‘Never again’: George Takei recalls his youth in a barbed wire Japanese-American internment camp, and draws parallels to Trump’s recent travel ban.
Sean Fujiwara, USA TODAY
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – George Takei, beloved by millions as Sulu on “Star Trek,” hopes Season 2 of AMC’s horror anthology, “The Terror: Infamy” (Monday, 9 EDT/PDT), will help viewers learn about the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans, including 5-year-old Takei and his family, in internment camps during World War II.
“The story we’re telling (can make) Americans aware of our history, so that we work as hard as we can to prevent this kind of outrage from happening in our name. And it’s happening in our name right now,” says Takei, 82, referring to immigrants, including children separated from parents, detained after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
Takei, an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump and his policies, ranging from detainment of immigrants to a Muslim travel ban, sees parallels between World War II-era Japanese-Americans who were viewed as “potential spies (and) saboteurs” and Trump’s “sweeping statement that these people coming in desperation to our southern border are drug dealers, rapists and murderers, with no evidence of that.”
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Actor George Takei, known to millions from ‘Star Trek,’ is a cast member and consultant on AMC’s ‘The Terror: Infamy,’ which blends the horrific reality of Japanese-American internment camps during World War II with the supernatural scare of a Japanese ghost story. Takei, as a child, spent four years in two camps. (Photo: Rebecca Cabage, Invision/AP)
“Infamy,” which follows a first “Terror” season about a 19th-century Arctic expedition, centers on 22-year-old, U.S.-born Chester Nakayama (Derek Mio) as he, his friends and his immigrant parents are forced from the Los Angeles fishing community of Terminal Island into the camps. In addition to government persecution, they contend with unusual deaths that Chester’s Japanese elders interpret as the work of an evil spirit.
The new season blends the horror of 1940s internment – in which nearly 150,000 Americans and Canadians lost their money, homes and freedom because of their ancestry – with the supernatural scares of a traditional Japanese ghost story, or Kaidan, that tracks a series of bizarre, bone-cracking deaths.
Imprisonment and the ghost, which the younger, American-born generation is less inclined to embrace, causes family strain, says Mio, whose grandfather grew up on Terminal Island and was forced into an internment camp. (“Infamy” was personal for those involved, as 138 immediate relatives of cast and crew had been interned, executive producer Alexander Woo says.)
“When I first heard of the concept of this season, I just thought it was so brilliant because there’s so many layers that are playing a hand,” Mio says. “You have the terror that’s a mysterious figure haunting this community. You have the terror of the government and its own citizen. You have different relationships breaking down. And the horror that you feel that these characters are going through is, you know, brought to life and it’s made more visceral.”
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George Takei, left, plays former fishing captain and community elder Yamato-san, and Singo Usami plays Henry Nakayama, father of central character Chester, in AMC’s ‘The Terror: Infamy.’ (Photo: Ed Araquel, AMC)
For Takei, who plays former fishing captain and community elder Nobuhiro Yamato (Yamato-san), it’s another opportunity to share a shameful piece of American history. The actor, who spent four years in two internment camps as a child, also addresses the topic in his new graphic-novel memoir, “They Called Us Enemy.”
In “Infamy,” “telling the story on an epic scale (over) 10 episodes, entertainingly, engagingly, rivetingly, gives us the opportunity to go into deep detail on internment,” says Takei, who is surprised that many well-educated people he meets don’t know about the mistreatment of the Japanese in America during the war.
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Derek Mio plays Chester Nakayama, a young Japanese-American man at the center of AMC’s ‘The Terror: Infamy.’ (Photo: Ed Araquel, AMC)
Takei also gave writers a glimpse of his own experience, including small details, like chipped dinner plates, that added authenticity.
Despite his concerns about U.S. border and immigration policy and his contempt for Trump, Takei, married since 2008 to Brad Altman, sees much progress in other areas, and even a reason to think society might achieve the level of inclusion and acceptance exemplified by “Star Trek.”
“That’s my hope. … We have made progress,” he says. “Women are getting equality. There’s marriage equality for LGBT people. We had an African-American who served as president. When we were incarcerated in 1942, every elected official except one (Colorado Gov. Ralph Carr) was pitted against us. … When Trump signed his first Muslim travel ban, thousands of Americans throughout the country rushed to airports to protest. Lawyers offered pro bono services.”
He wants “Infamy” to inform viewers about the WWII internment. If more people know, it might prevent future family detainments and separations and presidents who champion such policies..
“I consider this television series (one) of hope that we build a better America by building better Americans (who are) more informed, who will keep this sort of thing from happening,” Takei says.
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