Synopsis by Ian McArthur.
Adapted from the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist.
In the town of Leeds, there is an orphanage run by the cold-hearted public servant Tanaka Seiemon. One day he has a visit from Hori Jinbee, an undertaker. Tanaka asks Hori to take in a 14 year-old boy called Takahashi Seikichi. Hori at first refuses, arguing that a boy he previously took in from the orphanage absconded with the kimono he had clothed him in. Tanaka talks Hori into taking the boy, arguing that he will take him back if it does not work out. Jinbee’s wife, Ohatsu, resents Seikichi, fearing that he will be like the previous apprentice who absconded. She ill treats him and makes his life miserable. Seikichi is taken in black clothes to stand outside the homes of dead people. He is especially effective outside the home of a dead child because he looks mournful. The other apprentice, Heisaku, becomes jealous of the good treatment Seikichi receives at the hands of Jinbee. What’s more, Heisaku is friendly with the maid Onabe, who also begins to ill-treat Seikichi by feeding him only small portions of meals.
One cold day, Seikichi begs Heisaku to let him stand beside a brazier. Heisaku tells him he should be outside minding the shop front and then taunts him by telling him that his father was an executed robber and murderer. Seikichi flies into a rage and attacks Heisaku with a chair. Just then, Ohatsu comes in and sees the commotion. She ties Seikichi up. Jinbee comes home and releases Seikichi. That night, Seikichi escapes, taking only the small amount of money given to him by Jinbee previously.
Seikichi makes his way to London where he encounters an urchin who befriends him. The urchin introduces himself as Chibikichi. Chibikichi takes Seikichi to a pub where he treats him to beer, meat and bread. He then takes him to the house of Tôgoro, the leader of a pickpocket gang. Seikichi is not told the residents are pickpockets. He is made to feel at home and stays some weeks, playing games with the other children. Eventually he begs Chibikichi to be allowed to go outside with the others. Chibikichi persuades Tôgoro to allow Seikichi to go with him on a pickpocketing job to The Strand. As Yasu, another gang member, is about to pick an elderly man’s pocket outside a book shop, Seikichi is shocked and cries out ‘Thief!’. Seikichi decides he must escape the gang and starts to run away. The man turns to see Seikichi running, and assumes that Seikichi is the culprit. Passers-by give chase and catch Seikichi.
At Tôgorô’s den, Tôgoro interrogates Chibikichi, becoming increasingly angry with him because he fears that Seikichi will divulge everything. Bunroku, a former protégé of Tôgorô, enters. They decide that someone needs to go to the court to find out what has happened. They choose Bunroku’s girlfriend, Omine.
At the court, Omine sits in the back row and watches. Seikichi is polite and responds to questioning, explaining that he had come to London and was befriended by an urchin and that till today, he had not realized that he was with a gang of robbers. The elderly man, Fukuda Yûkichi, is a retired silk merchant. He has left his business to his son, Zenkichi. Fukuda Yûkichi is impressed with Seikichi’s honesty and offers to take him in and look after him. The judge consents. Fukuda tells Seikichi that if he learns quickly, he can become a clerk in the business.
Seikichi works in Fukuda’s shop for a week. One day, Fukuda asks him to go on an errand to the book shop. He gives him money to purchase books. On the way, Seikichi is accosted by Omine who leads him, against his wishes, back to the robbers’ den.
Omine and Bunroku are like husband and wife. Omine is busy making a meal for them when Tôgoro enters, demanding to know when Bunroku will do another job for him. They begin to plan a break-in, using Seikichi to get through a window. They decide that by using Seikichi in this way, he will become involved in their scheme and later be reluctant to recant.
Sensing that they are planning something, Seikichi begs Omine to help him escape. Omine is touched by his goodness, but urges him to remain this time, saying that once he has helped out in the project, she will consider helping him. She explains that Take, Chibikichi, and the others are coming and that it will be difficult to get an opportunity to free him. She takes Seikichi to Bunroku’s house. Bunroku threatens him with his rifle. Seikichi sleeps until roused again by Bunroku. Bunroku leads Seikichi through the city and out into the country to the edge of Hyanden, site of the home of Fukuda Zenkichi. At a house on the edge of town, they rendezvous with Hachigorô, who is a friend of Bunroku.
Black explains that in Britain, robbers wear masks of black velvet with holes for eyes and nose. Hachigorô and Bunroku put masks on and, with Seikichi, approach the house they are to rob. They use a diamond blade to cut the glass from a window. Seikichi protests, but Bunroku points his gun at him and makes him enter the house via the window so he can open the door for the robbers. Once inside, Seikichi yells ‘Thief!’ and attempts to run, but Bunroku shoots him. Seikichi falls, struck by a bullet. Bunroku shoots twice again and flees.
Back at Tôgorô’s den, Bunroku relates what happened. Tôgorô tells Bunroku that he has reason to believe that Omine has told Seikichi that she will eventually help him escape the gang. He tells Bunroku that Chibikichi has spied on Omine and heard her tell Seikichi that he should disobey Bunroku in order to escape his clutches. Enraged, Bunroku goes and confronts her. Bunroku kills Omine, crushing her skull with the butt of a rifle. She dies a terrible death, her legs moving in spasms and her brains splattered around the room. Afraid of being caught, Bunroku leaves London and wanders in the countryside.
Meanwhile, Fukuda Zenkichi has found Seikichi and cared for him. A detective interviews Seikichi, who tells him how he was kidnapped and taken back to the robber gang. Fukuda Zenkichi realizes that the boy is Takahashi Seikichi, who had been taken in by his father, Fukuda Yûkichi. ‘Father will be pleased to hear it,’ he says.
Bunroku is desperately hungry and enters a country inn. While there, he hears patrons discussing the murder of Omine. (Here, Black uses traces of a non-standard dialect to signify that the patrons are not natives of London.) The patrons conclude that the killer will eventully be brought to justice. Bunroku finds his way to the house of Hachigorô, but Hachigorô’s wife makes him unwelcome. Bunroku requests a change of clothes, so he can discard the blood-stained clothes he is wearing. The police knock on the door of the home and capture Bunroku.
Fukuda Yûkichi is reunited with Seikichi. He decides to travel to the orphanage at Leeds to view the record in Seikichi’s seki (family register). Tanaka Seiemon shows Fukuda Seikichi’s mother’s belongings, which include a gold ring. Seeing the ring, Fukuda realises that Seikichi’s mother was his own daughter who had eloped with a man called Itô. Tanaka informs Fukuda that he had always thought Seikichi was born of a good family. Back in London, Seikichi is overjoyed to learn that Fukuda is his grandfather. Bunroku is sentenced to be executed. Tôgorô is also sentenced to die for inciting Bunroku to commit the murder. Chibikichi learns to appreciate Seikichi’s honesty and vows to never again be a robber and to ‘make a decent, honest living’. Black concludes by urging listeners to tell the story to their children.