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At first, Ikegami wrote the complete novel that Onihei appeared in the December 1967 issue of the light novel magazine “All Yomimono (ja)” published by Bungei Shunjū which published the first hard cover the following year. It gained good reputation and was serialised from the next year.
The title character is Hasegawa Heizō, Hasegawa Nobutame (ja), a historical person who was a Hitsuke Tōzoku Aratamekata Chōkan (Superintendent General of the investigation agency specialized in theft and armed robbery and arson). He started as a chartered libertine before succeeding his father as an heir and was appointed the head of the special police who had jurisdiction over arson-robberies in Edo. Since there was no child between his father and the legitimate wife, he was brought to the Hasegawa family at the age of 17. Heizo was looked down upon by mothers-in-law saying that he was a child by a concubine. He rebelled it and ran away from the house. He became a head of the hoodlums and led a fast life. His street name was “Honjo no Tetsu” which comes from his childhood name “Tetsusaburō.” His father died, and he inherited birthright. Nicknamed by the villain “Onihei,” meaning “Heizō the demon,” he led a band of samurai police and cultivated reformed criminals as informants to solve difficult crimes. Later, he was titled “Hitsuke tōzoku aratamekata” (police force for arson and theft), and opened an office at his official resident. While he was called “demon” and was feared, he was forgiving and merciful to those who committed a crime out of necessity or are faithful even if they were criminals. He dedicated himself to establish and maintain the Ishikawajima Ninsoku Yoseba which was a vocational training school for criminals, and served concurrently as a Yoseba magistrate for a while.
Four actors, Matsumoto Hakuō I,[a] Tamba Tetsurō[b] and Nakamura Kinnosuke[c] also played the lead in Toho series on NET. More recently, Nakamura Kichiemon II, the younger son of Hakuō I, led a cast in Shochiku production on Fuji Television over 25 years, reputed as the best actor to portray Onihei which has been the highlight of his career aside from plays as a Kabuki actor.[d]
The Fuji series ran from 1989 to 2001, with occasional short series and specials as recently as 2007. Until his death in 2001, Edoya Nekohachi III portrayed the informant Hikojū, often paired with Omasa (Meiko Kaji). Another informant was played by Chōsuke Ikariya. Yumi Takigawa was Hisae, wife of Onihei. Guests have included Akira Emoto, Frankie Sakai, Rokusaburo Michiba, Makoto Fujita, Shima Iwashita, Isuzu Yamada, Yoshizumi Ishihara, and Tetsuro Tamba. The series has been handed to Fuji on the broadcast satellite network (BS Fuji), after the show ended for Fuji on the terrestrial network.
In all, 137 stories were published and made into TV programs, mainly by Fuji Television and NET Television (succeeded by Asahi Television). In addition, there are 11 special programs per year since 2005 combining several of those stories into a single episode, on consent by Ikenami himself. BS Fuji reruns serials with additional episodes. For Pay TV on a satellite television, SKY PerfecTV! Premium Service and Jidaigeki Senmon Channel co-produced four extra editions called “Onihei Gaiden”. The producers shot the extra edition on film, as they knew Ikegami loved films and called himself a Cinemadict (addicted to cinema/film). [e]
Broadcast programs on satellite are: “Yousagi no Kakuemon” (2011),[f] “Kumagorō no Kao” (2011/2012),[g] “Shōgatsu Yokkano Kyaku” (2012/2013),[h] and “Rōtō Ruten” (2013).[i] A DVD is released for each episode.
Ikegami left a will that the scripts would be true to his Onihei novels, and that he prohibited any episode written by a scriptwriter on his/her own storyline so that when all original Onihei stories were made into scripts, the serial should be ended. The final Onihei episodes is planned as two Onihei Hankachō Specials, with episode #149 “Asakusa Mikuriyagashi” (December 18, 2015)[j] and the final #150 shot in the summer of 2016 for broadcast in two segments in 2016-’17.