With all the clutter of TV shows running during the regular September-to-May season, I didn’t until recently get to check out the pilot for an upcoming series from Amazon Studios called “The Man in the High Castle.” It was one of a batch of pilots the studio produced and allowed the viewing public to decide which were popular enough to warrant becoming regular series.
After it debuted on Jan. 15, “Man” became the most viewed pilot of them all. New episodes will debut later this year.
It’s based on a 1962 novel by Philip K. Dick, the science fiction writer whose work became the basis for several popular movies like “Blade Runner,” “Total Recall” and “Minority Report.” It takes place in an alternate reality where the Axis powers won the Second World War. Consequently, the west side of the U.S. is called “Japanese Pacific States,” the eastern side is “Greater Nazi Reich,” and the “Rocky Mountain States” in between are in a neutral zone (what, Italy didn’t get anything?).
Of interest to readers of this column is that the series features two Asian Americans: Joel de la Fuente as Inspector Kido and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Trade Minister Nobosuke Tagomi. Although seen only sparingly in the pilot, Tagomi’s role will probably expand in the succeeding episodes as he’s secretly meeting with a Nazi captain who’s also concerned that when Hitler soon dies, his successor may no longer honor the co-existence of the Japanese and Nazi rulers and try to nuke the Japanese Pacific States.
The pilot focuses on a white woman, Juliana Crain, whose half sister — just before she was killed by Japanese officers — gave her newsreel film depicting an alternate reality where the Axis powers were defeated. Crain continues her sister’s plan to take a bus to Kansas City, where she’s supposed to meet up with another member of the resistance.
Crain is a top aikido student who calls the martial arts form “beautiful.” Her boyfriend, Frank Frink, says, “My grandfather was a Jap” (he’s also hiding the fact that he’s Jewish). Crain’s mother resents the Japanese for killing her husband during the war and throws around the “J-word” freely.
“The man in the high castle” makes the newsreel films that show the happier ending. Though Frank believes they’re fake, Juliana believes they’re real, as if “the man” has access to that reality.
The set-up is intriguing, though I have to say I was really annoyed at how much of it was shot with not enough light (it looks even worse on a computer vs. television screen). It’s executive produced by Ridley Scott (“Blade Runner”) and Frank Spotnitz (“X-Files”). Watch the first episode here: www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00RSI5EHQ/ref=dv_dp_ep1
“Big Brother” Watch Department: Our “hero” James Huling, the “Asian Hillbilly” who was the reality competition’s first Head of Household (HOH), laid low for the next week, not stirring up any conflicts between people. However, the latest HOH, Vanessa, a Las Vegas poker player, doesn’t like him and nominated him for eviction alongside a pawn. Her real plan is to replace James with Jerry, her main target, but if the nominations remain the same for the final vote Thursday night, I think she’ll be fine with James going home.
Here’s hoping he doesn’t. “Big Brother” airs on CBS Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights.
You Were Right the First Time Department: Many of us were excited by George Takei’s angry response to Clarence Thomas (consistently the dumbest man on the Supreme Court who doesn’t even ask questions during deliberations) for rationalizing that even if the court ruled against gay marriage, it didn’t take away the dignity of gay people, just as the internment of Japanese American (justified by the same court) didn’t affect their dignity. Takei said Thomas was “a clown in blackface” who didn’t deserve to sit on the top court in the land.
I emailed Takei offering my support, which he appreciated. He told me he couldn’t believe some right-wingers were calling him racist for using the term “blackface.” What?! Were these the same people who couldn’t admit the murder of nine black people in Charleston was a hate crime, instead claiming it was against people of faith?!
Essentially, Takei was calling Thomas an “Uncle Tom,” someone who compromised his dignity as a black man. Anyone of any race can accuse a black person of that without having to fear being called insensitive or racist (well, last time I “checked”). It’s not like Takei was using any form of the “N-word.” Hell, even William Shatner, who’s had a contentious relationship with “Mr. Sulu” for years, came to his defense on Twitter, writing: “I am positive that George is not a racist. Let’s stop the spin-doctoring.”
So I was surprised and disappointed that the very next day Takei apologized, saying he chose words that were “uncivil.” Ah, you had it right the first time, George! But ah well, he’s a classy guy and he still got his point across, which he didn’t make down from.
Dumbest Graduation Speech/Rap Department: They say many millennials are so overly catered to and cradled that they grow up with a sense of entitlement (apparently there can’t be any losers in any competition; everyone has to get at least some certificate to acknowledge they at least tried or else their fragile egos will crumble). That’s why, a few years ago, it was so refreshing for many of us to hear of a graduation speaker whose main point was: “You are NOT special! You’re just one of many who’re going to be struggling to find a job!”
I rolled my eyes reading “Together We’re G.R.E.A.T.” by Remi Kohno in The Rafu’s Graduation Issue. I mean, how can anyone take this seriously: “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m here today to explain why the Chaminade Class of 2015 is the greatest class in the history of higher education.” Uh, no, she didn’t prove it. Like many of her generation, this was probably an accumulation of all the praise she and her friends had received all their lives, which led her to actually believing it was accurate to make this ridiculous assertion.
What’s even worse, she then ended her speech with a rap. I kept scanning the lines looking for some semblance of a rhyme. It finally came in the 14th line, where she tried to rhyme “quitters” with “four years.” Good grief! I hope there’s no audio for this. If there is, I’d keep it handy if I needed to torture information out of an informant.
Happy Reunion Department: Why is Betty White more popular now than she was 20 years ago? Because she’s 93, sharp, and as funny as can be. People like her give us hope that we’ll (1) live as long and (2) be as vital and “with it” like that for as long as possible.
That was a great part of why many of those gathered Sunday at the Japanese American National Museum loved listening to Dr. Sus Ito, Harvard Medical emeritus professor, who fought with the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion of the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team. Toward the end of this month, he’s turning 96, yet he walks without any help. In fact, at Sunday’s gathering, he remembered checking into his hotel room for a speaking engagement and found a cane, walker, and wheelchair. In mock outrage, he shouted, “I was insulted!”
I had to see him again because in December 1991, as part of NCRR (then National Coalition for Redress & Reparations) I co-hosted a press conference where we tried to provide “counter-programming” to six months of stories about the 50th anniversary of the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor. We wanted to remind people that we were put in concentration camps, yet many still fought for this country. What’s more, the 522nd liberated the Jews of Dachau.
Yanina Cywinska, a Polish woman, had been blindfolded up against a wall waiting to be executed by the Nazis when she heard trucks, yelling, people running away. Someone took off her blindfold. He had a Japanese face. “Oh,” she said, “Now you Japanese are going to kill us!” The man said, “No, we’re Americans! We’re here to rescue you!” and he started crying. Cywinska, who became a dancer, said she got angry whenever people put down Japanese people because they saved her life.
Many of the reporters in the room were misty-eyed. Ron Olsen of KTLA Channel 5 later told me, “Wow, Guy! Wow! What a story you’ve handed us!” KCBS’ Penny Griego, when anchoring the news that night, had a look in her eye that said, “How dare we do this to these people!”
There were even follow-up broadcasts where draft resisters like Frank Emi got to tell their stories as well.
During the Q&A on Sunday, I reminded Dr. Ito of the press conference, which he remembered. I thanked him for helping us educate people about the contributions the 100th/442nd made in the war effort and expressed how great it was to see him still around and still so vital and funny.
The purpose of the program was to bring attention to the exhibit of many of the pictures Ito took while fighting in Europe during the war. Be sure to check it out before it ends on Sept. 6.
Thanks to Jeffrey Dohzen for inviting me to the event.
’Til next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.