – this time the son of one of the Shogun’s direct retainers – with much talk that this may be the last job. It seems no one much needs the money anymore, and Yaichi’s motives to continue are unclear. Masa has been growing somewhat bolder in his manner and actions in the last few episodes, however. After the ransomed youth’s family’s servant delivers half the money with directions to kill the boy quietly, revealing that he is “not his father’s blood” Masa confronts Yaichi in his boldest action of the series, telling him that he plans to go see the Elder to learn about his past. Yaichi goes into a rage (well, a hissy-fit at least) slightly injuring Masa and frightening his cat, but doesn’t try to stop him.
And this leads us to the most shocking and violent scene in the series, as Elder reveals an episode from the past when the young Seinoshin was still part of the Bakuro gang and he was still “The Saint”. An overriding sense of dread has been building these last few eps, and it finally bears fruit as we bear witness to a shocking act of brutality from the young Seinoshin, killing one of his gang-mates at the behest of their leader – though whether this was the act of betrayal that Jin now wishes to avenge is not clear (I suspect not).
It’s hard to do justice to all that in words – you have to see it to appreciate the brilliance of it. The name of the show is “House of Five Leaves” but really, it’s just as much about roots. All of these characters are inexorably, unshakably rooted to their past – an unbroken line of events that reaches out from the past and binds them in the present. Each cast member – brilliantly written and realized – carries the weight of all that has come before, and no matter how they try, cannot escape it. Even Yaichi, who has changed his name, appears to have founded the Five Leaves as a way to deal with his own painful past. And as we enter the end-game, all of those roots are becoming entangled – and we see how all the seemingly random interactions of the last 11 weeks are linked. The PV (Sadly, the very last and delivered by the cat) reveals Yaichi weeping at a grave – his own, or that of the servant that he loved as a lonely child?
Of course, Masa is at the center of all this – the catalyst that has powered much of the current situation. Lonely and without family, he clearly has come to love the Five Leaves – yet he retains his profound sense of kindness and his samurai’s sense of duty, no matter how timid his exterior. I suspect he holds the key as the story wraps up – difficult choices are going to be forced upon him, and I worry for him greatly. I worry for all these characters – and I don’t want to let them go. This is a series that rewards patience – all is revealed, logically and realistically – but only in due time. It’s the best show of 2010, for me.