Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle is the best series on “television.” There is much good that could be said about it. No program is perfect, however. It is because The Man in the High Castle is so good that its flaws are so painful.
An Alternative Reality 1962
The show is set in an alternative reality 1962 in which the Axis powers are ten years removed from triumphing in World War II. Germany occupies the East Coast and Midwest of the former United States. Japan controls the once American states along the Pacific Ocean. A “Neutral Zone” sits precariously in the middle.
To say that there is not a bad performance among the cast that populates this enthralling world turned upside down is not enough. The series’ acting is actually superb! Between expert hair, makeup and costumes and losing herself in the role, skilled actress Mayumi Yoshida is unrecognizable as the Crown Princess of Japan. Lee Shorten’s Sergeant Yoshida is very entertaining as a member of the Kempeitai (Japanese secret police). Carsten Norgaard as Nazi officer Rudolph Wegener acts in an extremely powerful scene that calls for him to say goodbye to his child. He moves any parent watching to feel the profound pain his character suffers through when doing so.
One of The Man in the High Castle’s two main villains is Kempeitai Inspector Kido, played by Joel de la Fuente. He benefits from a brilliant costuming choice. The thick round-rimmed glasses Kido wears connect unconsciously with anyone who has seen these glasses in anti-Japanese propaganda images from the World War II period that depict Japanese soldiers as monsters. That Kido has ice water in his veins is easy for the audience to accept thanks to de la Fuente’s impressive talent.
Even more chilling is Rufus Sewell’s Obergruppenführer John Smith. Smith is an SS officer one cannot but love to hate. He is one of the program’s stars.
Yet the man who steals the show is Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. If he does not win an Emmy for his multilayered and intense performance as Trade Minister Nobusuke Tagomi, the Kempeitai must arrest the voters.
A Different World
As compelling as The Man in the High Castle’s acting is, what makes the series most intriguing is that it offers us a prospective on what life might have looked like if Germany, Japan and Italy were victorious instead of being defeated in the 1940s. After inventing the A-bomb and dropping it on Washington, D.C., Germany is the only nation who possesses this death-dealing technology and dominates the world as a result. We learn of extermination camps set up within the former United States and witness the gassing of Jewish people in San Francisco. The sick and disabled are killed and cremated at local hospitals. Many religious and ethnic minorities appear to have been banished to the Neutral Zone. Middle class American children are members of the Hitler Youth and their fathers are SS officers. V-A Day (victory over the Allies day) is a national holiday. We are left to assume that similar things can be said of other parts of the world.
It is ironic then, that a hard Left-leaning entertainment industry which typically views America and Americans as the cause of most of what is bad in the world, has produced such a program. After all, the big takeaway from The Man in the High Castle should be that we should feel gratitude for the American system/way of life and the American people since U.S. victory in the Second World War prevented the horrors of The Man in the High Castle from becoming a reality.
It would be wrong, however, to assume that the show is a Conservative television series. Unlike the novel of the same name upon which the program is based, the show features a resistance movement that stands in opposition to German and Japanese rule in what had been the United States. An important figure in the resistance, and a character not in the novel, is Lemuel “Lem” Washington (Rick Worthy). We learn, quite awkwardly, that Washington is Muslim.
It is a curious choice. During World War II the Islamic world was an ally of Hitler. Muslim leaders wanted to bring his Final Solution to the Middle East. It was no coincidence that after the fall of Germany some key Nazi’s fled to the region. Such men taught the first wave of Islamic terrorists the terror tactics honed by “elite” German units as the war wined down. Today’s Muslim terrorists are their successors. In 2016 Mein Kampf remains the bestseller it has always been in the Arab world.
Washington’s faith means nothing in terms of plot. Since his religion serves no entertainment or artistic function, one has to assume his identification as Muslim suits a different purpose altogether. The writer[s] of the show presumably do not understand that while I, and other fans of The Man in the High Castle are justifiably fearful of Islamic terrorists, we feel no ill will toward law-abiding, peaceable Muslims. I assume that instead, the writer[s] believes we are bigoted toward and fearful of Muslims in general. It is easy to imagine the Leftist writer[s] earnestly believing that a portrayal of a heroic Muslim fighting for the resistance will “cure” us of our “prejudice” and “Islamophobia.”
This is a grave insult to the viewer and I take great offense. No one likes to be lectured. That those doing preaching come from an entertainment industry that is often hedonistic and peopled with many who would sell their mother for fame and fortune is particularly irksome.
Leftist ideology makes its presence felt in the show in another important way–dialog. In graduate school, I read John W. Dower’s, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War. Dower argues that prevalent notions of racial superiority strongly held by both sides resulted in a conflict in the Pacific Theater which was much more brutal than that in Europe. He falls somewhat short of the mark when discussing the U.S. side. His position on the Japanese conduct of the fight is most convincing.
Nowhere in The Man in the High Castle do we see any evidence of the virulent Japanese racism that is found in the historical record and led to numerous Second World War atrocities and war crimes. Seemingly every episode is peppered with references to “Nips,” “Japs,” and “Pons” (I am not familiar with this last term, but it is clearly intended to be understood by the viewer to be a racial insult). Yet in the series’ alternate world only white, former citizens of the United States use racial slurs. Even the language of Nazi characters is surprisingly muted. The word “Semite” is spoken as if it were a slur but surely the Nazi’s used additional and much different and more harsh language when referring to Jewish people. The Leftist notion that only whites can be racists and act racist is therefore clearly reflected in the program. (I hold it is a dangerous and irresponsible notion to perpetuate since I firmly believe it results in a much higher incidence of racially motivated crimes against whites.) So too is the Leftist idea that the U.S. and its people are flawed in their character.
I wish to repeat that I think The Man in the High Castle is the best show on television. No fan awaits the coming of the recently announced season two more anxiously than myself. It is because the show is so good that I have been moved to write both in praise and condemnation of it. I want it to be even better. If the writer[s] back off the Leftist politics and strictly aim for producing great art it will be.
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