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.


See The Twelfth Night in KABUKI Style at Victoria Fringe Festival

The Twelfth Night

Victoria Fringe festival is one of the oldest Fringe festivals in Canada and they are back again this year with over 300 performances from all over the world for the next 11 days. It is one of my favourite annual events in Victoria and my husband and I have been looking forward to this year’s too.

I am thrilled that my favourite Japanese troupe is coming back to Victoria Fringe – RakuJuku with Show Ryuzanji.This will be RakuJuku’s first time in Canada.

We saw Hanafuda Denki from Ryuzanji Company last year and LOVED it. I saw it twice, my husband saw it three times. It was something I have never seen before. The year, Mr. Ryuzanji is bringing RakuJuku.

RakuJuku can be loosely translated as “Having Fun Troupe”. It was created by Show Ryuzanji in 1997 who wanted to have fun with “regular” people with a lot of experience in life – people over the age of 45. Now RakuJuku is well known as a pioneer of senior acting troupes, which is quite popular in Japan. The members of RakuJuku believe that watching something joyful makes you happy. I believe so too!

This year, they’re bringing an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night to Fringe. The original story is about two shipwrecked twins who get separated upon arrival on a shore. Each has their own adventures including multiple love triangles. The adaptation by Ryuzanji is named “The Twelfth Night in KABUKI Style” and set in old time Japan. Energetic actors with an average age of 61(!) will perform in Japanese with English subtitles. There will be original music and dance in gorgeous kimono costumes. You won’t be bored with this Shakespeare! I’ve been following their Japanese blog and I know they ran this in Tokyo (This is not their first year of this particular production, They’ve done The Twelfth Night few times already and we are getting an improved version.) and been sold out pretty much every day.

Ryuzanji won the Best of Fringe Award in 2000 with Educating Mad Persons and the Pick of the Fringe Award in 2012 with Hanafuda Denki.

The troupe is arriving this weekend. Show starts on August 27th (Venue: Metro Studio) Be prepared to arrive early, as their shows often sell out.


Few weeks ago, Mark and I went to see Hanafuda Denki by Ryuzanji company, from Japan, as part of Victoria Fringe Festival. Hanafuda Denki – The Tale Of Playing Cards is written by Japanese avant-garde writer Shuji Terayama and first performed in 1967. In short, it’s a Japanese Nightmare Before Christmas—set in a funeral house, almost everyone in the show is dead. It was hilarious, fascinating and a fantastical kind of Threepenny Opera. We loved it so much I saw it twice and Mark saw it three times. We started following Ryuzanji Company on Twitter and Facebook. I bought their T-shirt and I even offered to help out with promotion should they come to Victoria again. We became huge fans.

When I bought the T-shirt, I got the opportunity to talk with Yumi, one of the actors in the troupe. I asked her many questions. Their show was so tight, I figured they must have been playing for a long time. She said they have played Hanafuda before but this is their second run as they tweaked this show for the World Tour. She said, “We still have meeting after each show. There is always a room for improvement.”

One of the reasons I loved them so much was that their performance was in the state of the art. Two shows I saw were word-for-word, movement-for-movement, exactly the same. Both performances were so strong, and they talk and move with such confidence, it grabs you from your seat and sucks you into their world of the dead. They were pros.

Even after they left Victoria, I was reading their Japanese blog to see how they are doing at the Vancouver Fringe festival. In one of their blog posts, they wrote about traveling theatre. “That’s what performers used to do. They traveled town to town, performing their arts… ”

Following Ryuzanji’s activities, I felt a weird desire. It’s similar to what I feel when I go to local fairs and see the carnies. The urge to leave my job and family and join the circus?

Of course, I’m old enough to know travelling all the time won’t be as fun as it seems. It will drive me crazy not to have a permanent home. To live out of a suitcase. Heck, I know people who do that in my industry. And I don’t envy them.

What I’m feeling is an irresponsible wanderlust. An escape from the ordinary life. An excitement of a non-routine. To live a little on the edge.

I think it’s a sign I’ve been here a little too long. Time to plan some trips. Find a circus. Escape to the big top and have an adventure.

Mom’s the Word- Remixed


Photo credit : David Cooper photography

I am not sure if you knew this about me, but I have two sons, aged 13 and 3.  So I’ve been doing this mom thing for 13 years, but never considered myself as a “good mom”. I let them watch TV, feed them fast food…once I fed them popcorn for lunch. What kind of mother am I?!

Although I occasionally write/talk about my kids, my belief is that I am a woman before I am a mom, and being a mother does not define me. I don’t always want to talk about dipers, breastfeeding and schools, OK?

Tonight, I saw Mom’s the Word – Remixed, -and one of the moms on the show, Beverly Elliot confessed that she hated being pregnant and she enjoyed hanging out with guys more, I immediately resonated with her. I hated being pregnant too.

Beverly mocks all the other moms who wanted to tell “their stories” and touch her belly when she was pregnant -“as if we’re in this giant club“….I felt the same way! …And yet, two kids later I do catch myself smiling at young mothers with newborns….because in fact, we are in this giant club called motherhood.

Event though it does not define me, motherhood is a pretty big part of me.

These mothers will share their true stories about raising the kids, struggles with their confidence as parents, and as women, dealing with teenagers, and much much more.

Amazing thing about this play is, it’s been 18 years since the first Mom’s the Word was created. 6 Vancouver actresses got together and talked about being moms, and making it into a play…and it’s still played mostly by the original cast. It’s incredible. I wasn’t aware of this fact until my friend pointed it out to me. How awesome is this?

It’s a story of motherhood, and I can promise you that you will laugh. I laughed so hard I cried. I also clapped and raised my hand in agreement.

You will find at least one story you can say “I’ve been there!” For me, it’s the LEGO…and the Mayo…and many many more.

I also loved that the actors seemed to be enjoying themselves on the stage. This was obviously my fitst time seeing the show, but I suspect some unscripted thing happened in tonight’s show too. Especially when she did it for the second time! (Sorry, but don’t wanna spoil it for you) The ever changing set is pretty amazing too.

It’s a “trucking” (You need to see it to get this) riot and at the same time very poignant. It’s about the toughest job in the world.

If you are a mom, this is a Must-see. Even if you are not, you still should go see it. You will love it!

The show is now held over until August 28th. Go get your ticket fast.

Note: Thank you Belfry Theatre for the invite to the show. Loved every minute of it!