“The Terror: Infamy” mingles the Japanese folk tales of yūrei and bakemono with the real event of the Japanese American internment. In the first episode, Chester (Derek Mio) worries first about the pregnancy of his girlfriend and odd occurrences and then about the implications of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the FBI rounded up many of the Issei men, including his father, Henry (Shingo Usami), and the Japanese and Japanese Americans were forced off of San Pedro Islands.
The second episode,”All the Demons Are Still in Hell,” begins with Henry, Chester’s father, alone in a cell repeating, “I am not a spy: I am a simple fisherman. I love this country.” Soon, this man will be forced to prove he is a fisherman. He’s left out on the ice even though he had been a deep sea fisherman using nets for high quantity catches. Here he is left with a means to pierce the ice and a pole.
Yet Henry learns that not all the demons are in hell. Yamato (George Takei) suspects that obakemono are around because people have disappeared. Hideo Furuya is blind, but he still sees the woman in the white kimono and she asks him, “Oboeteru, watashi no koto?” (Remember me?). Furuya tells Henry about his visions. Yamato has a sutra to guard himself against obakemono. He convinces Henry he needs one as well.
Oddly, a young Nisei, Nick Okada (Kai Bradbury), shows up. He’s fresh-faced and eager, but is he the bakemono? Sent out ice-fishing the imprisoned Issei gather around him and “break the ice,” asking him if he is bakemono or what. The “or what” turns out to be that Okada is a DOJ (Department of Justice) mole and who should one hate more than a man who betrays innocent men of his own ethnic group. Yet from Okada, the Issei men learn they are in North Dakota. The men leave Okada on the ice at the mercy of the local spirits. Hopefully the DOJ saved him, but we’re left hanging on that one.
Back in California, the Terminal Island Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans are forced to move off the island which has become property of the Navy. Chester’s camera is confiscated as were most cameras and radios. His mother wonders when they will be able to come back (The answer is never.). Chester packs up the Packard and takes the Yoshidas (Fumi the wife, Wilson the father, Amy the daughter and Chester’s friend and Walt the son) and the orphaned Toshiro into the city of Los Angeles where they find rooms at a hotel. With his father, Hideo (Eiji Inoue) in North Dakota and his mother, Masako (Yuki Morita) dead, Toshiro is a camp orphan that the Yoshidas are looking after.
At the hotel (Little Tokyo at San Pedro and First), Wilson Yoshida, one of the few Issei men left, sees a woman he knew, Yūko (Kiki Sukezane). Yūko is the same woman in a white kimono who appeared to both Chester at the brothel and predicted his future and the woman who caused Hideo Furuya to go blind. While Yoshida is looking she vanishes. Wilson Yoshida is spooked. In a separate incident, Chester also goes looking for Yūko at the brothel, but the madame claims there was no Yūko or any Japanese woman there.
At an unnamed school, Chester goes to see his professor and returns the photo negative enlarger. On campus, he sees Luz and learns she is pregnant and has been thrown out by her family. She’s staying and working at the St. Jerome Orphanage. Luz’s mother died after giving birth to her and “all my life I’m been trying to live up to her sacrifice.” Luz has a picture of an eye in a locket that her grandmother (abuela) gave to her, telling her that her mother will always be watching over her.
Luz is at the orphanage when the police come to gather up the children of Japanese American descent, even the babies. Luz is told that “anyone with even one drop of Jap blood has got to go.”
Most Japanese Americans know that Executive Order 9066 (19 February 2019) resulted in the forced evacuation and relocation of Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans to two different types of concentration camps: first temporary camps (transfer/assembly centers) and later to the more permanent internment camps. In this case of “The Terror,” the Terminal Island families are sent to “Edendale Race Track.”
In reality, Terminal Islanders were sent to Santa Anita Racetrack. Edendale Race Track is fictional. George Takei was one of those people at Santa Anita Racetrack as were my maternal relatives. They were forced to live in stalls formerly used by racehorses. According to Densho, Manzanar was the only Japanese concentration camp to house orphans at what came to be known as the Children’s Village. George Takei was later taken to Rohwer Relocation Camp in Arkansas. Jerome was the other relocation camp in Arkansas so it is likely the orphanage in “The Terror: Infamy” is named for that camp.
At the Edendale Assembly Center, Toshiro Furuya (Alex Shimizu) meets Yūko. She is in her own stall. Amy takes Toshiro away.
When Chester learns that the kids from St. Jerome’s orphanage at at the Edendale Race Track, he drives in the Packard from the race track to St. Jerome to find Luz. They make a plan to flee to New Mexico, helped by Chester’s teacher, but that’s foiled when Chester’s presence at his teacher’s home is betrayed and the FBI comes to take him to the racetrack. Luz decides to join Chester.
At the race track, Wilson Yoshida (James Saito) sees Yūko again and calls her “o-mae” which is informal for “you.” He starts to run toward Chester and tells him he has to leave, but then, he trips and falls and Yūko takes possession of him. She makes him attack an army guard, take the guard’s gun and then walk toward other armed white service men. Despite warnings, Wilson Yoshida doesn’t drop the gun or stop advancing so he is shot to death.
This is a significant distortion of history. According to Densho, “There were seven confirmed cases of deaths by gunfire inflicted on the Nikkei, or persons of Japanese ancestry, within the internment centers created and operated by the U.S. Army and Department of Justice and the concentration camps opened and run by the U.S. Army and the War Relocation Authority (WRA).” Further Densho concludes that “In all seven cases of homicide reported above, the victims were unarmed civilians and three of them were American citizens.”
Yoshida’s wife Fumi (Hiro Ambrosino) feels that there is some kind of evil that surrounds Chester and tells Chester to stay away even when he comes to comfort the Yoshida family. Soon enough the Terminal Islanders are loaded on to buses (with Amy forced to leave her father’s suitcases behind because only two suitcases per person were allowed) and taken far from the deserts of Southern California to the fictional Colinas de Oro, Oregon concentration camp.
Bakemono （化物) literally means something that can change shape. Yūrei (幽霊) is a spirit or ghost. The Japanese believe that spirits walk and will come back home during O-bon (a Buddhist tradition). When my grandmother died, and her eldest son didn’t inform the family back in Osaka, Japan, her surviving brother was angry. As one of my cousins explained to me, they expected her spirit to return to Japan and should have been praying for her.
What do we know about this yūrei (幽霊):
- Hideo Furuya knew her.
- Wilson Yoshida knew her.
- Yūko has a special interest in Chester Nakayama.
- Yūko has an interest in Toshiro.
- Yūko died young.
- Yūko has issues with Furuya and even Yoshida.
There were no War Relocation Authority camps in Oregon. The WRA camps were: Manzanar, CA; Tule Lake, CA; Poston, AZ; Gila River, AZ; Topaz, UT; Minidoka, Idaho; Heart Mountain, WY; Amache, CO; Jerome and Rohwer, Arkansas. There were different facilities run by different US government agencies. According to Densho, the detention center in North Dakota was Fort Lincoln, near Bismark.
I have no problem with fictionalization. The race track temporary assembly center and the WRA concentrate camps are fictionalized locations. However, the manner of Yoshida’s death is a significant distortion of history. According to Densho, “There were seven confirmed cases of deaths by gunfire inflicted on the Nikkei, or persons of Japanese ancestry, within the internment centers created and operated by the U.S. Army and Department of Justice and the concentration camps opened and run by the U.S. Army and the War Relocation Authority (WRA).” Further Densho concludes that “In all seven cases of homicide reported above, the victims were unarmed civilians and three of them were American citizens.”
The 17-year-old Los Angeles-born James Ito and the 21-year-old Tacoma-born Katsuji James Kanegawa died after being shot during a protest at Manzanar concentration camp (Manzanar Riot) in December 1942, a year after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The Garden Grove-born 30-year-old Shoichi James Okamoto died after being shot during an argument with a sentry at Tule Lake Segregation Center.
In May of 1942, a guard shot down the 58-year-old Kanesaburo Oshima (in the back) at a Fort Sill, Oklahoma (US Army and DOJ internment center) as he climbed the fence. The other internees felt he had gone “insane” due to the stress. Oshima had been one of the Issei leaders (in his case as a “consular agent”) taken from Oahu on the same day that Pearl Harbor was bombed according to Densho. The 58-year-old Toshio Kobata and the 59-year-old Hirota Isomura where shot in the back and killed at Lordsburgy, New Mexico internment center on 27 July 1942. Both men had medical conditions that should have prevented them from running. The 65-year-old James Hatsuaki Wakasa was shot five feet inside the fence on 11 April 1943 at Topaz.
The three cases of younger men who died were the result of angry protest. The older men, all Japanese born, might have had a psychological break. In “The Terror: Infamy,” with Yoshida armed, the white soldiers are seen in a more sympathetic light. Consider the time frame. Yellow perilism had resulted in the Chinese Exclusion Act and other anti-Asian immigration acts. East Asians and Central Asians could not become naturalized citizens. Because they could not become naturalized citizens, they could not own land. There were anti-miscegenation laws. There were Jim Crow laws. In 1943, there would be the Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles. One has to ask, during a time of heightened racism, not only in California and the Pacific Coast, but nationwide toward minorities, what purpose does distorting history and having an older Issei shot armed as opposed to shot in the back truly serve?