A Memorable “Encounter”

George Takei will always be best known for playing Lt. Sulu on Star Trek. But before he ever stepped onto the bridge of the Enterprise, he took a short jaunt into the fifth dimension.

George Takei

As the Tallahassee Democrat put it in a profile of Takei:

Before “Star Trek” turned him into a star, Takei was a character actor who appeared in small parts in movies and guest roles on TV shows such as “Playhouse 90” and “Perry Mason” during the late ’50s and early ’60s. One of his biggest breaks arrived when he co-starred with Neville Brand in an intense and controversial episode of “The Twilight Zone” called “The Encounter.”

Takei played a Japanese-American groundskeeper named Arthur Takamori who gets into a war of words with a World War II veteran who is rummaging through his attic. The conversationEncounter3 — which is more like a terse, two-man dialogue written by David Mamet — ends in violence thanks to a cursed samurai sword.

“It aired just once (in 1964) and was never seen again,” Takei said. “It never went into re-runs.”

“The Encounter” triggered complaints from Japanese-Americans — it didn’t help that the Vietnamese war in Asia was heating up. The episode became available for viewing again on the DVD set “The Twilight Zone: The Definitive Edition” (2006) and on YouTube.

“It was a marvelous opportunity for a young actor; I really got to tear up some scenery,” Takei laughed.

Encounter4During the shoot, Takei met “Twilight Zone” creator Rod Serling.

“I was lucky enough to be there when he did his intros and closes,” Takei said. “He sounded just the same and looked just the same (as he did on TV). But he was very gracious and thanked me for doing such a tough role. I was a great admirer of his writing.”

Serling didn’t write “The Encounter.” It was one of two episodes penned by Martin M. Goldsmith late in the show’s run. (The other was “What’s in the Box.”) It’s no classic, but the acting is solid, and Serling and producer William Froug deserve credit for being willing to explore the then-touchy issue of Japanese-American relations. This episode aired, after all, only 19 years after the end of World War II.

It’s available on the Season 5 DVD and Blu-ray sets, complete with a commentary by Takei. Here’s Takei talking about the episode:

And here’s the full episode:

***

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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!

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About Paul

Fanning about the work of Rod Serling all over social media. If you enjoy pics, quotes, facts and blog posts about The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery and Serling's other projects, you've come to the right place.

Posted on 03/27/2012, in Twilight Zone and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. Hm. Had heard of that one, but had never watched it before. You’re right – no classic, this one. I’m not sure even how much credit to give them for tacking the issue, since it ends up confirming lots of negative stereotypes about Japanese culture, and since it finally paints the white guy as a victim: of his wife, of his boss, of his army… He never admits culpability in succumbing to racism. And Arthur is a victim of some mystic curse, as well as his dad having been a traitor?

    Ugh. Just as well this one stayed buried for as long as it did. It would be interesting to see a modern Zone attempt to redeem the basic premise, though, maybe having Arthur be an Iraqi American or Afghan American. There could still be some talisman for the supernatural aspect, but maybe the two guys could discover that trust breaks the curse or something… Or, better still, maybe it’s the house that is cursed, not the sword, to get rid of any negative cultural associations. Or it is just some weird happenstance, that the door is stuck – a curse might not have to come into it at all. Maybe the door opens when understanding is reached — maybe an obvious metaphor, but one we could stand to hear a few times, I think!

  2. Agreed. This one didn’t have a very satisfying conclusion at all. One more along the lines you suggest would have been better.

    It may seem like I’m being overly generous in giving Serling and Froug credit for tackling this issue, but however imperfectly they did it, that credit is deserved. We forget how much this issue was ignored in pre-Archie Bunker America. Just bringing it up took guts.

    Had Serling been more engaged with the show at this juncture, yes, it would surely have gone through a rewrite or two and have become a stronger episode.

  3. I found this to be a powerful, unnerving, and uncomfortable story–issues above notwithstanding. It seemed to me to be more of a stand-alone show not necessarily associated with the Twilight Zone. It seemed much grittier than the normal TZ fare, and reminded me of the last novel a friend of mine had written, called The Sand Crabs (http://www.amazon.com/Sand-Crabs-M-Morris/dp/189195430X). I didn’t agree with all my now-deceased friend had written, but it was powerfully written and not unlike this TZ episode (though it was not a supernatural story).

    As to the comment regarding negative stereotypes, wasn’t that the whole point of the episode? Of course our beer-swilling friend never admits any culpability–it’s the kind of man he was. It’s why he suffered the fate he did. He thought nothing was wrong with him, thought HIMSELF to be the victim, and he paid for that misunderstanding in the same way he’d brought it about. Dulce decorum est. The conclusion justified the means: our groundskeeper really had little choice, by TZ logic: he’d just killed a man. What would have happened to him? We all know that answer. He’d been living a life of a lie about his own father, a traitor to the US. A lie he could barely admit to himself, and actually started off by relating as the LIE he’d lived in his head all this time. He was ripe for dead Japanese warrior possession. Yes, there were some awkwardly scripted moments (like how the preceding played out), and maybe my state of mind was Zenned in on things a little intensely, having read all this before watching it, but I found the entire episode powerfully unnerving and loved it. That said, I could see why it was removed from further review….but THAT said, I wish it had continued to be aired. To me it had incredible depth and emotion to it that indeed transcended many of the more “campy” episodes of TZ. It brought up issues that made many uncomfortable and had me on the edge of my seat the entire time I watched it. Both actors gave great performances, and Mr. Takei really impressed me. This episode SHOULD have been aired all this time. It’s an important episode and a miscalculation to keep it from public, given all the other fluff and crap currently on TV. THIS has depth and emotion. Makes us THINK.

    Thanks for bringing this to renewed public attention!

    • I really hope everyone who reads this post sees your comment as well, Frank. That’s a very thoughtful analysis. Because this episode isn’t a favorite of mine, I’ll admit I hadn’t really examined it all that closely. But you’ve done a nice job tying it into the larger TZ universe. And you’ve demonstrated a point I’ve made many times: No matter what the episode, TZ never fails to make us think. Thanks!

  4. Reblogged this on Reality Check and commented:
    You should all watch this episode. It’s powerful and make you THINK. Of note, there’s synchronicity, here, because I “just so happened” to mention a deceased friend of mine’s (Moe Morris) last novel, The Sand Crabs (see comments), and as I went through the book, saw I’d included clippings from his obit, etc. He’d died April 2, 2005. Today is April 2, 2012. Fair winds and following seas, Moe!

  5. “As to the comment regarding negative stereotypes, wasn’t that the whole point of the episode?”

    Well, the stereotype was (as I understand it), “All Japanese-Americans are traitors.” And then we are introduced to a Japanese-American character whose father, it turns out, was a traitor.

    There is also the issue of the samurai sword being enchanted to bring out the (supposedly, stereotypically) “bloodlust” of the Japanese.

    There was much good in the episode – including the portrayal of the ex-GI’s rampant racism – but I think it is ultimately undercut by Arthur being the son of a traitor who can be driven to bloodthirsty anger by (to paraphrase the equally ugly old laundry commercial) “ancient Japanese secret.” Racism, it turns out, is hard to root out, even in a well-meaning “Twilight Zone” script.

  6. Hm, well, with all due respect to your opinion, I just don’t see it that way. War is bloodlust. Just because (IMHO) an inscripted Japanese sword was involved in no way implied to me “Japanese” bloodlust (and, pick any TZ episode with magical items — look at that “Used Car Salesman” episode, where a magical car caused a USED CAR SALESMAN to always tell the truth; that salesman was totally stereotyped). The Japanese weren’t the only ones to inscribe weaponry. The Japanese fought hard and played hard, as I understand them. Heck, HUMANS fight and play hard. You could use the same argument against the Marine. He exhibited bloodlust when he killed the Japanese soldier after surrendering, because “he was just following orders.” And for the gardener, I never got a “bloodlust” from HIM…I got that perhaps he might have been possessed by the dead warrior for whatever reason (he could have been “brought in” by the dead soldier’s force) — but I could be wrong. Even if I am wrong, the gardener did have the motive of repressed anger from his traitorous father. Either way, that worked for me and I saw no stereotypical issues here.

    Sorry, again with all due respect and IHMO, even having read all this beforehand, I didn’t see the issue–though I can see HOW others could see that, given your arguments above. But for me, I just saw two bitter people being pit against each other in a land of shadow and substance…and that never ends well in the Twilight Zone….

  7. I share fpdorchak’s deep interest in “The Encounter.” Brand’s character SEES himself as the victim. He’s not meant to be redeemed,he’s receiving a kind of justice. Takei’s character is the next generation’s conflicted instrument of that justice who then takes his own life (not a shameful act in his culture). My only (repeat ONLY) problem with the episode is the part about Taro’s Father being a traitor. Not only at odds with historical evidence but completely unnecessary. Taro (Aurthur) has understandable anxieties being torn between two worlds without that. It could have been omitted and the episode would have been fine. As it stands however,an underrated moment from the final season of TZ. I congratulated Mr. Takei by email on his work and was delighted to receive a friendly reply.

  8. I just watched “The Encounter” for the first time and no matter how noble the intentions, this was one of the worst T-Zone’s I have ever seen.

    However, one detail did ring true — both Takei and his Taro Takamori character were 4 years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked (re IMDb).

  9. Really excited to see many future young stars starting their careers in the Twilight Zone. Great Read!

  10. i’ve only watched the episode twice even though i’ve owned the definitive twilight zone dvd collection for years. i find many of the scenes of the episode uncomfortable to watch to say the least. certainly as a man of color myself, i bristled each time arthur was called boy. certainly for decades any man of color routinely found himself addressed as boy without the least bit of compunction from the addresser.

    what i found truly interesting in this episode was the self-loathing and loneliness reeking from brand’s character. i believed him when he said that he wanted arthur to stay to keep him company. i think at the heart of every racist no matter whether he has only loose change in his pocket or whether he’s worth billions and shapes whether or not america lives up to it’s promise of equality is a lack of self-reflection of who they truly are beneath their skin. i believe that if a person truly regards their whiteness as a privileged birthright that anything that unsettles that real or imagined privilege will send them into a tailspin of despair and hatred for other human beings who happen not to share their whiteness.

    unlike some of the other serling episodes which tackle race obliquely, i will probably not watch this episode again even though brand and takei’s acting were fantastic. recently i was watching a film noir entitled i wake up screaming starring victor mature and laird cregar. the commentator was eddie muller and he’s describing a scene that presages the attack on pearl harbor and he uses the slur jap. i thought maybe he was just repeating dialogue from the character so i rewatched the scene and the character distinctly says the word japanese. more upsetting than a twilight zone episode from 1964 is the fact that a supposedly intelligent man would throw around a racial slur like it’s nothing in 2014. i understand repeating a character’s words to provide analysis, but it’s quite a different kettle of beans to throw around slurs that indicate that they readily fly from the user’s mouth even when they are not analyzing a racist moment in 1943 cinema.

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