In episode 4 of “The Terror: Infamy, “The Weak Are Meat,” has Chester already deployed and on a tropical Pacific island, writing letters to his girlfriend. The episode switches between Chester in the war and his future baby-mother Luz in Oregon. Luz is writing back to Chester as her pregnancy draws to an end.
Far away from the battle front, Chester (Derek Mio) is in a tent with Arthur Ogawa (Marcus Toji) and spends “all day translating documents and fighting off malaria.” Yet for six nights in a row, every night “as I drift off and I feel the enemy closing in” and he wakes up. He’s bought a new camera and on this windy night, the takes photos of his surroundings. He writes to his baby mama Luz (Cristina Rodlo), “I’m not saying it’s better back in camp, at least I imagine it’s calmer.”
Luz alternates between being mad at Chester for leaving and yet is proud that he got a job when others could not. She is welcomed by the Nakayama’s old family friend Yamato (George Takei) and Chester’s friend Walter (Lee Shorten), while Chester’s father Henry (Henry Usami) remains reticent and aloof. At dinner, we see them in the barracks eating together–Chester’s father Henry, Chester’s mother Asako (Naoko Mori), Walter’s sister Amy (Miki Ishikawa) and her new beau Ken Uehara (Christopher Naoki Lee), Walter, the orphaned Toshiro Furuya (Alex Shimizu), Yamato and Walter’s mother Fumi (Hira Ambrosino).
Chester has gone out at night and taken flash photos of the surrounding area. Looking at a proof sheet of the negatives, Chester asks Arthur about yūrei. Arthur is skeptical and only comments on the artistic merit of the photos and cautions, “A camera flash is a sure way to get us sent back in a pine box”
All Arthur knows about the yūrei is “What I read in those old Kaiden stories.” Yet Chester wants to know what the yūrei are after.
Arthur says, it “depends upon its onnen–crazed hunger for something” and that the yūrei will spend the “rest of eternity trying to satisfy its onnen.”
As if slightly embarrassed Chester notes that almost “every other letter is about a spirit of some kind” in their translation work.
Chester discover three slashes through their tent. “Something tore it open.”
Arthur asks, “Like a crocodile? Or are you still going on a yūrei.”
From there, we go back to Colinas de Oro where there is a yūrei. Yūko (Kiki Sukezane) is humming as she examines Luz’s stomach. Yūko gives Luz a small drum toy for her baby.
Back in the war zone, Arthur and Chester pass a man carving a bone as he sits beside a defleshed skull on a stake. Men are blasting a flame thrower before Arthur and Chester reach a putrid smelling pit.
A white officer tells the Nisei MIS soldiers, “Thought it might be time for you to see where your documents are coming from.”
Chester asks, “What happened?” and a white soldier tells him, “Men die all day long out here. That’s so much that can kill you: malaria, cholera, sandflies.”
Yet it is obvious that the soldiers aren’t taking prisoners and Chester asks, “How about a bullet through the head? Did a sandfly do that?”
A soldier responds, “Do you know what your people do to our people?”
Chester replies, “My people are your people.”
The military are interested in Admiral Takahashi and the action didn’t “get nasty until six days ago” and that’s when they lost Sergeant Silas Crittenden (Josh Hudniuk). No one is sure if Crittenden is alive but “sometimes they keep them alive and do a lot worse” than killing them.
Chester angrily replies, “You know if your boys weren’t busy making letter openers out of shinbones they might have realized a live prisoner would stand a better chance of telling us where Admiral Takahashi is.” Chester is sent down into the mud pit and finds wabun code on a belt.
The white soldiers are then told to “get in there chop chop” and find more leads. Eventually, through information Chester and Arthur uncover, the soldiers find Crittenden, but he’s not well and with a crazed look on his face, he just speaks in Japanese.
Back at his tent, Chester sews the three slashes closed and writes to Luz: “It’d be a tropical paradise if nature had its way.” He also reminds her that his dad, Henry, is “kind of stubborn, but then again, so are you.”
Back at Colinas de Oro in Oregon, the women are tending their garden plots as Luz reads Chester’s letter. Luz shows Chester’s mother a photo of Chester in uniform. Luz shows it to Henry and comments, “I guess there’s a part of you that still thinks of him as a little boy.”
Henry replies, “He is his own man now.”
Chester’s mother Asako comforts Luz later telling her, “Don’t be scared.”
Luz asks, “Did Chester tell you about my mom?” Luz’s mother died in childbirth.
Asako tells her, “You need to think good thoughts.”
Luz asks, “How was it when you gave birth to Chester?”
Asako replies, “I don’t remember. It was so long ago.”
If you recall, Asako had heard about a midwife in the new barracks and at the end of the last episode, Luz was seeing her and in this episode, the midwife, Yūko has given her a toy.
Now a white soldier goes to that rows of barracks (36-4) and sees a light. He calls out, “Hello? This section’s off limits.”
Walking cautiously through what seems to be a storage area with crates and crates and stuff piled up, he sees a woman in a kimono. When she turns around, he’s horrified. Yūko has lost hair. She still has the scar she stitched up. Every man she drives to his death or kills results in further degradation of her appearance. Later we see the soldier with a bottle in his hand climbing up a guard tower and jumping to his death.
The commander, Major Bowen (C. Thomas Howell) demands, “Which one of you Japs got him drunk?”
Bowmen orders the soldiers go through the luggage, mattresses and other personal effects of all the internees looking for contraband sake. He considers confiscating the red paper lanterns used for o-bon but tells the soldiers, “just leave it, all that spook shit.”
When the sake is found, it seems like Henry is going into the stockade, but Walt Yoshida tells the major that he was responsible for the sake and that his sister, Amy, had nothing to do with it and “Girls aren’t allowed to touch the stuff anyway.”
Bowen decides, “One’s just as good as another.”
Back to the real cause of the soldier’s madness, Yūko is comforting Luz. She advises Luz that Henry’s sad because Henry feels forgotten. It’s Yūko that tells Luz there are two babies.
When Luz tells Asako, Asako is not delighted. Asako tells her not to write to Chester that there are twins until the babies are born. Fumi begins spreading salt.
Walt bluntly explains everything, saying “That’s what my dad used to say that twins bring death and misfortune.”
When the babies are finally born, Yūko takes possession of the nurse’s body and asks Doctor Kitamura (Hiro Kanagawa), “You’re a doctor. Do something.”
Kitamura claims, “There’s nothing I can do. It’s too late.” Both of the babies are stillborn.
Back at the war, Chester happily reading Luz’s letter. In a voice over as we hear Luz reading her letter and yet we see that her extended Japanese family is paying respects to two wooden baby figurines for their death.
Chester is alone when a group of white soldiers come upon him and one says, “I almost took you for the enemy; I mean, how’s a fellow supposed to tell?”
Chester realizes that the man have Crittenden and asks them why he’s there because he’s not well. The white soldiers beat up Chester. One of them urges Crittenden to join in, saying “Sarge, get in here. This is for you.” But the sergeant turns on the flame thrower and burns all the soldiers. The only one alive is Chester because the white soldiers who fell on top of him sheltered him from the flames.
Another soldier takes the flame-thrower from Crittenden who seems dazed and not realizing what he has done. In Japanese, Chester asks Crittenden if he’s a yūrei. In Japanese, Crittenden responds with “kill the white demons” and that he serves Admiral Takahashi. I don’t think this is the yūrei we know as Yūko.
At the obon celebrations in Oregon, Henry believes that Chester needs to be told about the deaths, and Fumi continues to warn that Chester is surrounded by misfortune. Luz tells them, “Someone needs to find Yūko. Someone needs to find Yūko and tells her what happened.”
Asako goes to the barrack 36-4, but only finds a lamp and a clump of black hair. She is horrified.
As the rest of the internees celebrate o-bon, a women in a red kimono with a short girlish wig and a fat-cheeked white mask goes toward the infirmary. She looks in on Luz who is sleeping. Then she goes to the operating room where the doctor is cleaning up. He tells her to go away. She remains silent. He finally tells her in English, “Come back tomorrow.”
She removes her mask and calls him a murderer in Japanese. Yūko’s face is blackened with rot and decay. We can see parts of her skull clearly. Then she takes possession of his body and forces him to commit suicide.
The title of this episode comes from an old Japanese/Chinese saying: jaku niku kyō shoku (弱肉強食). The meaning is literally, “The weak are meat; the strongest eat” and can be translated as “survival of the fittest.”
According to Mock Joya’s “Things Japanese,” twins or futago were considered bad because “it was believed only beasts gave birth to more than one child at one time.” People also thought that the children would not have happy lives so “the mothers treated them with special consideration” and they were “given happy names in hope that they would lead a joyful life.”
The concept that Arthur discusses is onnen. Onnen (怨念) is a deep-seated or all-consuming grudge. So now we must learn what that means for Yūko.
Yet the grudge here is not only that of the yūrei Yūko, but that of Chester’s fellow soldiers and this episode looks at the deep-seated racism that affected Japanese-US (and actually all East Asian-US) relationships on both an international political scale as well as at a personal level. The mention of the shinbone and the depiction of a skull displayed as a trophy are not gratuitous, but a continuing question about the wartime actions of the Allied nations in the Pacific.
On May 22, 1944, “Life Magazine” published a Picture of the Week that showed a pretty blonde and the caption read, “Natalie Nickerson, 20, gazes at a skull-reportedly of a Japanese soldier–sent to her from New Guinea by her boyfriend serving in the Pacific.”
In 1944, US Representative Francis E. Walter, a Democrat from Pennsylvania. gave President Franklin D. Roosevelt a letter opener made from the forearm of a Japanese soldier. Roosevelt supposedly remarked, “This is the sort of gift I like to get.”
Walter apologized that his gift was “such a small part of the Jap’s anatomy” but the president replies, “There’ll be plenty more such gifts.”
Eugene Sledge’s “With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa” (1981), recounts:
But the Japanese wasn’t dead. He had been wounded severely in the back and couldn’t move his arms; otherwise he would have resisted to his last breath. The Japanese’s mouth glowed with huge gold-crowned teeth, and his captor wanted them. He put the point of his kabar on the base of a tooth and hit the handle with the palm of his hand. Because the Japanese was kicking his feet and thrashing about, the knife point glanced off the tooth and sank deeply into the victim’s mouth. The Marine cursed him and with a slash cut his cheeks open to each ear. He put his foot on the sufferer’s lower jaw and tried again. Blood poured out of the soldier’s mouth. He made a gurgling noise and thrashed wildly. I shouted, “Put the man out of his misery.” All I got for an answer was a cussing out. Another Marine ran up, put a bullet in the enemy soldier’s brain, and ended his agony. The scavenger grumbled and continued extracting his prizes undisturbed
In Tony Bridgland’s book, “Waves of Hate: Naval Atrocities of the Second World War,” the author notes:
“A favorite hobby among the GIs and Marines seems to have been the collection of gold teeth and Japanese ears as trophies, even from the living, and the carving of bones and skulls (after boiling off the flesh and hair) as ornaments to send home. One man carved a letter opener from a Japanese shin-bone and sent it to President Roosevelt as a trophy. It was tactfully refused.”
James J. Weingartner in his essay “Trophies of War: US Troops and the Mutilation of Japanese War Dead, 1941-1945” argues that the acts were more than simple revenge or tit-for-tat due to treatment of fellow troop members or buddies because US Marines expressed the desire for trophies before reaching Guadalcanal.
In his 2006 article “Skull Trophies of the Pacific War: Transgressive Objects of Remembrance,” Simon Harrison argues that ” such human trophy-taking tends to occur in societies, including modern states, in which two conditions hold: the hunting of animals is an important component of male identity; and the human status of enemies is denied.”
Discussing racism intrinsic to World War II goes beyond anti-Semitism and the Japanese American internment camps. Such a discussion begins with the opening of Japan by force, the colonization that carved up East Asia and the Pacific and the rationalization behind the unequal treaties.
In the episode “The Weak Are Meat” of the AMC series “The Terror: Infamy,” the ghouls and savages are the racist white soldiers who do not see ethnic East Asians as human and consider Japanese skulls and bones like hunting trophies. The yūrei who possesses the white sergeant saves Chester, using a flame-thrower to destroy those who would hurt Chester. He calls them “white demons” and we already know that all the demons are not still in hell.