The third episode of AMC’s “The Terror: Infamy” uses a Zen Buddhist term for its title: Gaman (我慢). Chester, Luz and his mother are still in the fictional Colinas de Oro in May 1942.
The episode begins with scenes from the 1933 Western musical “Riders of Destiny,” starring John Wayne as Singing Sandy. Although he’s the protagonist, his ten-gallon hat is black and not white. Wayne’s singing was dubbed by the son of the director, Bill Bradbury. (Wayne would leave the singing cowboy behind, providing a vacancy that Gene Autry willingly and melodically filled). For the Nikkei (people of Japanese ethnicity), the dialogue is translated into Japanese and sound effects are provided by other internees. During the pivotal gunfight scene, Chester, who has been sitting next to a very pregnant Luz, sees Wilson Yoshida (James Saito) being gunned down.
In the last episode, “All the Demons Are Still in Hell,” Yoshida saw Yūko and before he could warn Chester (Derek Mio), Yūko (Kiki Sukezane) took possession of his body and he attacked a soldier, took his gun and approached armed soldiers who fatally shot him. A more accurate portrayal would have had him just climbing the fence and being shot in the back but the writers don’t want the white soldiers to seem as bad and inexperienced as they were historically.
Just before Yūko took possession of Yoshida, he was able to cry out a warning, “Chester, you have to go.” That’s what Chester hears now. He leaves the movie, going outside. Luz follows him, but he won’t admit to her what he saw or feels.
Luz and Chester part for the evening with Luz going to a barrack for young women where she is called a “whore” in Japanese. She has few friends. That barrack doesn’t have sheets hanging for privacy like the barracks where the families are living.
The next day, we see that Chester has his camera still. Besides taking photos of camp life, he looks up and photographs birds. The women are hanging out laundry on rope strung between the buildings and tending small garden plots using raised beds. Chester’s mother Asako (Naoko Mori) tells Amy’s mother Fumi in Japanese (Hira Ambrosino) that Luz has “ruined things” for Chester. Fumi replies in Japanese that Luz “didn’t have to come here,” meaning the camps, but Amy (Miki Ishikawa) sticks up for Luz, noting in English that Luz’s being here means something. The Issei speaking Japanese and the Nisei speaking English within one conversation is very typical for intergenerational conversations, not only then, but now with the Shin Issei.
Asako picks up a green pepper that has grown in her plot and bites into it, but finds there is a worm inside and spits out what she had in her mouth.
In a different part of the camp, Chester is looking at the birds and asks, “Are they swallows?” but Walter doesn’t know much about birds. The interned men are charged with building a fence around the camp. The commanding officer of the camp, Major Bowen (C. Thomas Howell), encourages the men to “build me nice solid fences” because Japanese are “supposed to be industrious.” Chester and Walter meet two Nisei men from San Francisco who look down on Terminal Islanders. One of them, Ken Uehara (Christopher Naoki Lee), comments, “You can’t miss what you never had.”
Later that night, under the white Christmas lights strung between the rows of barracks, a couple dances. He is in a tux with black bow tie. She is in a white dress with large bold dark images here and there. They are awkward and bouncing instead of smooth and flowing. They probably imagine themselves to be elegant, but they are sweetly happy and very much alone. Chester’s mother, Asako is actually dreaming of her husband Henry (Shingo Usami) when Amy comes to wake her up because a group of Issei (first generation) men have arrived at camp. Henry can hardly walk, but his unsteady gait has nothing to do with possession by the evil spirit of Yūko. He’s suffering from frostbite. Along with him are Yamato (George Takei) and Hideo Furuya (Eiji Inoue).
The lights from the guard tower sweeps through the barrack windows and the thin bedsheets used as curtains and barriers provide little relief. Suddenly angry, Chester goes out and climbs a guard tower. After surveying the rows and rows of barracks, he becomes enraged and uses a chair to break the glass of the unused searchlight.
The next morning, Asako prays. Everyone else has left the barracks for breakfast, but Henry is just rising. Once Henry was the leader amongst their group. When Henry hears about Yoshida’s death, he remembers that Yoshida was always the careful one. When Henry became a fisherman, Yoshida sold bait. Chester returns with Luz and breakfast for his mother and father. Chester introduces Luz to his father, but his father reacts angrily talking about spies. Ridiculously paranoid, Henry suspects that Luz might be a spy. Asako tells Chester and Luz to leave.
At the mess hall, Chester introduces the snobbish Nisei, Ken Uehara (Christopher Naoki Lee) to Amy and the snobby guy’s attitude toward Terminal Island has changed. Love is in the air and Yamato smiles. While Amy is distracted, Chester talks to Yamato about Yoshida, bakemono and yūrei. Chester didn’t used to believe in that “old country” stuff, but Yamato says, “Old country? They in every country. They follow you.”
That is a cue for what happens next. Hideo Furuya enters. He calls for Toshiro, but tries to choke him, talking about “tsubame” (swallows), saying “They’re everywhere.” Other men pry Hideo away from his shocked son and Hideo is put in the stockade.
In another part of the camp, Amy’s mother, Fumi, takes her to see the commander, Major Bowen. Bowen complains about an AWOL soldier, a broken search light and a brawl in the mess hall. Fumi tells him that Amy can do shorthand and Amy types 60 wpm. Fumi continues saying “more than that she would love to help her country during a time of war.” Amy becomes the major’s secretary.
That evening, Chester secretly visits Hideo and, after giving him some homemade sake, asks him what he remembers, but Hideo says he wasn’t himself. Chester reassures Hideo that his mother is taking care of Toshiro. Hideo begs, “Tell him, it wasn’t me.”
Chester asks, “Then what was it?”
“I felt something inside of me,” Hideo confesses. “Has this happened to you? It doesn’t stop. It’s with me wherever I go. You be next. Get out of here or you be in here with me.” Chester turns to leave and when he turns back, he sees Yoshida instead of Hideo and Yoshida is saying, “Chester, you have to go.”
The next day, Chester talks to Walter about his father’s death. Chester asks what his father meant when he said, “You have to go,” but Walter reminds him his father actually said, “Chester, you have to go.” When Chester goes to the single women’s barracks, but Luz has gone to the infirmary.
The Japanese doctor doesn’t seem to like Luz and Chester demands in Japanese that the doctor pay attention to Luz. The doctor prefers to speak in Japanese and he tells Chester what to tell Luz to do. He listens to Luz’s stomach and says that the baby has a healthy, strong heartbeat. Luz tells Chester that she “was walking out to use the latrine and with the wind and the rain, I just fell.”
“Are you sure it was an accident?” Chester asks.
Luz replies, “What else could it be.”
We already know what else it could be. That evening, Yūko takes possession of a white soldier and that soldier takes the blind Hideo out into the forest and leaves him there. “I’ve done nothing,” Hideo protests. Yūko appears. She asks, “Do you remember me? That night, do you remember what you said to me?” Hideo doesn’t. She reminds him, “You said, I was exquisite.” He begs first for her to spare him and then for her to spare Toshiro.
Yūko says, “There’s only one I want.” In English that might be so clear, but in Japanese, she says she wants one thing (hitotsu) and not one person (hitori). She bites out Hideo’s tongue. He either dies from drowning on his own blood or from fright. The next day, a child playing baseball goes into the forest to retrieve a ball and sees, first Yūko and then the corpse of Hideo. Chester wonders if an evil spirit killed Hideo and even if Luz’s fall was caused by an evil spirit.
Chester feels he needs to leave the concentration camp in order to protect Luz and that the evil that surrounds him will follow him when he leaves. The only way out is to join the MIS (Military Intelligence Service) who are recruiting Japanese translators. Chester, unlike many Nisei, didn’t go to Japanese school, and most schools didn’t teach words related to military service and usage of guns. When asked to translate, Chester stumbles, but Chester knows something about Japanese culture. He notices that in one of the documents, a letter, that the writer used tanka (Japanese poem with 5-7-5-7-7 pattern) to send a coded message. Since most of the recruits failed to notice it, Chester gets accepted.
Telling Luz, he reminds her that “It’s an opportunity to earn a real wage, more than I’ve earned ever.” He’ll be sent to Minnesota and as a translator, he tells her, “I won’t see combat.” Luz eventually accepts what he’s doing, and they dance, but in the background we see Yūko looking on from a window behind them.
Chester’s father, Henry, is a harder sell. Even though Henry had originally encouraged Chester to apply (at the end of episode one), that was before Henry knew what they, the government, were capable of and he feels that Chester is going to be a spy. For Henry, Chester is joining the same people who beat him and left him in the cold.
“You just sit here. That’s no way to live,” Chester complains.
“This is what we do, gaman,” Henry replies. Then he accuses Chester, “You, you run away. ”
Chester replies, “At least I’m doing something.”
The next day when he leaves, Luz, his mother and Amy are there to see him off. Chester gives Luz a rice bag dress, having paid for it with his camera. When they kiss, the breezeways picks up. To Luz it is nothing, but Chester feels a chill.
Before he leaves, his mother takes a clipping of his hair. Amy explains to Luz that if Chester dies and there is no body, his mother can cremate the hair and give Chester a proper burial.
Later, Luz asks Asako if there is another doctor in the camp. Asako says she heard about a midwife in the new barracks, north of the guard tower. Asako offers to go with Luz, but Luz would rather go alone. The last scenes are of Luz with the midwife in barrack B36-4. The number four and babies should not mix. Two candles are burning and the midwife is smiling. It’s Yūko.
You’ll notice in some exchanges the Issei are speaking Japanese, but can understand what is being said when the Nisei answer them in English. And there is some code-switching. Amy’s mother switches to English when speaking to some people and particularly with Major Bowen. When Chester wants to re-assert his Americanness or when he wants to rebel against his parents, he might resort to English instead of Japanese. Henry’s Japanese started as soft, but becomes rougher or less formal after he returns from North Dakota.
According to my Kenkyusha dictionary, Gaman means patience, forbearance, tolerance, self-control, self-denial and restraint. It is not only used in a negative way as Henry did, but also in a positive manner such as “My father gave me higher education by denying himself even the bare comforts of life ” or literally, “My father didn’t even denied himself the things he wanted to eat to give me a high level of education” or chichi wa tabetai mono mo Gaman shite watch ni kōtōkyōiku wo ukesaseta ( 父は食べたい物も我慢して私に高等教育を受けさせた。). In this regard, Gaman is about sacrifice for others. You can also say, Kare wa tsuini gamanshikirenakunatta (彼はついに我慢し切れなくなった）or “His patience was worn out at last.” To suppress one’s anger is Hara ga tatsu no wo Gaman suru（腹が立つのを我慢する）. You can be unable to resist something such as “I can’t resist strawberry cream” or ichigo Kuri-mu wo miru to Gaman dekinai (イチゴクリームを見ると我慢できない。). To be patient, stoic or heroic is to be Gaman-zuyoi (我慢強い）。Tsuyoi which means to be strong is generally given a positive connotation.
I think it is incorrect to consider gaman as passivity or a lack of initiative or to see it as implying conformity control. Yase-gaman (痩せ我慢) means “to endure for the sake of pride” and uses the same character as yaseru or to grow lean or the lose weight.
Having gaman is a sign of maturity and strength. Chester and Henry may have different definitions of gaman. Henry is somewhat broken and disillusioned by his experiences in North Dakota. Chester is worried about his family, his girlfriend and unborn child (“I have people depending upon me.”) as well as the lurking suspicion that bad luck or a bad spirit is somehow attached to him.
There’s more to be said about the swallows, but that would be a spoiler about the episodes that have yet to be seen.