The inaugural season of AMC’s The Terror, based on Dan Simmons 2007 novel, merged supernatural horror with a fictionalized account of Captain Sir John Franklin’s historic lost expedition to the Artic in 1845-1848. The second season, set to premiere on August 12, places a very different supernatural menace right in the middle of World War II. Specifically, a deadly foe targeting the Japanese-American community relegated to a West Coast internment camp during the war. Blending the real horrors of one of America’s darkest moments with the mysterious supernatural events plaguing the characters presents a unique story full of Japanese tradition, folklore, superstition, and evil.
The authenticity and historical context present a richly layered depiction of life in the internment camps, and even the supernatural elements are densely packed. So, consider this a handy companion guide to potentially unlocking the mysterious evils of The Terror: Infamy and an introduction to the Kaidan.
What is a Kaidan?
In its simplest of terms, a Kaidan (sometimes transcribed Kwaidan) is a ghost or mystery story. An old fashioned one, rather. In a modern setting, the term denotes an old style telling. Originated from moralistic Buddhist tales, the Kaidan often revolves around karma and ghostly vengeance. Vengeful Japanese ghosts are far stronger than they were in life. Conversely, they were often powerless in life, too, like servants or women.
That’s not to say that all Kaidan are horror stories, though, as some exist to simply be humorous or weird. In other words, the Kaidan is a passing down of tales of weird, scary, strange, or mysterious. All of which fits The Terror: Infamy.
Obake and Yurei
An obake, also called bakemono, is a folkloric creature whose name literally translates to “a thing that changes.” In short, an obake is a shapeshifter. There are numerous sub categories of obake, but its primary distinction is that it’s a supernatural being that’s taken on a temporary shift or transformation into something else. One other key difference? It’s a living thing, i.e. not a ghost. An obake can sometimes be a synonym for yurei, though.
Horror fans are well acquainted with the yurei, even if you don’t yet know it. Yurei are the most terrifying in Japanese folklore and stories; relentless ghosts of the deceased. They tend to haunt a specific person or the place where they died, and can only move on when their unfinished business is completed or they receive a proper burial.
According to tradition, all humans have a soul. When a person dies, that soul leaves the body and remains in limbo until proper burial and rites have been completed, where it can then join its ancestors in the afterlife. Sometimes, though, if a person dies suddenly and violently by way of murder or suicide, if the proper burial isn’t performed, or if they harbor lingering emotions like hate, rage, or jealousy, their soul may be transformed into a yurei. They’re driven by an insatiable, crazed hunger for something- whatever their unfinished business may be. That fuel that powers the angry ghost is called “onnen.”
Yurei tend to have disheveled hair and appear in the clothes they died or were buried in, like the white burial kimono. Sound familiar? The most iconic yurei in cinema is Sadako, from Ringu.
Obon, sometimes referred to as just Bon, is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors. It’s believed that the spirits return during Obon to visit their relatives, and families set out lanterns or fires to light the way for their deceased relatives to find them. Special altars are also prepared.
The festival of Obon has been celebrated in Japan for over 500 years and has evolved into a family reunion holiday that sees families returning to their ancestral family place and cleaning their family’s graves. The three-day festival traditionally includes a dance called the Bon Odori and takes place this year on August 13-15, coinciding with The Terror: Infamy premiere.
Spirit Wards and Superstition
In Infamy, some of the older characters quickly realize something supernatural and malicious is haunting their camp and take measures to try and ward the evil away. When things start to get really dour, one character swallows a sutra– a short passage that contains a powerful Buddhist teaching. They’re considered sacred messages, and the character hopes its powerful words will act as a protection against the evil spirits lurking.
Another character often relies on Shubatsu, a cleansing ritual performed along with sprinkling salt to ward off evil. The series also references the ofuda, a talisman of protection. They typically are rectangles of paper with magic or holy words written on them to dispel evil, typically created by onmyoji, or practitioners of onmyodo- Japanese spell-casting that became absorbed into Shinto and Buddhism over time.
Like in many cultures, an old superstition centered around the concept that having your picture taken meant bad luck, and that the camera could even steal your soul. That superstition has mostly fallen away, but the camera does feature prominently for lead character Chester (Derek Mio) and his discovery of supernatural truths by way of camera. Infamy also teaches that good omens and superstitions can be twisted in the presence of malevolent spirits. For example; swallows are typically considered good luck and fertility symbols, but a corruption of that is foreboding.
This is only the beginning of unlocking the horrors that await in The Terror: Infamy. Use this guide as an introductory companion to season two’s rich, complex story, and pay close attention to the details- evil might be hiding in plain sight.
The Terror: Infamy premieres on AMC on August 12, 2019.