Series / Tenko

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Tenko is a television drama, co-produced by the BBC and the ABC. A total of thirty episodes were produced over three series between 1981 and 1984, followed by a one-off special (which was twice the length of the other episodes), Tenko Reunion, in 1985.

The series dealt with the experiences of British, Australian and Dutch women who were captured after the Fall of Singapore in February 1942, after the Japanese invasion, and held in a fictional Japanese internment camp on a Japanese-occupied island between Singapore and Australia. Having been separated from their husbands, herded into makeshift holding camps and largely forgotten by the British War Office, the women have to learn to cope with appalling living conditions, malnutrition, disease, violence and death.


Tenko provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Adult Fear: The womens' children are sent to the camp with them and have to endure the same awful conditions. This trope eventually drives Lillian half mad with fear for her son to the extent she becomes a collaborator just to get him extra food.
  • All Women Are Prudes: Averted. The women miss sex and intimacy keenly and Maggie is ecstatic to jump into bed with a male prisoner when she and Dorothy encounter him on the road after the camps are freed.
  • Anyone Can Die: And how! The series doesn't sugar coat the appalling conditions of the camp at all and characters drop like flies throughout all three seasons.
  • Bad Boss: Sato is almost as much of an asshole to his underlings as he is to his prisoners.
  • Beleaguered Assistant: Verna to Miss. Hassan. All of the lower ranked guards to Sato.
  • Berserk Button:
    • All the women when they find out about Verna and Miss. Hassan's withholding vitally needed food and medical surprise.
    • Beatrice is beyond furious when Domenica lies to a newspaper after they are freed to make it seem like she was a brave a selfless rebel.
  • Big Bad: The Axis with focus on the Japanese.
  • Blind Without Them: Beatrice's eyesight gradually fails over the course of the series, and by the time of the reunion she is genuinely going blind. However her experience in coping with (and hiding) her failing eyesight at the camps pays off when she is able to identify the leader of the communist guerilla force just by their tone of voice.
  • The Bus Came Back: Sister Ulrica, Blanche and Christina both return after multi-episode absences.
  • Bus Crash: Nellie and Blanche both die this way.
  • Children Are Innocent: The reason the Japanese give for allowing the children to stay with their mothers and generally trying to treat them as well as they can. Yamauchi even tells Marion that "all Japanese love children."
  • Cool Old Lady: Joss is one of the oldest of the main cast and every kind of awesome. At one point she's the only one still actively resisting the Japanese even after being beaten continually.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Pretty much everyone is very racist by today's standards and male characters often comment that women should Stay in the Kitchen.
  • Easily Forgiven: Very much subverted for collaborators. Being spat on and ostracised is the best they can hope for.
  • Evil Cripple: Lt. Sato is crippled in the bombing and has to walk with a crutch for the rest of his appearances.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Christina, of all people, in the reunion special. Appalled by the racism and double standards of the British, and being of mixed race herself, decides to ally herself with the Malaysian guerillas and fight against her former allies.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The Axis will lose the war and the camps will be liberated.
  • The Ghost: All of the cast members' relatives back in their home countries are often talked about but never seen for obvious reasons.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Mostly subverted. When Dorothy gets pregnant from her trysts with the guards, most of the women agree an abortion is necessary. Only Sister Ulrica really objects but after it's done she treats Dorothy exactly the same as she did before.
  • Good Is Not Soft: Marion tells Verna quite clearly that if she doesn't start talking, she (Marion) will let the other women tear Verna to pieces for her betrayal.
  • Great Offscreen War: WWII is happening throughout series one and two and the beginning of season three. But with the exception of the beginning and the bombing of the camps, we never see any of it.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: Averted. The guards are very competent and clashes between them and the prisoners nearly always end badly for the latter.
  • Hate Sink: Lt. Sato and Miss. Hasan were both utterly loathsome characters. Sato for his constant sadistic Kick the Dog moments against the prisoners and Hasan for her cold blooded hoarding and extortion of food and medical supplies to line her own pockets.
  • Infant Immortality: Strongly averted. Children die as often as adults do.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Sister Ulrica is old enough to be Dorothy's mother but they still become very close friends.
  • It's All About Me: Domenica's main flaw.
  • Killed Off for Real: Many characters including Blanche, Nellie, Rose, Verna, Miss. Hasan and Debbie.
  • A Mother to Her Women: Marion and before she's Put on a Bus Sister Ulrica to the other women.
  • Large Ham: Miss. Hasan and Yamauchi are both hammy.
  • The Load: Domenica with her constant stretcher hogging.
  • Mama Bear: All the women towards their children but especially Lillian, eventually going dark and leading to her Sanity Slippage.
  • The Medic: Dr. Beatrice, Nurse Kate and Dr. Trier are the camp medics.
  • Mood Whiplash: Happens In-Universe when the women are sure Yamauchi has visited the camp to have them all executed...only to find out the war is over and they will soon be free.
  • Nice Guy: Shinya is a very kind young guard who strikes up a heart warming friendship with Dorothy.
  • No Periods, Period: Played with-most of the time the women don't mention having to deal with their periods, but once or twice one of the younger prisoners will worry their periods have stopped due to malnutrition.
  • Oh, Crap!: Plenty. Sato has a particularly good one when the news breaks that the Japanese have surrendered. And again when several of the women corner him in his office ready for some revenge.
  • Parental Substitute: Sister Ulrica towards Dorothy.
  • Pet the Dog: Yamauchi has many moments such as giving one of the women biscuits on her birthday and allowing Christina to take paper from his office for Marion's diary.
  • Public Execution: Happens a lot offscreen.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: A lot of the Japanese speak this way, Yamauchi in particular.
  • Put on a Bus: Nellie, Sister Ulrica, Blanche and Christina all leave the show at different points.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: The Japanese guards find it shameful to be given guard duty instead of being on the front lines killing enemy soldier.
  • Reality Ensues: Happens all the time. Think someone will survive just because they're a main character or a child? Malnutrition, disease and Public Execution would beg to differ.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Beatrice gives an epic one to Domenica after the latter lies to a reporter about their time in the camp.
  • Red Shirt: Various background women and guards die off throughout the series.
  • Remember the New Guy: Maggie, Blanche's Suspiciously Similar Substitute.
  • Sanity Slippage: The camp takes its toll on all the prisoners but Lillian gets this trope especially badly.
  • Screw the War, We're Partying!: The show starts off with this happening in Singapore, where the socialising and partying goes on as normal even as the Japanese approach and the British Army prepares to evacuate, retreat, or surrender.
  • The Smart Guy: Beatrice is probably the most intelligent and logical member of the camp.
  • Smug Snake: Miss. Hasan as part of her Hate Sink status.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: The attitude of the day which many male characters (and a few female) subscribe too. Characters like Joss and Blanche are quick to scorn it.
  • Time Skip: Between seasons two and three.
  • Wham Episode: The last episode of season two when the Allies bomb the camp.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Averted. When the women rebel, a blow from one of the guards is usually their first warning.
  • You No Take Candle: The Japanese characters have varying grasps of the English language so some of them fall into this trope.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: The Axis see the native resistance as terrorists while the Allies see them as freedom fighters.


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