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"The Encounter" is an episode of the The Twilight Zone. Its racial overtones caused it to be withheld from syndication in the US.
"Two men alone in an attic; a young Japanese-American and a seasoned veteran of yesterday's war. It's twenty-odd years since Pearl Harbor, but two ancient opponents are moving into position for a battle in an attic crammed with skeletons - souvenirs, old uniforms, and rusted medals - ghosts from the dim reaches of the past that will lead us into... the Twilight Zone."
The story is about the meeting of an American WWII veteran named Fenton (Neville Brand) and a young Japanese-American named Arthur Takamori (George Takei) who comes to Fenton's house looking for work, on a tip from a neighbor. Fenton is gruff, yet cordial, offering Takamori a beer up in his cluttered attic. Takamori is intent on work rather than conversation, but reluctantly agrees to Fenton's offer. In conversation, Arthur states that he changed his name from Taro, and Fenton politely responds. Fenton coincidentally finds an old samurai sword which he says he got off a Japanese soldier whom he killed during the war twenty years earlier. Fenton asks about the inscription on the sword; Takamori claims to not be able to read Japanese.
But when Fenton leaves briefly to fetch more beer, Takamori takes hold of the sword and says in an astonished way "I'm going to kill him. I'm going to kill him." Takamori hides the sword. Fenton comes back and notes its absence, but doesn't accuse Takamori; rather he acts confused at its misplacement. They reveal more and more about themselves, Fenton admitting that he knows the inscription on the sword ("The sword will avenge me"), and challenges Takamori to admit that he can read Japanese. Takamori grows more uneasy and more confrontational. They have brief heated exchanges which then subside and reemerge again. Takamori moves to leave, but Fenton refuses to let him, insisting they drink another beer. Fenton appears to suffer from a post traumatic flashback. They briefly assume an adversarial posture, Takamori challenging Fenton with the sword. This too subsides, and on account of some rare insight, Takamori makes the accusation that Fenton killed the Japanese soldier only after the soldier surrendered and disarmed. Fenton challenges the accusation, but then admits to it: "All right, so what if I did? So what if I did?" Takamori tries to leave but the door is mysteriously shut and won't open. Fenton can't open it either, despite claiming the door doesn't have a lock.
In agitation, Takamori describes his experience as a small child at Pearl Harbor, claiming his father was a construction foreman who helped build the harbor. Takamori claims that he watched from afar as the planes bombed the harbor, and his father with it, stating his father tried to alert sailors to the attack. Exasperated, he then admits that this was a fabricated story, and that his father was a traitor who helped the Japanese attack by providing information. Seeing Takamori's guilt, Fenton has pity for him, and tries to offer some comfort. The sword, however, appears to be dictating the course of the conversation, and soon Takamori accuses Fenton of being a murderer, for killing an unarmed man. Fenton offers a speech in his own defense about following orders: "You can't hold a man responsible for following orders, can you? ... In the Pacific we were told you guys weren't even human - you were some kind of ape. And that we shouldn't worry about burning you out of your caves. Now all of a sudden, you're fine people - highly cultured - and it's propaganda about your lousy transistor radios."
In a sudden depression, Fenton soon admits that he is unhappy with himself and what he has done, his wife is leaving him, and that he has pulled Takamori into conversation because he does not want to be left alone. But Takamori is under the control of the sword. Fenton, fully aware of Takamori's silent building rage, replies, "If that's what you're here for, all right then. Kill me." Fenton quickly reverts into a depressed confessional tone, stating "I'm not afraid of dying as much as living." But his anger again resumes. "I've got a box full of decorations over there. Decorations! First you're an ape, and now all of a sudden you're some kind of highly cultured people. I've been pushed and pulled this way and that way until I hate everybody! You dirty little Jap!" Takamori, still with the sword in hand, is seized by former Marine Fenton. Fenton overpowers him, and the sword is dropped, wedging into the table supports, pointing upwards. Going down to the floor to retrieve it, Fenton is then impaled on the sword when Takamori pulls at his feet. He looks at Takamori fatefully and dies. Takamori is consumed, and taking the sword in a combative gesture, shrieks "Banzai!" as he runs and jumps out the window, presumably to his death.
Moments later, the attic door slowly opens on its own.
"Two men in an attic, locked in mortal embrace, their common bond and their common enemy: Guilt. A disease all-too prevalent amongst men both in and out of the Twilight Zone."
Preview for Next Week's Story
Next time out, we move into the area of graveyards and the dear departed and we tell you a story about a most distinctive type of fellow who happily enough has an equally distinctive profession - he raises the dead. On The Twilight Zone next time, John Dehner, Stanley Adams and J. Pat O'Malley lend selective talents to a little item called "Mr. Garrity and the Graves".
Aired on May 1, 1964, as President Lyndon B. Johnson was increasing United States involvement in the Vietnam War, the subject matter of Americans fighting Asians who "weren't human" was a notably pointed commentary. After its initial airing, "The Encounter" triggered complaints from Japanese-Americans due to the backstory of the character played by Takei: he portrays a Nisei (the U.S.-born son of Japanese immigrants) whose father spied for the Japanese navy during the Pearl Harbor attack. There is no evidence of any Japanese-American disloyalty to the U.S.A. during that war. The controversial topic, and the complaints it engendered, caused this episode to be omitted from syndicated broadcasts of The Twilight Zone in the United States, although it did air in syndication in other countries, including Canada, without issue. It is available through the numerous DVD releases of the series, the Season 5 and Complete Series Blu-rays, and on streaming Netflix.
- Cayuga Productions
- Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) (in association with)
- Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) (1959) (USA) (TV) (original airing)
- Main article: List of memorable quotes from the first series