1 Hour Photo, Story of an extraordinary life, told in extraordinary way

“Everybody has a story”, this is what producer Donna Yamamoto said when I first met her last year when we went to see Tetsuro Shigematsu’s Empire of the Son for the second time. I am a big believer of that statement. Empire of the Son was a story of Tetsuro’s dad, Akira. 1 Hour Photo, which we saw this past weekend, was a story of Mas Yamamoto, Donna’s dad.

Shortly after his own father’s death, Tetsuro started spending time an hour every Monday with Mas—“Mondays with Mas”—He recorded 36 hours of interview, story of Mas’ life.

1 Hour Photo starts with the word projected on a screen. Nikkei. Person of Japanese decent. Tetsuro and Mas are both Nikkei, although in different generations. When Tetsuro needed a big enough house to accommodate his aging parents, Donna offered her home to Shigematsu family. There, Tetsuro found Mas’ coffee mug with the Japan Canada logo on it and he became curious.

Do you remember those times? When you used to take rolls of film to a photo shop to have them developed. Often they could take up to a week. Can you imagine?! Then eventually, 1 Hour Photo services started popping up. Still, hard to believe it took an hour to see photos you’ve taken, isn’t it?

Mas was an owner of one of those 1 Hour Photo shops. But it wasn’t until he was in his 50s that he started the business. Until then, Mas has gone through a lot of hardships and heartbreak.

Tetsuro is an exceptional writer. I fell in love with his talent when I saw Empire two years ago.

In 2015, I attended NAJC (National Association of Japanese Canadians) AGM and conference in Vancouver, and I won the pair of tickets to Empire of the Son donated by Donna. I didn’t know anything about the show, nor knew who Tetsuro was. I distinctly remember thinking it must be some sort of music show, based on the poster. I was wrong. About a month later, we went to see the show at The Cultch, and it nearly destroyed me. It was poignant, heartbreaking, and beautiful. I had also lost my father few years back, so I related to Tetsuro’s story of losing Japanese father. We’d return to see the show again in 2016 and I also have a book version right by my desk every day.

1 Hour Photo is a little different. It’s a story about Tetsuro’s friend’s dad. If you think that might be tricky, to tell someone else’s story, you are not alone. But, as my husband put it, Tetsuro has the gift for adding context to almost any story. From 36 hours of interviews, he has hand picked stories in Mas’ life and shares with us what it means to have a well lived life.

When you tell a story of any Japanese Canadians in BC, it is not possible to do so without mentioning the internment. Just like 22,000 others who were forcefully removed from their homes, Mas was also sent to an internment camp (in Lemon Creek). Using the projections on the screen, Tetsuro shows us all the camps in BC…18 if you count self-supporting settlements, 21 if you count road-camper projects. I shed my first tear at this point, when Tetsuro mentioned how efficient Canadian government was at this internment thing. Of course— they’ve done this before, with the First Nations people.

Mas meets his first love there —Midge Ayukawa, who eventually goes on to become a great scholar and well known feminist. They eventually go their separate ways and become happily married and each have their own children, but I felt this story was definitely an important part of Mas’ life, and needed to be included.

After the war, Mas goes on to various extraordinary adventures and you cannot help but marvel at his amazing life. One of his daughters is Hon. Naomi Yamamoto, MLA. Tetsuro also shares footage from the time Naomi made a motion to offer apology to Japanese Canadians who had been called enemy aliens and interned, including Mas. Her speech is moving and very emotional.

I am not Japanese Canadian and none of my own family has experienced internment. Yet I feel it’s so important to remember the injustice, no matter who was involved. It is also sad that this topic is still relevant, 75 years later.

You also cannot talk about this show without mentioning the amazing miniature props by Susan Miyagishima. From the miniature model of the Shigematsu/Yamamoto residence, to bunk beds in internment camps, to a miniature microphone, her creations are absolutely gorgeous.  There is also a musician, Steve Charles, who accompanies Tetsuro on stage with beautiful music and occasional commentary shared between the two. The entire show was a sensory delight and wonder—visually, musically, and emotionally—and I have nothing but awe for the team who made this a reality.

From the talkback after the show

Everybody has a story to share. I am grateful for Mas for sharing his.

1 Hour Photo continues until October 15th at The Cultch.  Do not miss it.