In the winter of 1946, the Japanese police expand their search for Watanabe. An aged police officer travels to the largest home in a small mountain village and shows a picture of Watanabe to the farmer, his wife, and their live-in servant. The officer leaves, not realizing that the servant was the Bird.
Though the Bird has changed his appearance enough to fool the police officer, he is still, deep-down, the same evil man. Unless he finds redemption, the Bird won’t be free of either the police or his past.
Watanabe had come to this out-of-the-way village and taken the job as a servant to evade capture. He wrote in his journal that he felt guilt that he was free while other Japanese soldiers were being tried and executed as war criminals. He did not express remorse for the POWs he tortured, writing instead that his role in the prison made him feel powerful.
One definition of “redemption” is the act of buying one’s freedom. The Bird is technically “free” because he’s not in prison but his refusal to stand trial limits what actual freedom he has. He must live out his life in hiding, both from the outside world and from himself. His journal entry shows that he cannot face the reality of his horrific crimes, that he is repressing the knowledge of his wrongdoing.
All over Japan war criminals are being brought to justice. The Quack is sentenced to death for contributing to the deaths of four prisoners. It also emerges that Jimmie Sasaki had not been the chief interrogator but instead a low-ranking interpreter. Always willing to shift allegiances, Jimmie asks for a job in the U.S. Army, but instead the Army tries him for the abuse of several captives despite having little evidence that he committed those crimes. Jimmie is sentenced to six years of hard labor. Jimmie’s true allegiances – artful Japanese spy or something more innocent – remains a mystery.
Since this book is nonfiction, we can never truly know the hidden thoughts and feelings of the characters. Because we don’t have access to Jimmie’s inner life, his true identity remains unknown. In the same way, Hillenbrand can only speculate about Watanabe’s true identity. His journal entry makes it sound like he had no remorse for the POWs, but perhaps he was so racked by guilt that he couldn’t even admit to himself the horrible things he had done. The mystery surrounding Jimmie reminds us that, ultimately, we don’t ever truly know the inner lives of others.
In the mountain village, the farmer requests that Watanabe accompany his son on a trip through major cities. In the cities, no one recognizes the Bird, which gives him the hope that he can visit his family, who he hasn’t seen in years, in Tokyo. Deciding to risk capture, the Bird boards a train to Tokyo. At home, his family greets him with celebration. After two hours of catching up, police detectives arrive at their home. The Bird hides in a closest as the detectives ask the family questions and then leave.
The Bird’s journey home humanizes his character. Despite being the antagonist and the book’s epitome of evil, he is still a man with a family whom he loves and is loved by. The Bird’s capacity for love suggests that perhaps there is still some good in him, that he is not a total monster beyond redemption.
Watanabe returns to the farmer’s village. The Bird works as a waiter in the farmer’s son’s coffee shop. After a young woman falls in love with the Bird for his good looks, he considers marriage but decides he cannot burden her with his past. He leaves the village and becomes a cowherd in the grasslands nearby.
His decision not to burden the woman with his past again shows an empathetic, human side to the Bird. This decision also shows how little freedom he actually has – unable to marry or see his family, the Bird lives a life of isolation devoid of love and support.
In the fall of 1946, the police find the body of a man in the mountains. The man killed himself with a pistol. Though the gunshot wound obscures his face, the police think that the man matches the description of Watanabe. They bring in his mother, Shizuka, to identify the dead body. She says it’s her son and the Japanese government announces that the Bird is dead.
Hillenbrand makes it seem like the Bird has died, has killed himself. That he committed suicide implies that the Bird was devastated either by his actions during the war or by his isolation after the war. The connection of Watanabe to his mother also creates a parallel or mirroring between the Bird and Louie, as both of them were devoted to their own mothers.