1 Hour Photo poses the question, ‘What makes a good life?’

Solo Performance Artist Tetsuro Shigematsu works his magic in ‘1 Hour Photo’ (Raymond Shum)

I have always been attracted to reading and seeing biographies set against the historical period in which a person’s life has taken place. For in the same way music reflects the time period during which it was written and released, a biography puts into focus how the power of the human spirit can lift us above whatever obstacles are put in our way to succeed. It’s just a matter of making a choice on which direction to go when the time is right.

East West Players (EWP), the nation’s largest producer of Asian American theatrical works, is proud to present Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre (vAct)’s 1 HOUR PHOTO, written and performed by Tetsuro Shigematsu and directed by Richard Wolfe, now streaming through June 20, 2021 as the fourth offering of the Virtual 55th Anniversary Season of East West Players, Between Worlds, led by EWP Producing Artistic Director Snehal Desai.

In the program notes, Desai poses the question, “What makes a good life?” which is the base from which Tetsuro interviewed Mas Yamamoto to create ‘1 Hour Photo.’ Desai continues with, “There could be no timelier question these days as we begin to emerge from a pandemic, a year-long lockdown, and waves of social unrest. This piece asks us to not only consider the time in our lives, but also how we’re spending it.”

Tetsuro’s magnetic stage presence certainly enhances his storytelling brilliance in ‘1 Hour Photo’ as he shares a true, moving portrait of Mas Yamamoto, a Japanese Canadian man’s quest to find beauty in the depths of the savage mid-20th century as he journeys from losing his father just months prior to Pearl Harbor to finding love in a WWII incarceration camp to rebuilding his life as a scientist, businessman, and father. Tetsuro’s heartfelt exploration of a life well-lived employs the use of intricately crafted miniatures and previously unseen home movies taken within the incarceration camps to explore the historical artifact of Mas Yamamoto’s life inside and beyond internment.

For those too young to remember the days before digital photography and cell phone cameras, I recall how extraordinary it was to take your roll of film into one those small ‘1 Hour Photo’ kiosks (usually in a shopping center parking lot) and be able to go back in an hour and get your printed photos. After all, before that time, it took at least a week to get that done anywhere else! But I do remember wondering about what the person printing those photos would get to see, not only weddings and birthdays, but perhaps a “friskier” side of personal relationships. So, I had to chuckle when part of Mas’ story involved his embarrassment when that sort of thing happened to him as the owner of a ‘1 Hour Photo’ shop, being as conservative as he was!

The 18 minutes of Mas’ personal stories which Tetsuro selected from the interviews and pressed onto a record to use in the show, lead us along the journey through Mas’ life, accompanied by Tetsuro’s evocative dance movement set to music and shadow puppetry, which enhance the visual artistry as one man’s life is brought into crystal clear focus. I certainly left the show believing that no matter how hard your life may seem to be, we have to remember there is always time to live a life of hope, humor and beauty as we seek to create the best of all possible worlds for ourselves and others. And what better lesson is there to learn right now as we are venturing forth into a brand new world?

Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre (vAct) – the only theatre company in Canada that exclusively creates new Asian Canadian work at all levels – collaborated with a Vancouver based film production company, Brightlight Pictures, to produce the high quality, 75-minute cinematic adaptation of the original stage production of ‘1 Hour Photo,’ written and performed by Tetsuro Shigematsu, which is gorgeous and poetic from start to finish. Its US virtual premiere, hosted by East West Players, is accompanied by a post-show live talkback with the author/performer during which audience members are invited to participate.

I totally agree with EWP Producing Artistic Director Snehal Desai who shares, “Tetsuro’s animated and heartfelt storytelling coupled with Susan Miyagishima’s intricate, transporting miniatures create an experience that you won’t want to miss.”  So don’t wait – order your tickets ASAP for ‘1 Hour Photo’ at www.eastwestplayers.org or by contacting the EWP Box Office at boxoffice@eastwestplayers.org before the streaming production ends on June 20.