AMC’s horror drama anthology series, “The Terror” for its second season focuses on another historic event, the Japanese American internment camps during World War II. Premiering on 12 August 2019, this season was developed by Alexander Woo (“True Blood”) and Max Borenstein (“Godzilla,” “Kong: Skull Island” and “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”) and includes someone who actually experienced the internment and has been outspoken about them and other civil rights violations: George Takei.
The first season focused on Sir John Franklin’s (1786-1847) lost (and last) expedition in which with two ships, the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror. Franklin was in overall command of the expedition and was captain of the Erebus with Captain Francis Crozier in command of the Terror. The expedition attempted to chart the Northwest Passage in the North American Arctic, but found the arctic ice impossible to overcome. The crew died and was rumored to have resorted to cannibalism. In September 2014, the wreck of The Erebus was found. Two years later, the sunken wreck of the Terror was found in Terror Bay. AMC’s “The Terror” gave a fictionalized account of a crew haunted and hunted by something supernatural.
“The Terror: Infamy” focuses on a young Japanese American man, Chester Nakayama (Derek Mio), whose family runs a fishing boat off Terminal Island where they live in 1941.
Terminal Island was an artificial island created by a man-made joining of two smaller island: Rattlesnake Island and Deadman’s Island. The island is located between the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach. A shoestring strip neighborhood (Harbor Gateway) was annexed to Los Angeles in 1906 in order to connect the city of Los Angeles to the formerly independent cities of Wilmington and San Pedro and to create the Port of Los Angeles. Rattlesnake island was little more than a sandbar, but had an alarming number of rattlesnakes and that seems an intriguing mystery in itself. Deadman’s Island was a burial site for sailors and even Native Americans. What better place for a tale of supernatural terror than a burial ground?
According to Densho, the first Japanese settled there in 1899, near the San Pedro Bay Area. Eventually the community shifted to East San Pedro which is the western end of Terminal Island. The Japanese were the larger population, but Terminal Island also included Sicilians, Slovenians, Portuguese, Mexicans, and Filipinos–on the opposite end of the island. Terminal Islanders were connected to the fishing industry and most were working for large companies like Van Camp Seafood Company or the White Star Canning Company. Densho notes that the canneries were often majority share owners of the fishing boats and landlords–providing housing for the men in “ramshackle bungalows arranged row after row near the factories and waterfront.”
A Sparrow in a Swallow’s Nest
This is the setting for “The Terror: Infamy.” The first episode, “A Sparrow in a Swallow’s Nest,” begins with a woman putting on make up. First white powder to her face, then she darkens her black eyebrows and reddens her lips. With her hair piled up and two black and white chopsticks sticking out, she walks with an awkward gait down a pier on top of the water. She kneels and then takes one of the chopsticks out of her hair and puts it forcefully into her ear and dies. The woman, Masayo Furuya (Yuki Morita) was the long-suffering wife of the alcoholic and much older Hideo Furuya (Eiji Inoue) and the mother of Toshiro Furuya (Alex Shimizu). We see the three in a black and white portrait briefly before she leaves her home and commits suicide.
During the service inside of the Furuya home, Chester remembers the last time he saw Masayo. He was asking for a favor and she, an herbalist, promised to have it for him in a week’s time. He imagines that a loose thread on his shirt becomes long and leads to a deep and ugly cut to his wrist. Chester’s parents, Henry Nakayama (Shingo Usami) and Asako Nakayama (Naoko Mori) are family friends with the Furuyas. Chester, has become the community’s photographer and takes photos outside with the attendees behind an open casket. After one group photo, unbeknownst to the rest of those there, Hideo gives Chester two bottles and calls him a “coward.”
The wind topples the casket, sending Masayo’s corpse tumbling to the ground. Asako sees the wind as an omen, telling her husband, “We forget when old spirits call to us.” Later, when Chester develops the photograph, he sees a troubling image, something blurry next to Hideo.
Chester’s father, Henry, runs a small fishing boat, Taro, but he’s being pressed to produce more mackerel and the white foreman at the cannery, Stan Grichuk (Teach Grant), complains that the quality of the catch is down although Henry claims it is the same. Henry has also made an offering to the sea for good luck and Chester asks him if they’re fishing for sport. Yamato-san (George Takei) asks Chester if he knows about bakemono, but Chester is skeptical, saying, “I thought we left that old country stuff behind. Even if they did exist, why would they come all the way over here?” One of the fishermen replies, “Why not? We did.” Henry’s business has been successful enough that he is one of six Japanese on Terminal Island to own a Packard.
Despite Henry and Chester’s work at sorting the junk fish out, Grichuk still wants to pay a lower price. Oddly, the conveyor belt starts and Grichuk’s tie is caught, pulling him toward the fish head chopping mechanism. Henry saves Grichuk by cutting his tie. Unbeknownst to Henry, the company fires Grichuk.
That evening, the Nakayamas and the Yoshidas–Wilson (James Saito) and Fumi (Hira Ambrosino) and their daughter Amy (Miki Ishikawa)–are eating dinner together, celebrating Walter Yoshida’s (Lee Shorten) upcoming nuptials set for March. Chester wants to be a photographer for some magazine, but his mother came to the US as a photo bride 23 years ago and believes that Terminal Island is safe. She tells him, “Life is hard, Chester. You cannot do it without family.”
Chester reluctantly agrees, and replies, “Just ask Mrs. Furuya.”
Chester and Amy walking off the night smoking cigarettes and pass near where Masayo committed suicide. Flowers are scattered nearby. Amy confesses that she’s dating a white serviceman. “My brother is Japanese as rice. I don’t think he can imagine it.” Chester is troubled that Masayo committed suicide after he asked for help with an aborticide, but doesn’t confess this to Amy.
While Chester and Amy were gone, a drunken and angry Grichuk comes knocking at the Nakayama’s door. The Yoshida’s have already returned home. Grichuk wants to “thank” Henry for saving his life by coercing him to surrender the Packard. Grichuk takes the key and leaves.
When Chester returns, he learns that the Packard has been given away and he questions his father’s manhood. Henry replies, “In Japan, my father didn’t even have his own ox. I had to pull my own cart. I come here, all I ever want is automobile, a car to pull me. Twenty years but I got it. So what if they take my car? I’m still same man, a man who earned his Packard. Don’t you tell me how to be a man, boy.”
The next day, Asako tries to help the Furuya home bringing food (nabemono) and makes offering at the family alter, but Hideo abruptly dismisses her after he sees her purifying his house with salt. When Henry sees Hideo, he apologizes for it, saying, “You know how wives are.” Hideo leaves angrily but outside, something odd happens–the stiff awkward gait and Hideo stares at the sun and becomes blind.
Chester and Walter’s night at the movies (Gene Autry’s “Down Mexico Way”) is really a cover for a bachelor party. Chester thinks Hideo going blind and his wife committing suicide in the same week is, at the very least creepy, but he’s out with his friends–both hakujin (white) and Nikkei (Japanese). Walter Yoshida is getting married and the guys are taking him to Antoinette’s brothel to celebrate. When the other men go up with the prostitute of their choice, Chester stays at the bar. The men know he has a sweetheart: Luz.
We meet Luz in earlier scenes. Luz wants to be a nurse, and, at one time, had wanted to be a nun, but now she’s pregnant. Chester had asked Masayo Furuya to make him an aborticide and although Luz says in Spanish that abortion is “an offense against God,” she accepts the two bottles. Chester tells Luz of his father, “He came from one island to a smaller island.” Chester doesn’t want to live like that, but Chester and Luz cannot be married. Neither could Amy and her white naval base beau. Under California law, most Latinos and Mexican Americans were classified as white because they were Spanish. A Mexican American woman, Andrea Perez, would take her application to marry a black man, Sylvester Davis, to the California Supreme Court in Perez v. Sharp. The 1 October 1948 decision was the first state ruling to overturn anti-miscegenation state laws in the US as a violation of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution.
When California became a state in 1850, the original anti-miscegenation laws prohibited marriage between whites and blacks, stating, “all marriages of whites with negroes or mulattoes are declared to be null and void.” In 1905, the law was amended so that ““no license must be issued authorizing the marriage of a white person with a negro, mulatto, or mongolian,” and in 1933, the law was further amended to “members of the Malay race” could not marry whites.
For Chester and Luz in 1941, marriage wasn’t possible in California. The prejudice ran against Chester and most Asian and Asian Americans.
While the other men are celebrating at the brothel, a kimono-clad woman calling herself Yuko (Kiki Sukezane) tells Chester she has been asked by the brothel’s madame, Antoinette, to bring him tea, preparing it like traditional matcha (with a whisk). Yuko asks him why he isn’t upstairs like his friends and he tells her he has things on his mind and he has a girl. Her room is decorated with Japanese traditional theatrical masks. She lights a candle and puts her hand over it because blood attracts the spirits, “the good and the evil.” And “They can tell us the future.” After he drinks his tea, she reads his tea leaves, telling him, “They say you are two people, light and darkness, life and death. You live life in two worlds, but are home in neither.”
Yuko continues, explaining the title of this episode by saying, “You are a sparrow in a swallow’s nest. The moment you believe you are safe, the swallows will peck you to death….”
Chester admits, “I once felt safe. Not any more.”
Yuko continues, “We all long for restitution. We mourn the life lost to us, that perfect world we once had.”
Chester interrupts, “I never lived in a perfect world.”
Yuko replies, “Then it lies ahead of you look within yourself. What do you see?”
Chester closes his eyes and says, “An open plain, A fenced acre. A house of wood. A child.”
Yuko assures him, “It is not lost to you. The house, the child can still be yours. Restore your path or else you will hunger for it forever.”
Chester decides to steal back the Packard. He goes to Luz and asks her if she took the abortive. Luz admits that she hasn’t. “I realized something tonight…it’s a sign.” He asks Luz, “Let’s just go. Wherever you want. Just you, me and the baby.”
Luz worries about the practicality, the money, the work. “There’s no future for us, anywhere.”
When Grichuk realizes the Packard has been stolen, he goes to the dock to burn the Taro, but something, a divine wind (kamikaze) saves the boat. The next morning. Henry and Chester discover that Grichuk is caught in a net, dead. Chester and Henry end up at the naval base, but after a bitter father-son confrontation, they are told to go home. It is 7 December 1941. Pearl Harbor has been bombed.
Back in his darkroom, Chester notices something odd about the photos he took of Yuko at the brothel. That same night, the Issei men of Terminal Island are rounded up by the FBI and taken away. Henry says to his wife and son, “It’s FBI. It’s okay. For safety.” Then he addresses, Chester. “You’re a citizen boy. You’re born here. Show them you are a patriot. Fight for your country.”
The last scene shows us Yuko again. Clad in the same white kimono, she lights a candle and looks at herself in the mirror. She wipes the makeup from her right cheek and it tears, revealing black skin underneath. She calmly takes a needle and thread and sews the tear up.