Multiple exposure palimpsest

A life well lived in Shigematsu's "1-Hour Photo" @ The Cultch 

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Within a decade, he’d achieved three children and four academic degrees (from high school through a PhD in pharmacology); then went on to distinguish himself with another decade of prestigiously published and widely cited academic science research. All this he accomplished in the context of a “fairy tale happily ever-after” marriage to that original blind date upon his return from the Arctic.

And yet, Tetsuro speculates, “each one of us has someone in our heart that refuses to leave.” For Masanobu, it was that first love in Lemon Creek. Through her, he could glimpse his own best self, spurring him on to decades of prodigious achievement.

Try samurai ethos for prodigious achievement. Photo: Ray Shum

And then, at the benchmark age of 50, he upended his life design again with a career switch from science to commerce. He and his wife bet on the then-novel technology of automated film processing to set up a “One-Hour Photo” shop. Working with true samurai dedication, the couple soon managed to expand the business into a whole chain of stores.

And in one such outlet, in Victoria, who should reappear but his long-lost Lemon Creek inamorata. Their reunion is fleeting and a bit strained. They follow up with a meeting in the gallery of the B.C. Legislature, to hear Masanobu’s daughter, B.C. Liberal MLA Naomi Yamamoto, offer an impassioned plea for recognition of the injustices suffered by Nikkei World War II internees.

But they never get around to a proper, dedicated, one-on-one meeting. And then Masanobu gets word that his first love has died, before they ever have a chance to explore how their long-ago relationship had resonated throughout their later lives – one of the few regrets that ever get voiced in the 18-minute vinyl record.

In addition to the sound clips, Tetsuro gets some mileage out of the “One Hour Photo” metaphor, and not just in the show’s title. After all, isn’t the whole monologue a kind of one-hour photo of Masanobu?

Video designer Jamie Nesbitt also gets to play around with the concept. In an allusion to the all-too-frequent sprocket glitches of the film photography era, he superimposes snapshot vignettes on top of one another in a kind of multiple-exposure portrait – an apt reflection of Masanobu’s palimpsest career.

Nesbitt’s just one of a team of Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre (VACT) stalwarts reprising their behind-the-scenes roles from “Empire of the Son.” Others include director Richard Wolfe, set designer Pam Johnson, dramaturge Heidi Taylor and audio curator Yvonne Gall.

Not to mention producer Yamamoto, who not only coordinated the whole ensemble but also lent her father as a centrepiece of the drama and her North Van home for the Shigematsu’s to live in while germinating their artistic projects.

Sound designer Steve Charles is another “Empire” alum who’s back for second round. But now, unlike last time, he appears onstage, improvising guitar and keyboard accompaniment and helping out with VACT’s signature micro-stagecraft.

That’s where the bonsai son et lumière comes in: when the storyline gets too drawn out or panoramic or emotionally fraught for solo enactment or archival photo montage, Tetsuro encapsulates the action in a little tabletop vignette, which he then films with a Go-Pro camera and projects onto the cyclorama.

In “One-Hour Photo,” he makes use of a model fishing boat, a kaleidoscopic reticulation of dollhouse furniture (to denote the sterile monotony of a detention barracks), a pasteboard replica of the Yamamoto’s North Van aerie, a toy mock-up of the Voyager spacecraft & cie. & cie. Clever ploys, all, and slickly executed, but the approach still doesn’t quite recapture the freshness of when it was first unveiled in “Empire.”

But the VACT team may be on to new themes and techniques in their next project, which will explore the eerie overtones of Japan’s “Suicide Forest.” And, Tetsuro says, next time he goes in for a bonsai son et lumière biography, he might depart from Japanese themes to depict the family of his Iranian-born wife.

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