Shingo Usami, who plays Henry Nakayama on The Terror: Infamy, talks about preparing for this role, Henry and Chester’s relationship and how internment affects Henry.
Q: How did you prepare for this role that is so deeply rooted in history?
A: I tried to read as many books and look at as many records as possible, both in English and Japanese. And I went back to Japan. My character and 60 percent of the former residents in Terminal Island were from Wakayama prefecture. I had to acquire that same dialect and my mother is from Wakayama, so I did research there and went to the history museum. I tried to get as much information as possible. Not only reading materials, but also I was really into looking at photos. I just wanted to internalize what these ordinary, but extraordinary, people were going through because they are unsung heroes. They don’t speak out much and they just live through the hardship and it’s nothing really showy or very expressive. It’s very internalized, and I just wanted to take that kind of resilience inside me.
A: In Japanese families, we don’t really express our love and our pride to our children. Of course the children know that we have pride in them and they’re loved, but we don’t express it, so Henry might come across as too stern and too harsh. He’s just not expressing it in the same way as a Western father would. Henry still remains strongly Japanese, so Chester’s Westernized ideas and ideals — Henry finds them quite naive and sometimes unacceptable. But I think he understands that the second generation is different and, of course, has different circumstances. Henry is a person who loves America and he has adopted the American culture and lifestyle so he’s not the very typical Japanese-oriented man. Chester being so American doesn’t really irritate him or anything, but of course he sees him as immature and too naive sometimes.
I think he’s proud of Chester. In terms of him wanting to be a photographer and wanting to live outside Terminal Island, Henry doesn’t see the possibility of that at that time in history and the circumstances wouldn’t allow him to do that, but Henry understands and admires Chester’s enthusiasm and optimism. Henry must be proud of him being so adventurous, but at the same time he sees the reality of it at the time.
Q: How do their different upbringings play into the conflict of their relationship?
A: Of course Chester was born in the U.S. and, although his life wasn’t luxurious at all, it’s totally different from the poor upbringing that Henry went through. Henry thinks Chester is lucky to have what he has, the American way of thinking, which Henry loves and accepts, but there’s a big difference in terms of how they see the world.
Q: Henry didn’t speak up when his boss at the cannery was taking advantage of him even though Chester tells him to. Is Henry conflicted in himself?
A: I think that’s the case. Every immigrant in any part of the world, the situation doesn’t allow them to speak up. Those immigrants have, and are, experiencing injustice and racism and mistreatment, but their position doesn’t allow them to speak up. That’s where the resilience comes in — they just endure all the humiliation and discrimination. Speaking up and ruining their lives and what they have built up to that stage, it’s not wise for them or their families. Of course that kind of treatment really angers Henry, but, as many immigrants would do, he just swallows it and just carries on. He simply can’t speak up.
Q: Does Henry share his wife’s perspective on the presence of evil spirits?
A: He’s not afraid of ghosts and superstitions as much as Asako is. When he left Japan, he thought that he had left it behind, left all the kind of superstition and stigma and all the dos and don’ts and the ghosts — they are far away. It’s a new place, a new world, a new lifestyle. But with all the weird things that keep coming back, there’s the realization that they are not free from the old world. And it’s not just a superstitious thing, but the fact that people were of Japanese ancestry put them in the internment camps. Henry thought he was a Japanese American. The old world still haunts them, so that realization really hits him, I think.
Q: Henry is among the first to experience imprisonment. How does this change him for the rest of the season?
A: He has adapted to the American way of life and American culture and is proud of his car and everything. He’s the kind of person that just left everything in Japan behind and then tried to make a brand new start in America. That’s why the disillusionment and disappointment, when they were regarded as enemy and just put in the camp, that shock really, really devastated Henry. It’s like being betrayed by your parents. All the trust and all the love and affection were denied and they were treated badly. In one scene, he tried to convince himself that “I love this country” and he needed to do that because he still wants to believe that he is accepted and he will be regarded as harmless. But, as the season progresses, we find out that Henry is being treated really badly at camp and it’s totally devastated the ideal that he had about the U.S.
Q: When Henry and the other men are out on the ice, they interrogate the young man out there with them and chip away at the ice until he confesses he’s a spy for the U.S.. How does that experience impact Henry?
A: Of course he couldn’t believe that a fellow Japanese person would spy on other Japanese people, so he was quite angry. I don’t think that experience totally changed him, but that instance put him in the mindset that no one can be trusted. In the following episode, he became really bitter and really skeptical about everything. In terms of the trust and what other human beings can do to each other, that trust was lost.
Q: What do you most want people to see this season?
A: This series is known as a horror series. Of course the obake and yurei and ghosts, they can be scary, but I really believe that what human beings can do to other human beings are a lot scarier. But despite all the hardship and mistreatment and injustice, more than 120,000 Japanese Americans made it through and survived. That sort of resilience is really, really exciting to me. I really want the viewer to see the strength and resilience of those Japanese Americans who survived the hardship, which is shared by all the immigrants in every part of the world at this very moment. Unfortunately the history of the internment still hasn’t been widely known, so it needs to be. It’s not about look what you did, it’s not that kind of a blame game. But we want to present this as the lesson that we need to learn from history. It would be great if this could lead to some sort of awareness.
Read an interview with Derek Mio, who plays Henry’s son, Chester Nakayama.
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