Tonbi (2013) – Episode 1 Synopsis

Episode 1: The inspiring story of the love and life of a Showa family ~ The 30 years of a helpless man who loved his irresistible wife and son


It is 1998. Ichikawa Akira, who works at the publishing company Tokuda Books, makes a presentation on a free gift to accompany Tokuda’s elementary school study magazine, but the demonstration piece falls apart when he tries to show the management what it can do. One of them thinks that it is not a bad idea but suggests that Akira think of something that is uncomplicated and yet can engage children in play. Back in the office after the presentation, Akira learns that the editor next to him got an idea for the free gift from his parent. Akira asks the photograph of his father that he has on his desk if he can give him ideas. Naturally he gets no response. Shifting his gaze to the window, he sees a pair of black kites flying together in the sky … …

In the late summer of 1972, the child of truck driver Ichikawa Yasuo, affectionately known as Yasu or Ya-san, is expected to be born any day. Yasu sings cheerfully as he goes about his work. He has even decided to abstain from alcohol and gambling, which he likes very much, until his child is born. His boss teases him for behaving like a different person. Even so, Yasu’s daily routine is to go to the pub Yunagi when work is over. Yunagi is run by Taeko, who is like an elder sister to him. Yasu’s mother died when he was a child and he was abandoned by his father too. Now he has his dear wife Misako and he feels self-conscious about the arrival of his child.


Before going home, Yasu makes an appearance at Yunagi. However, the sight of Taeko pouring a glass of the finest quality sake for his childhood friend Shoun makes him feel as if he is being taunted. He complains that they are doing this on purpose. Shoun and Taeko make fun of the quick-tempered Yasu and he leaves in irritation. Taeko knowingly says that Yasu feels embarrassed that Misako will be at home when he goes back, that he has married and become a husband, that a person like him has a family. When Shoun wonders why he would feel that way after being married for three years, Taeko reminds him that Yasu did not have parents.

At the foot of the apartment block, Yasu tries to shake off the tension by clearing his throat. Then he starts to climb up the stairs. Misako, who can tell that it is Yasu from the sound of his footsteps, throws open the door and comes out to greet him with a smile. In the house, the low dining table is packed with the side dishes that have been set out. Misako happily watches Yasu eat with gusto, secretly grateful that he is willing to let her have her way. Misako’s parents died in an accident when she was five. Because she grew up in a relative’s house, she felt that she had to hold back and could not properly eat. So she dreamed of having family meals with an abundance of side dishes.


Yasu reluctantly tells Misako that he has decided on the names for their child. If it is a boy, he will be called Akira, after the singer Kobayashi Akira. And if it is a girl, she will be called Sayuri, after the actress Yoshinaga Sayuri. The names might sound a little old fashioned, but Misako thinks they are good. Since the doctor told her to talk to their child while it is still in her womb, should she address it as Ayuri because they do not know the gender? Yasu looks at her in alarm and finally tells her that he will decide on that.

Several days later, the two of them visit the shrine which houses the grave of Yasu’s mother. Misako pays her respects and speaks earnestly about the impending birth of a grandchild. Beside her, Yasu grumbles that his mother would not know him because she died soon after he was born. He wanders off to the side to smoke a cigarette.


At that moment, Shoun’s father Kaiun, who is the head priest of the shrine, comes by and hits Yasu in the shoulders when he complains that Misako had insisted on coming even though he had told her it would bring bad luck. Kaiun enquires how much Yasu has made in offering. The answer 10 yen causes him to sigh and he proceeds to admonish Yasu. “God is busy over the many people who come to visit. He may forget the fellow who has only put in 10 yen because he cannot distinguish. Virtually everyone puts in 10 yen. Compared to that, you’re the only one who can implore your mother. Don’t forget. In the end, the only one you can rely on is your family.” Yasu hurriedly rejoins Misako who is still at his mother’s grave.

After the visit, Yasu and Misako sit on the stairway leading down from the shrine. From their perch, they admire the view of the sea that extends before them. Yasu tries to say that he would like to show their child this scenery but gets self-conscious and cannot finish his sentence. Misako teases him for being a weird father. The mere mention of the word ‘father’ startles Yasu. He frets that he does not know what it means to be one. This rubs off on Misako but Yasu is certain that she will be a great mother and assures her that things will be fine. They draw close to each other for a kiss. However, Shoun unwittingly intrudes on the moment. In response, Yasu scrambles down some steps and smacks him for coming back whenever he pleases. Shoun’s protests that this is his home go unheard.


Then Yasu calls back up to Misako to get going. When this is met with silence, the two men look up to discover that she has started having contractions and is unable to move even though the baby is supposed to be due a month later. A worried Yasu carries Misako in his arms and climbs down what seems to be an endless flight of steps to bring her to the maternity clinic.

At the clinic, the doctor wears a grave expression and tells Yasu that he fears Misako will have a difficult labour which may endanger her life. Yasu emerges from the room and conveys this news to the growing number of concerned friends and coworkers gathering outside. He is so worried that when Shoun arrives, he gets him to lead them in chanting sutras for an easy childbirth as they keep vigil. Inside, Misako and the midwife are mystified to hear the Buddhist sutras, but realise that the doctor had deliberately misled Yasu into thinking the worse.


Before long, the cries of a newborn punctuates the air. The midwife comes out to tell them that Misako has given birth to a healthy baby boy. Leaping to their feet, the crowd of people cheer and thump each other on their backs while Yasu has a stunned look on his face as he registers the news that he has become a father. That night they gather at Yunagi to celebrate the birth of Yasu’s son.

The new-born child is named Akira. Yasu and Misako, who grew up without ever knowing their parents, work hard to raise Akira and experience happiness. Yasu is a doting father who has a tendency to go to extremes. When Akira had a fever, he called three doctors to examine the boy and said he would pay double the amount to the doctor who was the first to bring the temperature down. And then, he wrote the word ‘quack’ on the signboard of the doctor who made Akira cry although Misako made him go back in the middle of the night to rub it off. When Akira first learnt to stand up, it was in the public bath. Yasu was so excited that in his hurry to tell Misako about it, he carried their son over to the female side while still in the nude.


One day when Akira is 3 years old, Yasu is asked by the sales manager Hagimoto if he can go back to driving long haul until a new person comes. There is a shortage of manpower and the guys doing it have reached their physical limits. At present, they have a large truck but Yasu is the only one who can go around doing the delivery and collection. However, Yasu promised Misako when they got married that he would quit driving long distance. To entice Yasu, Hagimoto tells him that this comes with an allowance which will also enable Misako to stop doing piecework at home.

Yasu does not like the idea of driving long haul because he will not able to come home everyday and he feels insecure. However, Misako says she is appreciative of those guys for the charms that she received from the places they went. She will leave it to Yasu to make the decision.


It rains heavily the next day and a family trip to the zoo is cancelled. Misako tells Akira that they will go next weekend when it is sunny but he throws a tantrum and demands to go today. He decides that they can use umbrellas and it does not matter to him if he catches a cold. Yasu tries to humour Akira by pretending to be a horse and an elephant. However, Akira cannot be pacified. In annoyance, Yasu declares that he can just go, get soaked wet and fall sick. Misako discovers that the rice pot is unplugged and offers bread for breakfast. Yasu, who is in a surly mood, demands rice instead. When she asks him if he can wait another hour for the rice to cook, he takes offense to her tone and tells her that she should apologise for forgetting to plug it in. They get into an argument which causes Akira to cry. Not knowing how to deal with the situation, Yasu changes his clothes and stalks out of the house to go to work even though it is his day off.

At work, Yasu surveys the piles of boxes and wooden crates at the loading bay and mutters to himself about the sloppy way in which it has been stacked by a coworker called Yamazaki despite the scolding he gave the other day. Then he hears Misako’s voice. She has brought Akira to see Yasu at his company. Yasu gruffly apologises to her for his behaviour earlier and is surprised when she does not respond with an apology of her own. Misako does not think she has done anything that warrants one. She bashfully smiles as she says that she believes Yasu would forgive her even if she does not say sorry.


The three of them sit inside a stationary truck and peer out at the rain drenched landscape. All of a sudden, Yasu suggests buying a truck and quitting his job. If he takes on assignments from the company, they can ride together around Japan in the truck. Misako enthusiastically embraces this idea and starts to talk of travelling from Hokkaido to Kyushu, from mountain to sea.

Yasu resumes work but Akira notices that he forgot his towel. Misako hands one to him to pass to his father and Akira happily runs through the loading bay while twirling the towel round in the air. The smile on Yasu’s face fades when he realises the danger his son is in. He shouts desperately for Akira to stop. At that moment, the towel catches on a nail protruding from a wooden crate on the platform. In the process of trying to tug the towel free, Akira destabilises the pile. He stands rooted to the spot as the boxes stacked above tip over.


Both parents race to get to Akira’s side. Misako reaches Akira first and promptly shields him but gets crushed by the falling crates … … Yasu does not realise this until he starts hauling off the crates in his desperate search for Akira. The sight of a bloodied Misako slowly comes into view and devastates him.

That night, Yasu drowns his sorrows in a corner of Yunagi while his friends and coworkers look on worriedly. Akira has been left in the care of Shoun’s father. When Yamazaki is brought in and made to apologise to Yasu, Yasu struggles with his emotions and finally breaks his silence.


“I was wrong to go to the company on my day off. I went because I’d quarrelled with her. Why didn’t I say that bread was okay for breakfast? I didn’t because I was in a bad mood. I was in a bad mood because of the rain. It was the fault of the rain. It killed her! She didn’t die because of me! It’s because of the rain!” He declares to everyone at Yunagi to drink up since Misako loved to watch people eat.

Yasu returns home alone. Looking around at Misako’s possessions and the piecework of coloured balls that she had been making, Yasu tells the photo of Misako that he will not cry because even if he does, she will not come back. But it is downright impossible not to do so with these things here so he is going to throw everything away. The only thing he leaves behind are the photographs that Misako had taken with Akira. Even so, he leaves them in the care of Shoun when Shoun brings Akira home the next morning. Akira goes around the house looking for his mother because Kaiun had explained to him that dying means going to a different house and living in a different, complicated place from people. Noticing that her belonging are missing, Akira immediately presumes that she took it with her. When the accident occurred, Akira had a good cry and slept after that. Now it appears that he does not have much memory of what happened.


One night, Yasu runs out of cigarettes. He goes out to get a new pack, leaving a sleeping Akira at home. Talking aloud to himself, he tells Misako to stop fooling them and come home because he does not know how to be a father. It has been hard ever since she died. He has had to prepare the meals, take care of the house, pick Akira up and even cut his nails.

On the other hand, Akira wakes up and grows frightened when he cannot find his father anywhere in the house. His bawling stops when he hears the sound of Yasu’s footsteps on the stairs outside. In his rush to open the door, Akira tumbles from the chair and falls on his knees. Seeing this, Yasu hurries forward to check on him. Akira demands to know where he had been. Yasu says he went searching for Misako’s home. “Your mother is inside of you.”


Back in the present, Akira smiles as he recalls how his father figured out what his mother’s coloured balls were for and showed him how to play with it. It is this childhood toy that he proposes at the next presentation on a free gift to accompany Tokuda’s elementary school study magazine. This time, the management get carried away playing with the toy like overgrown children and Akira’s idea is adopted.

After the presentation, Akira bows to the photograph of his father. A glance at his watch gets him alarmed and he hurriedly leaves the office. As he cheerfully makes his way to some place, he thinks of how his days with his father continue to live on inside of him, in the same way that his father had told him his mother will live inside of him. Arriving at a kindergarten, Akira apologises for being late. Then, he makes his way to one of the rooms and calls out the name “Kensuke” … …

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About jadefrost

This blog contains information and musings on current and upcoming Japanese dramas but is not intended to be comprehensive.
This entry was posted in TBS/MBS, Tonbi (2013), Winter 2013 Dramas and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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