A banned episode of “The Twilight Zone” featuring George Takei is now available for streaming on Paramount+.
About the episode: Titled “The Encounter,” the 31st episode of the show’s fifth season originally aired in May 1964 but was removed from syndication until 2004, purportedly due to its highly controversial racial content.
Warning: Episode spoilers ahead
“The Encounter” revolves around Fenton, a World War II veteran who stumbles upon a Japanese katana sword in his attic. It is later revealed that Fenton had taken the blade from its original owner, whom he had killed following his surrender. Things take an unexpected turn when a young Japanese American man named Arthur Takamori, played by Takei, shows up seeking employment as a gardener. Tension begins to escalate between the two characters, revealing their underlying prejudices.
Fenton expresses increasingly anti-Asian sentiments and Takamori reveals that his father had betrayed the U.S. forces during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The episode ends in a violent and deadly confrontation.
Why it was pulled: CBS made the decision to ban the episode following complaints from the Japanese American community as its broadcast coincided with the U.S.’ involvement in the Vietnam War.
Critics have pointed out significant flaws in the episode, particularly in its portrayal of the Japanese character and how his fictional background perpetuates harmful stereotypes about Asian Americans. The portrayal is also criticized for diminishing the historical significance of the unjust incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.
“The Encounter” lacked diversity behind the camera, having been written, produced and directed solely by white men, which was common during that period. Takei’s role as Takamori stands as a poignant irony, considering his personal experiences of spending his childhood in an internment camp during the war.
Return to syndication: The episode eventually resurfaced in 2004 during the advent of home video collections. In 2016, “The Encounter” was also showcased as part of Syfy’s New Year’s Day “Twilight Zone” marathon. In addition to Paramount+, the episode can also be purchased on iTunes and other streaming sites.