To say this week’s episode of “Hawaii Five-0” was the most emotional and thought-provoking of the season might be the understatement of the year. Just watching the previews of the opening scene of “Hoʻonani Makua Kāne,” (three words, not two) which is Hawaiian for “Honor thy Father,” gave me chickenskin as I watched Ford Island, circa 1941, exploding on my screen.
After reading about the reenactment of the attack, as well as the Honouliuli Internment Camp, I was ready with my box of tissues to watch a fictionalized version of December 7th and some of its aftermath.
Writers Peter Lenkov and Ken Solarz, along with director Larry Teng, did not disappoint. The episode started off with a scene straight from the history books, using a newsreel from the 1940’s about servicemen enjoying the sights and sounds of Oʻahu. Yet after the hula dancers, Diamond Head and the Royal Hawaiian Hotel flashed by, we’re taken right to Naval Air Station Ford Island (part of today’s Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam) and treated to a Sunday morning soldier’s breakfast of friendly wisecracks and a plate of S.O.S.
The attack officially started at 7:48 a.m. at Naval Air Station Kāneʻohe (currently Marine Corps Base Hawaii-Kāneʻohe Bay) and as the men start to see bombs being dropped and enemy planes flying overhead, the entire scene erupts as men try in vain to shoot down the bombers as they run from strafing bullets. We follow one young man, Ezra Clark, (Jarod Einsohn) who picks up a dead soldier’s weapon and begins his own version of shooting flying ducks in a barrel.
All this action in the first five minutes had me holding my breath, wondering what was going to happen to this young man. Would he make it? I mean, we all know what happened later that day — the sinking of the Arizona, the Oklahoma, the West Virginia, the California, the Utah, and the beaching of the Nevada.
So when we return to present day and find that young man now 72 years older and sitting in a wheelchair on the bow of the USS Missouri during a Pearl Harbor remembrance ceremony, we are grateful he has made it and lived so long.
But then — in true “Hawaii Five-0” fashion — we get the twist. And this comes not only with a tug on the heartstrings, but it also starts what becomes an intriguing, amazing case.
McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) is also sitting on the bow of the Mighty Mo, with his best gal and now teammate, Catherine Rollins (Michelle Borth), and sees an older Japanese man watching the ceremony from the pier. As he and Cath leave, he sees the older gentleman following the former soldier in his wheelchair and pull out a gun. McGarrett disarms him and the man confesses he was going to kill the person who killed his father and dishonored his family.
With me so far? All this action and drama and we’re not even to the first commercial break. The Pearl Harbor survivor in the wheelchair, of course, is a much older Ezra Clark, played by Jack Axelrod, who I swore was one of the survivors who talked to me and my son the last time we were at the Arizona Memorial. But no, Mr. Axelrod is a seasoned film and television actor.
The older Japanese man is David Toriyama (actor James Saito, aged nicely to look like a pretty sprightly 82-year-old) who claimed when he and his family were held at the Honouliuli Internment Camp, Clark shot and killed his father in order to steal their family katana, which had been handed down for centuries.
Forgive me for going through that first scene in such detail, but this episode was one I could write about for a few days. Not only was the story so good and the visuals truly awesome, but the story was one I completely bought. The episode was called “a bit melodramatic” by critics, but for someone who grew up looking at a lot of red dirt in a neighborhood where one neighbor was from Germany and told me stories about Nazis during World War II and another was from Hiroshima and would not say one word about surviving the war or the atom bomb, I was hooked.
And very weepy. How could you not watch the flashbacks of David Toriyama as a 10-year-old boy (Luke Hagi) playing catch with his still-proud father, a former teacher and pillar of his community, now imprisoned in a hot, dusty camp, accused of being a traitor to his own country because he was a different race? The scene when James Toriyama (Arnold Chun) is forcibly taken from his classroom at Punahou School made me so angry. When his wife and children are arrested and made to forfeit their home, I was left feeling so ashamed. And like knowing what happened to the Arizona and the other battleships on December 7th, I knew what was happening on my screen really happened in real life.
I find it funny some don’t really believe we interned our own citizens during World War II. Some think internment camps in Hawaii were not as harsh as the ones on the mainland, as most of the Hawaii community were not supportive of their neighbors and friends being imprisoned. But they still existed, and that should have been more than enough for all of us to feel ashamed.
My apologies, “Hawaii Five-0” fans. I promise to get back to McG and crew in a minute. But I just wanted to show how completely awesome the show is to feature something more commonly seen in documentaries or briefly touched upon in movies that focus on Asian-American issues. Besides “Farewell to Manzanar,” which was a book and a television movie about the Wakatsuki family interned in Manzanar, Calif. (Saito played Richard Wakatsuki in the movie), I can’t think of many television shows brave enough to tackle such a sore spot in American history and present it with dignity and genuine sincerity.
So while we perhaps missed “all McG all the time,” we still got a bit of a cargument when Danno asked McG the obvious question: “Why did we just leave a guy who almost committed premeditated murder at his house while we investigate a 70-year-old murder?”
Danno’s response when McG tells him that they owe Toriyama, a Korean War Veteran? “You’re a big softie. Maybe you’re becoming a human being.”
I know I’m not alone in loving the treat of some of the usual “Five-0” humor from our beloved Danno. I especially liked his quip about arresting Toriyama at a “Bingo Brawl.” All of the small bits of humor helped to break up the heartbreaking scenes. The added twist when we found grandpa Steven McGarrett in the Toriyama family photo album was heart-wrenching, as McG tells Toriyama his grandfather died onboard the Arizona. When Toriyama claims to not know why the picture was there, more sadness was added to the intrigue.
Yes, McGarrett finds the man who killed Toriyama’s father, and it took a lot of leg work and a bit of modern technology. Turns out it was a career criminal named Joseph Archer, who died serving a life sentence in prison. Fortunately for the Toriyama family, Archer’s grandson (Eric Manke) had the sword hidden in plain sight, and McGarrett and crew returned it to a grateful and visibly moved Toriyama. The scene when McGarrett presents the sword to him — “on behalf of the U.S. Government and a grateful nation” — was enough to make even a hardened sailor choke up a bit.
But the scene to end all “Five-0” episodes has to have been this ending. When McGarrett and Toriyama meet on the pier of the USS Missouri and look over at the USS Arizona Memorial, Toriyama presents McGarrett with his baseball glove, the same one we saw the younger David using in flashback scenes. It was a gift from a young ensign who had been to Toriyama’s house in 1941 for tutoring by his history teacher father. That ensign was McGarrett’s grandfather, who gave Toriyama the glove on the night of December 6, 1941.
So David Toriyama may have been the last person to have seen McG’s grandfather alive. And once again, McG has another piece of his past handed to him in such a strange, yet beautiful, way.
The title of this episode also connotes the fact that when we honor our fathers we never forget. And that is something “Hawaii Five-0” did a good job with, reminding us about the sacrifices many fathers made, and continue to make, in times of war and struggle.
Wendie Burbridge is a published author, playwright and teacher. Reach her via Facebook and follow her on Twitter.