Developing a Tenko mentality

Regular readers will know that I have (possibly unhealthy) tendency to fall into black holes in which I’m lost for days and days at a time – perhaps it’s an indication of an obsessive personality…

It often occurs with TV series, in which hour upon hour is invested in something gripping – the dawn of the DVD boxset is particularly responsible for this. It’s the knowledge that there’s always one more episode, one more series. I suspect the main reason I haven’t yet begun The West Wing is that with seven seasons to consume, I could easily lose several weeks of my life. [Though, if anyone has season 1 to hand, I would love to borrow it – just don’t let me near it if an essay deadline’s looming.]

This past weekend was lost in a blur of prison huts, rice rations, medical crises and Japanese soldiers. Somehow (honestly, I can’t remember what I’d typed into YouTube) on Friday evening I discovered that entire episodes of classic 1980s series Tenko were now online. The ridiculous thing is that this isn’t the first time I’ve locked myself in my room with a load of internees – around 6 years ago I borrowed my Mum’s DVDs and watched the whole thing over a few weeks, trying to ration episodes in between the arrival of boxsets from across the Irish Sea in the same way that the prisoners rationed their vegetables.

Like Jewel in the Crown, Tenko is brilliant period drama. It lacks the stunning vistas of JiTC, as (apart from the first couple of episodes set in Singapore) it was filmed in Dorset. [This raises two questions: 1. How did they get so many days of sunshine in which to film? 2. How was it warm enough for the actors to look so hot in so little clothing?] You really wouldn’t know it was Dorset though, honest. It’s brilliantly acted, with a virtual who’s who of 1980s actresses (personally, I love that one of the best characters couldn’t appear in the third series because she was already committed to Bergerac) – thank goodness for Wikipedia helping me make connections!

When you think about it, it’s incredible that such a riveting drama could be created in a context where the characters never leave the confines of a small camp. The story begins before the Japanese invasion of Singapore in 1941, with three episodes setting the scene and introducing the characters – it’s a little like the start of an episode of Casualty where you begin to get a feeling of foreboding as you see a dangerous situation emerge. Series one ends with the women moving to a new camp; series two is set entirely in a camp run by a despotic female interpreter; and series three chronicles their transition back into society after the war. I think one of the reasons why it’s so addictive is that you truly buy into the characters and want to know if they survive and what happens to them in the end. God bless its producers by filming a reunion special set five years after the war so that we’re able to achieve a level of closure!

Tenko holds a special place in the hearts of the women of our family and I’ve no idea why. My sister and I were too young to watch it originally, but I think Mum talked about it a lot – certainly it was something we looked out for on DVD for her for quite a while. For a while it was shown at lunchtimes on the History channel and my sister would occasionally taunt me with texts during school holidays because she was watching it. My Dad is so aware of the addictive nature of the programme than when I mentioned I’d found it online last night, he groaned and asked how many episodes I’d watched.

As I write this, episode nine of series two is on – so that’s the 19th episode since Friday night. That’s rather excessive. The worst thing about the addiction is that you start developing what I like to call a ‘Tenko mentality’ – watch too many episodes in one go, alone in your bedroom and you start believing that you too are interned on a Sumatran island. Suddenly you have an overwhelming urge to eat rice and make hats out of grass. You know you need to stop watching for a while when you’ve eaten rice for more than two meals in a row.

So, if you’d like to know what the fuss is about and lose 1500 minutes of your life, here’s episode one:

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