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George Takei talks The Terror: Infamy, genre stereotypes, and Japanese ghost stories
Few actors have a history with genre like George Takei. With roles in series like The Twilight Zone and Star Trek, Takei's work has helped infuse the medium with everything from thoughtful commentary to dire warnings.
His latest role as Yamato-san in AMC's upcoming The Terror: Infamy continues that tradition. The first season of The Terror took place in the arctic during the mid-19th century, while Infamy is set almost a century later, during the internment of Japanese citizens in the wake of Pearl Harbor.
Speaking with SYFY WIRE ahead of an advance screening of Infamy's series premiere at the ATX Television Fest in Austin, Texas, today, Takei said that the series is reminiscent of another aspect of what genre is capable of.
"Genre can stereotype," Takei explained. "That's been constantly repeated from the beginning of, well, the media. Whether it's newspapers or radio or movies, television or the stage, Asians and Asian-Americans have always been characterized by unattractive stereotypes. The quiet servant, the buffoon, the comic, or the villain — either villainous soldiers or Fu Manchus. Because the media has been so powerful in selling these stereotypes, it was easy for the government, when they got stampeded by war hysteria, to incarcerate us."
Given that Takei himself spent the ages of 5 to 8 incarcerated alongside his family in an internment camp, he was initially hired as a consultant for Infamy. Before long, incoming showrunner Alexander Woo realized that he needed a way to carve out a role for the veteran actor and activist.
Thus came the character of Yamato-san, a community elder (and tuna-boxing champion) who carries a sense of old-world tradition about him. Which in the world of The Terror includes the very prominent influence of ancient Japanese ghost stories.
"It's a very timeless series," said Takei. "It riffs on the horror stories that we tell, but it's also a chapter of authentic American history, fused with the ancient ghost stories of Japan, Kaidan, and carrying a lesson for us today — because it's being repeated time and time again."
The Terror: Infamy premieres Aug. 12, 2019, on AMC.