The Terror: Infamy, which premieres on August 12 on AMC, turns a dark period of American history into a horror story — well, more of a horror story than it was to begin with. In the show, a malevolent spirit is unleashed in a Japanese internment camp. Chester Nakayama (Derek Mio), our immediately likable protagonist, and his family have to battle supernatural forces in addition to the everyday horrors of state-mandated xenophobia.
Chester and the show's characters are fictional — but they're heavily informed by lives of the 125,000 people of Japanese extraction interned between 1941 and 1945.
Along with much of the cast and crew, Mio has a personal connection to the source material. "Chester is like a composite of both of my grandfathers wrapped up into one," Mio told Character Media. Like Chester, Mio's paternal grandfather grew up on Terminal Island, an islet off of Los Angeles, and was sent to an internment camp. Similarly, both Chester and Mio's maternal grandfather were hired by the U.S. government for their Japanese language skills.
“George walked into the mess hall and felt the same thing he felt as a child 75 years ago. That’s when he knew he got it right,” showrunner Alexander Woo tells Refinery29. “But the things he felt as a kid were feelings of wonderment. He thought it was a big adventure. Now he understands it was a horrific experience for his parents, who tried to shield him from what they were experiencing.”
Mio and Takei weren't alone in finding filming The Terror: Infamy an emotional experience. In the show, every Japanese American speaking role is played by an actor of Japanese ancestry. "If your family was in the U.S. in the 1940s and you’re of Japanese extraction, then you have a connection to internment. There’s no getting around it," Woo says.
For example, while filming in Hastings Park, Vancouver, where Japanese-Canadians had been interned during WWII, an associate director could point out the areas his parents were held. "It was deeply emotional,” Woo says.
Off-camera, the cast of The Terror: Infamy confronted their Japanese roots and their ancestors' experiences. Coincidentally, Chester treads a similar path in the show — discovering supernatural forces and his Japanese ancestry in tandem.
Chester doesn't believe in ghosts, which is why it takes him a long time to realize he's in a ghost story. But to Chester's parents, Henry (Shingo Usami) and Masayo (Yuki Morita), ghosts are as real as trees and true love. "They realize they may have forgotten about them when they emigrated, but knew someday they’d come back to haunt them," Woo says.
Chester and his parents' differing beliefs on the subject of the supernatural is a tidy contrast between the issei and nisei generations — respectively, the terms used for Japanese immigrants and their American-born kids.
He can only accept the yurei – or the spirit – is real once he accepts old-world Japanese beliefs as valid.
"Chester rejects his parents' old country beliefs until it becomes clear they’re real. He has to connect with his own Japanese-ness in order to confront what's bedeviling this place,” Woo says.
He can confront the yurei, but can he beat it? Find out on The Terror.