After five episodes of irregular buildup and evasive non-storytelling, Infamy finally lets its audience in on the origins and motivations of its ghostly antagonist, the yūrei Yuko in “Taizo.” A mail-order “picture bride” thrown out by her husband/purchaser Hideo Furuya after she tells him she’s pregnant with another man’s child, Yuko had the baby while living in the street and later gave it up for adoption. Consumed with guilt, she took her own life by leaping from a bridge. It’s an affecting tragedy, but Infamy rushes through it without so much as a pause for air. Instead of a real look at Yuko’s life we get her brief self-judgment for her failure as a mother and the rest amounts to little more than busywork. It’s a shame, really, to see the show’s interest in the misery of Yuko’s life confined almost exclusively to her relation to others.
Director Everardo Gout more or less competently captures the fairytale Meiji-era estate of the show’s afterlife, though here the set design and dressing speaks far louder than the direction itself. The careful symmetry of nearly every shot during this sequence may not exactly break the mold, and the smear effect at the edges of some shots add little to the pocket paradise’s sterile beauty, but the mood is consistent and the imagery clean. By contrast, series creator Max Borenstein and co-writer Benjamin Klein deliver a script at once plodding and thin, its twists dropping like rotten fruit into a slurry of indifferently framed story beats. Why show us a spirit with a vengeful child-centric obsession rather than exploring Yuko’s psychology? Why wait so long to so much as drop a clue about Yuko’s connection to Chester?
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As Yuko, actress Kiki Sukezane is by turns restrained and desperate. When she screams “I have no one!” upon being thrown out of her husband Hideo’s house, hurling her body against the door, her raw terror at being alone and at the mercy of a man she hardly knows is blistering. In this light it’s an especial pity that “Taizo” gives her such choppy material with which to work. After her suicide lands Yuko in her family’s private afterlife, an ancestor decides to adopt her as a replacement for her own dead daughter. That the older spirit’s interest in Yuko is less than wholesome soon becomes apparent, but it bears precious little relevance to anything we’ve seen so far. The bland dollops of dialogue between Yuko and her ancestor are there solely to fill time, providing insight into neither woman.
Perhaps the episode’s most frustrating component is that the material for a solid ghost story is right there for the taking. A woman shipped across an ocean into marriage and cast out to live in abject poverty, a baby given up and raised as someone else’s, a community cast together in the midst of war and paranoia — these are all rich veins to mine, but Borenstein and Klein lack the emotional insight to know where significance lies buried. They have the framework of their story and no real distinctions within that framework as to which characters and elements are important and which aren’t, which conversations need to be shown and which can be elided without missing anything. What remains is far more dross than ore.
The revelation of Chester’s true parentage is some of the season’s weakest writing so far. His anger at his adoptive parents is a baffling creative choice, his brutal coldness toward his father unpleasant and without any deeper resonance. That he couches it in the language of the same traditionalist Japanese society he rejected in favor of American manhood and rebellion against his father feels baffling. That a family secret like Yuko’s suicide could upset a recently traumatized young man is reasonable, but what do we gain from the ugliness with which he reacts to learning it? What do we know, once it’s over, about Chester or Henry or Asako that we didn’t know before? It’s thoughtless storytelling, slapdash and redundant.
Even the episode’s most arresting images — the beautiful bed in which Yuko awakens each day in the afterlife, her plunge from the bridge into the bay below, the immolation of her body in an abandoned storage shed — are marred by Infamy’s sloppy characterization. More than halfway through and still there isn’t much to say about any of the Nakamuras. Shingo Usami and Naoko Mori as Henry and Asako may have the acting ability to wring some humanity out of their characters, but not enough to escape the tedium of Borenstein’s writing. Nothing Infamy has done in its six episodes to date couldn’t have been pulled off better and tighter in three.