Thank you for joining me once again for my coverage of The Terror: Infamy. After last week’s series low, I am pleased to report that the show has bounced back this week with one of its strongest offerings yet. The supernatural is more pronounced; revelations abound; and character motivation is clear, reasonable, and understandable. So join me as we take a deep look at this week’s episode “Taizo.”
A Moment of Weakness?
Yuko has been the character that has interested me most since the start, possibly because her appearances have been staggered and her motivations only teased. This week we are rewarded with a subtly surreal, emotive look at what Yuko is and why.
We start with a quick look back to 1919. On Terminal Island, a young Mr. Furuya is trying to coax a physical intimacy out of a timid, guarded Yuko, who seems to want anything but such contact. There’s a nice call-back to Yuko’s later killing of Mr. Furuya, as we get to hear him call Yuko “exquisite” as previously referred to. A further call-back reveals it was Mr. Yoshida who arranged for Yuko to come and be Mr. Furuya’s bride.
Was it an illegal practice? Was coercion or threat involved? It’s not clear, but it would perhaps explain why Mr. Yoshida ended up being possessed and forced into a kind of suicide by pointing a gun at armed American troops.
Furuya persists but Yuko still hesitates. The problem: she is pregnant with another man’s child. Furuya, not known for being the warmest or kindest of people, reacts by branding Yuko a whore and sending her out onto the street to fend for herself. The parallel with Furuya being led out into the snow to be killed in the freezing cold is evident.
Fast forward a year to Los Angles, 1920. Yuko has apparently been raising her child on the street, stealing scraps from dumpsters behind restaurants to ensure her baby doesn’t go hungry. But this time something catches in Yuko’s heart. As she looks at her child, crying and hungry, possibly ill, her motherly instinct for the child to be looked after and given the best chance overrides any considerations about herself. She hands the baby over to an orphanage, the nun there seeming far more interested in the care of the baby than the care and state of the mother, who let’s not forget is living here in extreme hardship.
As she leaves, Yuko cannot entirely break the maternal bond. She chastises herself: “A moment of weakness and so much destruction in its wake. What is a woman worth if she can’t raise her own child? If she can’t provide?” Sadly these are the kind of pressures we still put onto women, especially single mothers, that their only source of worth is to be a good mother. This, of course, is completely untrue but Yuko is heartbroken.
Driven to despair by this turn of events, Yuko fills her bag and clothes with rocks and climbs atop a bridge with the intention of hurling herself into the river below. Here, unexpectedly, is an intervention. A woman of oriental descent, in traditional attire, appears and insinuates that she knows what Yuko is preparing to do and that it is not worth it, for “pain quote.” Yuko politely advises that she is just thinking things over and there is no need for concern. The woman doesn’t seem convinced but concedes defeat and walks off. But not too far, as we see that she is still watching as Yuko takes the plunge into a watery grave.
Yuko’s intent was obvious. Why didn’t the woman intervene further? Surely she knew she was being fobbed off? There is a slightly on-the-nail clue given by the woman’s attire. It is similar to the later yurei Yuko’s presentation, with one key difference: it is all in black. And the fact that this woman, who I shall refer to from here as the Woman in Black, is watching Yuko’s suicide so intently clearly indicates to us that there is some sort of manipulation or demonic intent at pay. Yet the reveal, when we get it, gives a far more human explanation of events that perhaps we were set up to believe.
Gardening in the Underworld
Yuko wakes up to find herself in a room furnished in Japanese traditional simplicity, facing on to an extremely beautiful, minimalist Japanese garden. She does not know where she is or how she got there, and the slightly over-bright, over-ornate qualities of the beauty in the garden give it a sense of unreality and brings to mind the first episode of The Prisoner, where Patrick McGoohan’s Number Six awakens to find himself amongst the almost fairy tale–esque buildings of the Village.
She is not alone. The Woman in Black is there, along with a gardener who tends to stare and insinuate from a distance without saying a word. There is a curiously maternal manner to this woman in the way she deals with Yuko, constantly calling her child and fussing over her eating and resting. She claims that this can be a safe haven for Yuko, but it seems too good to be true.
Why? Well, the Woman in Black has bought Yuko a red kimono for her to dress in, so imagine Yuko’s surprise as she sees the same kimono on a similar-looking body floating under the water by the little garden bridge, as the gardener looks on.
We can assume the gardener is some kind of gate keeper or metaphysical architect of the space they’re in, as the sand paths he endlessly rakes become a trap for Yuko as she tries to run away. Black, rotten-fleshed hands poke up out of the ground to help pull Yuko under, and it is only the intervention of the Woman in Black, giving Yuko a literal lifeline with a pole to pull herself out of the ground, that stops Yuko’s descent into what we can only assume is a very unforgiving underworld.
The Woman in Black states that they are both dead and they are in paradise. The presence of demons seems to contradict this ever so slightly.
‘Huis Clos’ in a Japanese Garden
Jean Paul Sartre in his play Huis Clos famously portrayed hell as not a fiery pit of infernal torture, but a very ordinary, small, out-of-time hotel room—a very mundane and human location that suggests “hell is more of a state of mind than a place.” We will come back to this in a moment.
In any case, both the characters of Huis Clos and Yuko and the Woman in Black are, we can safely say, trapped in relatively small metaphysical spaces that invoke a kind of uneasy claustrophobia, of being trapped. But in The Terror, this space is not just made “real” by some demonic higher power; as we might say we see in Mulholland Drive, the power of the deceased’s desires, regrets and agitations allows for the ability to shape-shift the psycho-geography of the environment so that the deceased can make right something that has gone very, very wrong.
Much like the characters in Huis Clos, the Woman in Black hides “behind facades…unwilling to admit the real reason they are condemned to hell.” Much like Garcin, who hides his fear of armed combat and his subsequent desertion from the army behind the lie that he was shot for running a proudly pacifist newspaper, the Woman in Black has something to hide and she deftly deflects questions until she can no more, and that’s when a violent temper quells the need for further questions.
In The Terror: Infamy Yuko correctly deduces from the way she has been addressed in childish terms that the Woman in Black is looking for a replacement daughter and deduces that she must have had a daughter previously back in “earthly life” who had died, hence the dead body in the red kimono floating peacefully on the garden pond.
This turns out to be correct, but Yuko has not realised: hell is a state of mind. It turns out the Woman in Black, the truth coming out in impassioned denials, was responsible for the death of her daughter, most likely by pushing her into water (which suggests some kind of psychic link with Yuko that allowed the Woman in Black to hone in on her at the moment she was to have a similar fate to that of her daughter).
In the Underworld (the Japanese refer to it as Jigoku, although the garden here does not match the description of it), the Woman in Black, we can assume, was tortured not by “other people” but the lack of them, namely her daughter. Rather than dealing with the trauma and guilt up front and coming to some kind of terms with what she did and where this has brought her, she uses her stockpile of onnen (“a powerful mix of hate, grudge, and vengefulness…this is the ‘fuel’ that powers an angry ghost”) to not only repress what she had done to her daughter but transform the terrain in which she found herself into an idealised version of home, one attractive enough to keep her new daughter with her. Once a new daughter had been located, of course.
The Importance of the Bloodline
See, not any old person can act as the replacement. They have to meet a certain criteria, namely they have to be of the correct bloodline and ancestry.
In Japan this is still an extremely important consideration. To marry into an upper-class family or to even apply for a job with a high-level reputable firm, you could be subjected to such intrusive processes as having your family tree checked to ensure your ancestors were of at minimum reasonable stock.
For those of less reputable backgrounds, there is a solution of sorts. There’s a roaring trade in people buying into family trees to falsify their bloodline and hide its “deficits.”
With this in mind, we can understand why bloodline is a major aspect of Japanese culture and why the Woman in Black requires someone of the same ancestry before they can be anointed as her “daughter.”
Which brings us back to Yuko.
In the process of adjusting to her new surroundings, Yuko notices an ancestral crest above the door, one she recognises as the symbol for her own ancestry as part of the line represented by the yotsu hanabishi crest (in real life representative of Yanagisawa family). The Woman in Black confirms—wait for it—that she is also part of the same family line.
In the course of Yuko’s unravelling of the situation around her, involving dead bodies in ponds, demon-infested sinking gravel and terrifying bursts of temper from the Woman in Black, Yuko gets to the nub of the matter. Whether by the rules set by the Woman in Black or by whatever allows the metaphysical space to exist (it’s never really made clear), the replacement daughter has to be of the same bloodline. The Woman in Black cannot pick below the standard of her line—the space around her physically wouldn’t allow it. And for whatever reason, Yuko is the first of the bloodline to make it in.
We don’t know why deaths in the ancestry have been so scarce, and we don’t know how long the Woman in Black has been alone in this garden of her making, trying to repress the memories of her earthly life and channel her desires into finding a daughter, but it feels like it has been a long, long time.
Imagine the amount of onnen that one could accumulate over such a long period, fermenting and intensifying until it reaches a pitch of such sheer madness and desperation that even the space around you, this illusion of your mind, becomes unstable, ready to swallow you up at the earliest opportunity. Which, with Yuko’s assistance, it does.
‘I’m Not Your Child. I’m a Mother!’
As we know, Yuko has ascertained that the Woman in Black had killed her daughter, both through her vehement denials and her violent outbursts when pushed with that line of questioning.
What the Woman in Black hasn’t taken into account is that Yuko has her own fair share of onnen. And she’s not afraid to use it.
At heart, Yuko had never really wanted to give up her child. She just wanted it to have a better life than the one she was able to provide. The maternal love for her child still remains and in fact has only intensified and become deranged by her store of onnen in death.
That the Woman in Black has killed her daughter in a kind of petty rage (she used the words “whore” and “ungrateful” to describe her daughter previously) is a vile sin to Yuko, who pines for the daughter she still loves. The Woman in Black is trying to make reparation for her murderous deed, but she has made an absolute mistake: you cannot replace such a precious gift as a child with another. Each child is unique and individual and does not cancel the other out. Add to that Yuko being of the Woman in Black’s bloodline but not of her actual blood and therefore not being her real daughter, and the righteous anger of Yuko explodes. She pushes the Woman in Black into the sinking sand and does not offer her the stick to save herself.
It is safe to assume that the Woman in Black is pulled into some sort of circle of hell, left to the torments of the demons (or the spirit of her daughter—note the red kimono under the grasping hands) as punishment for her murderous sin. But what happens when the mind that has given life to the space around you is extinguished? What becomes of the space then?
21 Years Until You Live Again
With the Woman in Black vanquished, the garden of her mind begins to disrupt itself. The skies become a rumbling mess of blue-black doom and the door back into the house leads only into a wall of earth. Yuko claws desperately, to escape the hell she fears the garden will become or just out of sheer panic, we don’t know. But, in a nice twist, she digs herself out (in what appears to be a sideway manner) and back into the earthly life through the patch of grass that covers her grave. Her body is of the familiar decomposed state as we see it at the end of last week’s episode, made strangely more sinister by all the earth and grass that covers it.
Yuko has returned back from the dead, but while this sequence lasted only several seconds on our screens, she emerges from her grave 21 years later, in 1941. What I like about this is, although we can suppose that Yuko could have taken 21 years to dig herself out, it is also very likely that time in the afterlife runs at a different rate to time back on Earth, and that what was only a couple of days in the underworld was actually 21 years back on Earth.
So now we know the “what” of Yuko but we still don’t know the “why”—not completely. The deaths of Mr. Furuya and Mr. Yoshida we can understand, and also her attachment to Luz and her panic at the stillbirths of her babies. But why does she follow Chester? Lucky for us the show is happy to oblige us once again.
The Artist Formerly Known as Taizo
In 1943, Chester has been medically discharged from the army and comes back to the camp to find Luz gone; his children’s small, unsuitably unsentimental grave as per U.S. army contempt for their Japanese prisoners; and Mrs. Yoshida accosting him for the evil he carries around with him. What a raw deal—he probably would have been better off on the road with the military.
Asako comes to Chester’s defence but Mrs. Yoshida drops an interesting morsel of information: she believes Asako, through an unspecified selfishness, has brought all of the bad omens onto Chester. Asako reacts with a good honest slap, but Chester has the bit between his teeth and wants to know what’s going on.
What he gets instead is his mother briefly possessed and calling him “Taizo” and “my sweet baby.” Furthermore, she states that their line must continue. Uh oh. Yuko-as-Asako then gives Chester a throttling for his daring to call Asako mother, strangely reminiscent of the Woman in Black’s temper, until Asako passes out and Yuko is gone.
Chester is confronted with the hard truth: Yuko is actually Asako’s sister, and the baby that was put up for adoption at the start? Yep, that was Chester, aka Taizo. Asako was in Japan when she heard the news of her sister’s suicide and, in what I think at least is quite a selfless gesture, vowed she would not let her nephew be an orphan. His dad was supposedly a soldier that died in the war—will we see that come into play as the series draws to a climax? The jury’s out for the moment, but in any case Chester takes the news badly. He chastises Henry quite clearly for calling him “son” when they are not of the same blood, even though Henry looked after Chester as his own son. This made me a little sad actually. I hope this ingratitude is just one of shock and that Chester and Henry will at least reconcile.
Body vs. Soul
Later on in the evening, Yuko makes a baby-napping from a young girl on the camp in what is perhaps the episode’s only misstep—after establishing so much about bloodline, why have Yuko steal a random baby with no relation to her? Yuko falls into what I assume is a grave she had created earlier on the camp unnoticed and awakens back in the underworld, alone. “Only my own blood can join me,” she says, the penny dropping, as if she forgot all about the Woman in Black and the importance of ancestry.
Fortunately for Chester he finds the baby and the body of Yuko in the grave and takes her back to the barracks. With the help of Yamato-san, who is clear to stress he is not an onmyoji (a kind of ancient specialist in magic and divination), a ceremony is undertaken whereby Yuko’s face and hands are covered in ritual symbols and writing and she is set alight while Yamato-san chants an appropriate ritual mantra.
Why should this be successful in defeating the yurei? Well, according to Yamato-san, “her spirit [is] somewhere else. Kaidan tell us unfulfilled soul need body to occupy. If we destroy body, soul cannot exist.”
This raises some interesting questions. In the case of a cremation, does a soul instantly cease to exist? If relying on the decomposition of a body, is there a point where the body becomes too decomposed for it to be habitable again by the soul? What happens to the soul then? How come Yuko’s body was decomposed when she came out of the grave, but she has appeared youthful since then? I’m not necessarily saying these are flaws but certainly are questions genuinely interesting to consider.
Chester lights the penance, maybe as a form of catharsis for the bad omens he has carried for so long. Yuko begins to burn in the underworld, her face covered with the same markings as in the earthly life. The door to the earthly life is also alight, literally and symbolically destroying her way back to the living. Yet somehow the writing on her face disappears and she rushes into the blazing doorway…
Back at the camp the next morning there are footprints leading away from the wreckage of the barracks. The plot thickens. What will Yuko’s next steps be? Join me next week where hopefully things will get even more exciting!