[Editor’s Note: The following article contains spoilers for “The Terror: Infamy” Episode 6, “Taizo.”]
Monday’s episode of “The Terror: Infamy” finally tells the backstory of the ghost known as Yuko (Kiki Sukezane), who has been haunting Chester (Derek Mio), his friends, and his family during WWII. It turns out that in 1919, Yuko traveled to Terminal Island for an arranged marriage to Hideo Furuya (Eiji Inoue), but when she reveals she’s already pregnant by another man, he casts her out. Unable to care for her baby boy properly, she gives Taizo — now the grown-up Chester — away and kills herself by leaping off a bridge. The tragic circumstances surrounding her death creates an onnen, or a wild hunger, in her as she becomes the unsatisfied spirit known as the yurei.
While Yuko’s origin story explains why she’s been sticking around after her death, hints of her state of mind have been present from the start… in her clothing. Costume designer J.R. Hawbaker spoke with IndieWire about how she and her team — including costume designer Tish Monaghan and assistants Takashi Bernhardt, Kenichi Tanaka, and Jaida Hay — recreated kimonos for the series.
“The kimonos were one of the biggest sourcing challenges mostly because kimonos are one-offs. They’re a one-of-a-kind artistic piece of walking art,” said Hawbaker.
“A kimono has 20 components to create it. It typically takes six to 18 months to make one with a team of people in Kyoto. And so in the amount of time that we shot 10 episodes of ‘The Terror,’ one kimono would be coming off of the line in Kyoto. We would have to set up our own shop to basically print kimonos like money because we were a horror genre. There’s going to be some things that happen [to them].”
“The Terror” had to design a few different styles for Yuko: styles for before and after her death, for other characters, and for different levels of formality.
“I think we have about maybe five or six kimono, different styles. [We have] yukata, we have houmongi, we have tsukesage. So we have the various styles, but I think of those six, we ended up having to make up to 20, 22 kimonos,” said Hawbaker.
Kimonos as Storytelling
AMC/ J.R. Hawbaker
The kimono is not just about utility or great craftsmanship; it’s imbued with meaning and symbolism about its wearer. Even though “The Terror: Infamy” costume designers had to make their own kimonos, they wanted to honor the tradition of how they’re made and their meaning as much as possible.
“The tradition of kimono is so steeped in its own form of storytelling and precise storytelling. It’s the culmination of very, very specific choices of color, of texture, of motif, of all these things that evoke a piece of emotion and that evoke atmosphere when the person wears it,” said Hawbaker. “Both the tradition of kimono and the horror genre basically do the same form of storytelling so well; they evoke emotion and psychology.
“The artists in Kyoto say that the kimono holds the emotions of the wearer, but also it holds the emotions and the intentions of the craftspeople who make it and bring it into existence,” she added. “That’s part of the spirituality of what kimono is, that’s what makes it so special. I knew we had to really, really be meticulous and think about what we were trying to evoke. And we wanted to do authentic traditional techniques, but we also wanted to use the horror genre and the J-horror genre and we wanted to fuse those two things.”
The team used the yuzen rice paste dyeing and the shibori resist dyeing techniques to create the colors and effects in the fabric used to make the kimonos. But the big question came in trying to determine Yuko’s signature color.
Showrunner Alexander Woo and premiere episode director Josef Kubota Wladyka at first wanted to use the white and red kimonos that the yuki-onna snow woman character wears in Japanese folklore. But Hawbaker pointed out that it had been done well already in “Memoirs of a Geisha.” “The Terror” needed something else.
“We thought about other genres and other imagery from the horror genre and J-horror. We came up with scenes where there was this color that was like flashing to me, which was this grayish, greenish ghoulish, acidic green,” she said. “And when I brought it up, I found this color repeated in things like ‘Suicide Club,’ ‘Vertigo,’ ‘Suspiria,’ the first one, even Giallo films from Italy, like Argento’s ‘Profondo Rosso.’ There’s this color that comes through, this greenish, acidic, hot green color. So we changed it from a white and red kimono to this greenish, ghoulish one.”
In Episode 6, Yuko is first wearing a pink kimono when she’s alive, but when she’s in that limbo space with her ancestor Chiyo (Natsuki Kunimoto) who wears a darker green, Yuko wears white and purple. While she’s haunting Chester and the others in the real world, she’s achieved full yurei status and wears green.
Finally, the shibori technique was used to create a bleed-out effect. “We did it in a way that made the dyeing bleed out and feel skeletal.”
Which images were put on the kimono also held meaning. The main title sequence features a crocus flower, which is not a Japanese flower. Hawbaker deliberately chose this flower to put on Yuko’s kimono.
“Something as seemingly innocuous as the flower choice on her motif is not,” she said. “The crocus is not native to Japan. That’s a flower that was brought in. It had to assimilate to a foreign territory. It also is a flower that is incredibly sensitive to light and darkness and it opens its petals when the sun is out. When darkness is intruding, it closes its petals off.
“The crocus flowers actually if you look at them, […] they start upright on the kimono. And then by the time you get to the bottom of the hem of the kimono, they’re down in there, falling.”
They also used a traditional eba technique in which the artist paints the image across the seams of the kimono to create and uninterrupted picture when all together. Once the kimono is taken apart, then it can be dyed.
“The motif that we painted was a vine-looking pattern, but we specifically chose to make it almost barbed wire. There was this amazing image of dead branches in Manzanar. So it has like a barbed wire branches motif and almost like a scar-like quality to it.”
Finally, the fabric of the kimono was given effect to echo the body horror of the series.
“There’s chirimen fabric that comes from Kyoto that’s traditional. And we did order that, but for Kiki’s kimono, we ended up changing a little bit,” said Hawbaker. “She was a houmongi kimono, and we use the ro summer weight, so it’s diaphanous. But what we did was we developed a fabric that’s somewhat creped to feel like skin texture a little bit. It has a little bit more of a skin quality on top of it. So we did that special for Kiki’s kimono.”
Overall, Hawbaker was thrilled to attack this new and intriguing costuming challenge that invited more creativity than usual.
“This emotional storytelling, more than almost any other garment I’ve ever encountered, that’s what kimono does so beautifully,” she said. “So for us to just throw any old kimono on these characters, especially Kiki’s character, would just be an injustice to her character and her story. You’d be a tourist in Japan just putting it on a kimono then that is not what ‘The Terror’ is about.”
“The Terror: Infamy” airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.