LOS ANGELES — Like most of George Takei’s shows, “The Terror: Infamy” is a fictional tale.
He’s done a lot of them, before and after becoming a “Star Trek” star, a half-century ago. But this one is different: Its supernatural scares are alongside the sort of real-life horror he knew as a boy.
“I’m a Southern California kid, sent over to the swamps of Arkansas,” said Takei, 82.
That was in 1942, when Japanese-Americans were sent to internment camps. Takei was 5, going with his father (a real-estate man), mother, older brother and baby sister.
“Suddenly, we saw two soldiers marching up our driveway, carrying rifles with shiny bayonets on them,” he said. “They stomped up the porch and, with their fists, began pounding on the door. I remember that as almost shaking the house. It was a terrifying sound.”
That’s one of two potent memories that help define the internment for him. The other was three-and-a-half years later, when the family was finally free … sort of.
“Housing was impossible,” Takei recalled. “Our first home was on Skid Row, in downtown Los Angeles – the chaos, the noise, the sirens shrieking day and night, and the scary, ugly, smelly people …. My baby sister shrieked, ‘Mama, let’s go back home!’”
Her “back home” was the internment. “Her whole life had been spent behind barbed-wire fences.”
Memories like that make Takei perfect for this second edition of “The Terror,” with dark forces striking on a California island and then in the camp.
Many of the people working on the film had their own second-hand stories, producer Alexander Woo said. “There were 138 immediate relatives of our cast and crew who were interned.”
Derek Mio, who stars as Chester Nakayama, is a fourth-generation Japanese-American whose grandfather was interned. He sees this as a logical combination. “You have the terror that’s a mysterious figure haunting the community. (And) you have the terror of the government.”
Joseph Kubota Wladyka, the director, had a different family connection: His grandfather survived the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima.
Until now, many viewers may have been unaware of his Japanese roots. Indeed, Wladyka’s main credit was directing seven “Narcos” episodes.
“He had done an independent film called ‘Dirty Hands,’ which he shot in Colombia with almost exclusively non-actors,” Woo said. “He built an entire world out of this little Colombian village, and that film was what sold it for us.”
This time, he had professionals to help create a world and give “Infamy” its compelling look. “We had our own style that we took from Japanese films …. We did a lot of testing for colors,” said John Conroy, an Emmy-nominated cinematographer.
J.R. Hawbaker, the costumer, also did research. “I spent a really long time … speaking to people (about) their stories,” she said.
That included one man who died recently at 101. “We were one of the last people to come into his house and interview him,” Hawbaker said. “He still had his boyhood harmonica that he played when he was in the camp. And he played … a tune off of that.”
Takei’s memories also helped, Woo said. “The first day we shot in that mess hall, he said, ‘These dishes aren’t chipped enough. So we went and chipped a bunch of dishes.”
It was part of a dark era that, Takei said, has modern variations.
“We’ve reached a new, grotesque level. We were together with our parents; our families were intact. What we see today is this incredible inhumanity of children being torn away from their parents.”
— “The Terror: Infamy,” 9 p.m. Mondays, AMC
— Opener, Aug. 12, reruns at 11:10 p.m. and 3:40 a.m.