Few could argue that watching Amazon's dystopian alternate reality drama The Man in the High Castle, with its various forms of societal oppression and swastika heavy set design, was an easy experience. And, while there were plenty of sets where the cast and crew were allowed to get used to seeing all those Nazi symbols everywhere, the same was not true for the regular folks they encountered when they shot on location.
The crew of The Man in the High Castle went above and beyond to show just how twisted things would be in an America that had lost WWII to the Axis powers, meaning that even small details on clothes, jewelry, buildings, food items and more had to be changed to reflect a country that had been taken over by the Nazis and Imperial Japan. But, Chelah Horsdal, who played Helen, the conflicted wife of an American Nazi official, recently noted one time that having a swastika on her costume proved problematic.
Generally, all of our departments were really conscious on location of covering up any of the iconography and making sure that no one from the real world was going to see these images. But I had forgotten that there was a swastika on my costume, and I was walking through the lobby and I very enthusiastically, in classic Chelah fashion, said hello to a couple of people who were sitting there. And the man looked at me, and looked at my swastika, and looked back at me. And he was just shocked. . . . I was so used to just roaming around in it, and I forgot that I have no idea what this man's history is. I have no idea what this image means to him. I get goosebumps now, thinking about it.
Oh, boy. That's a rough one. If you're wondering how Chelah Horsdal could have forgotten that she was sporting Nazi iconography before wandering around in public, she told Syfy Wire that, instead of being an entire Nazi uniform or a dress covered in swastikas, or something else completely obvious, that she was only wearing a brooch with the symbol on it. So, it was very easy to overlook the item before she took her jaunt around in the real world after shooting at a hotel in downtown Vancouver.
Unfortunately, the brooch was placed prominently enough on Horsdal's costume for the man she said greeted to notice it and be quite visibly horrified by the item, as many people would be. Luckily, when Horsdal realized what was going on she was able to apologize and explain that she was just an actor filming a television show, and not someone with any malicious intent.
While it makes total sense that seeing a swastika would have such an effect on someone who wasn't properly prepared for the reasoning behind it being used, it turns out that the same can be said for the Imperial flag. This symbol was also used quite liberally on The Man in the High Castle throughout the drama's four seasons, and there was one incident when someone not related to the production saw one, and it did not go well.
According to Joel de la Fuente, who played the ruthless Kempeitai Chief Inspector Takeshi Kido, an outdoor scene being filmed on the campus of the University of British Columbia caused a problem with a set that featured the Imperial flag.
There were swastikas and the Imperial flag everywhere. And it's funny, because I'm used to seeing that with swastikas, but I saw an older Asian-Canadian person walk by and see the Imperial flag hanging there. And the response on their face, the visceral reaction that they had, was something I don't think I'll ever forget.
As Joel de la Fuente noted, many of us would be well aware that spying swastikas all over the place would lead to some intense reactions for most people. He was a bit surprised, though, to see that the Imperial flag could also cause such a "visceral reaction" in someone. The crew was usually very aware of how important it was to protect civilians when shooting on location, and de la Fuente said that this particular lack of attention to detail led to an immediate change in the rules for location shoots.
Of course, these incidents do sort of prove why The Man in the High Castle struck a chord with so many people. The idea of what the world, and this country in particular, would be like had we not been on the winning side in WWII is an intriguing one to explore.