AMC’s supernatural television anthology, titled “The Terror: Infamy,”? opens with a Japanese woman putting on make up and then sticking a chopstick into her hair.
I groaned. Was this going to be another series where cultural appropriation was the norm, I wondered? We never see white people stick forks or spoons in their hair.
Then, this woman goes to the docks by the ocean and sticks a chopstick into her ear to commit suicide. I groaned even louder.
A more Japanese way that a woman of her era would have killed herself would be to neatly place her zori by the water’s edge and then, drown herself.
But I forced myself to continue watching, and it got better, much better.
“The Terror: Infamy”? is AMC’s second season of the series, which focuses on the Japanese American experience shortly before and during World War II. AMC’s first season depicted the fictionalized story of Captain Sir John Franklin and his lost expedition to the Arctic in 1845-1848.
The plot for “The Terror: Infamy”? centers around the Nakayama family on Southern California’s Terminal Island. It follows their lives as they are placed into a fictionalized United States concentration camp called Colinas de Oro after the U.S. enters World War II. Haunting the family and the community is an obake or bakemono, a supernatural shape shifter.
The series stays away from the messiness of the loyalty/disloyalty controversy and instead focuses on an interracial love story.
The story line is good; the actors deliver a strong performance; and the cinematography is beautiful. The added mystery of the bakemono heightens the tension and adds a seductive creepiness throughout the series that keeps the viewer engaged.
George Takei, best known as Hikaru Sulu in the “Star Trek” TV and movie series, has the biggest name recognition among American viewers in this series. He depicts a former fishing captain on Terminal Island.
One of the most refreshing aspects of the series is that the production actually hired Japanese actors, who can speak Japanese and have Japanese mannerisms. Naoko Mori portrays Asako Nakayama; Shingo Usami, her husband, Henry; and Kiki Sukezane is the mysterious Yuko, who speaks with a Kansai lilt.
In the past, those of us in the audience, who could understand Japanese, had to suffer through Sansei or Yonsei actors, who were supposed to act out Japanese immigrant roles, mangle the Japanese language and Japanese mannerisms.
Derek Mio, who plays the son Chester Nakayama, is a good example of an actor who speaks Japanese with a heavy American accent. This is OK, since he is supposed to be depicting an American-born Nisei, but his enunciation and delivery sounds more like a Yonsei who learned Japanese on the spot for this production.
Additionally, because both Mori and Usami have also been performing in the white acting world for decades, they’ve virtually lost their Japanese accent but this was not a problem and felt natural.
This series is a huge improvement from other past productions, but there were still some sticking points. This included having the mysterious Yuko serve tea in a brothel by whisking tea with a chasen, a bamboo whisk. The chasen is used in Chado, traditional tea ceremony, which was mainly practiced by the upper class. It is a serious art form, and it is not believable that someone at a brothel would have access to a chasen, a traditional tea bowl and matcha to serve tea to a customer.
Yuko’s tea leaf reading scene was also a little over the top, with green tea leaves swirled throughout the cup. Depicting a traditional tea leaf reading would have been adequate.
Having Takei’s character be a pseudo-onmyoji, someone who practices magical divination, was also pushing the boundaries. Perhaps bringing in a Buddhist priest or showing Takei’s character practicing the occult earlier might have flowed smoother.
One of the most bothersome aspects of the series was seeing another woman in a later episode appear with chopsticks in her hair. Placing eating utensils in one’s hair is neither artsy nor clever. The producers should have purchased a decent kanzashi, or hair ornament. Some of these kanzashi are heirlooms, passed down from generation to generation, which would have fit nicely into the plot line.
Other than these points, the series is entertaining and worth watching. The final episode ties everything together and reveals the mysteries of the bakemono. Stay tuned.
“The Terror: Infamy”? airs Mondays at 9 p.m./8 p.m. Central on AMC pay television.