Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre
Empire of the Son by Tetsuro Shigematsu

Dates and Venue November 8 – 17, 2018, 8pm; matinees November 10 & November 17 @ 2pm & (Tues) November 13 @ 1pm | Gateway Theatre, Studio B, 6500 Gilbert Road, Richmond

Director & Dramaturgy Richard Wolfe Set Design Pam Johnson Lighting Design Gerald King Costume Design Barbara Clayden Sound Design Steve Charles Audio Dramaturg Yvonne Gall Stage Manager Susan Miyagishima Production Manager Adrian Muir

Reviewer Erin Jane

They say it is harder to write a good review than a bad one. As I sit here mulling over words to describe how much I enjoyed Tetsuro Shigematsu’s much acclaimed Empire of the Son, I find myself at a loss for adequate superlatives. I loved everything about it. And as it happens, this incredibly engaging one-man show produced by Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre needs no call to attend, as all remaining performances in this run have already sold out.

Empire of the Sun is an intimate and earnest exploration of Shigematsu’s relationship with his Japanese-born father, a relationship filled with complicated affection, but also pride, respect, and compassion. Shigematsu is a natural-born storyteller, and does immense justice to his father’s legacy in public broadcasting. Akira Shigematsu, who worked as a broadcaster at the BBC and CBC, is described by his son as a Forrest Gump-like figure that once dined with Queen Elizabeth and was there when Marilyn Monroe sang Happy Birthday to President Kennedy. It is easy to become completely engrossed in Shigematsu’s incredibly expressive and quite often humourous anecdotes, which are well-balanced with moments of touching earnestness to make this show, directed by Richard Wolfe and produced by Donna Yamamoto, exceptionally impactful.

I was particularly impressed by the show’s creative format. Throughout the performance, Shigematsu uses a camera to pan over several miniature dioramas set up on stage, which are projected onto a large screen in a documentary-style visual aid. A dropper of fluid into a tank full of water hauntingly recreates the atom bomb of Hiroshima, which Shigematsu’s father himself witnessed. And his fingers turn into the bottom halves of him and his father in a scene that portrays an argument over a skateboard. This audio visual component adds further dimension and texture to the already rich storytelling, and its artistic integrity wouldn’t be entirely out of place as an exhibit at Tate Modern. Other narrative aids include his father’s leather CBC briefcase, a guilt-infused letter to his son, and interview footage, all adding to the show’s narrative tapestry.

A few technical difficulties with some of the audio visual equipment occurred rather spontaneously mid-show, which Shigematsu took in stride, effortlessly engaging the audience while simultaneously troubleshooting the camera problems. Many in this situation may have panicked, especially on opening night, but this actor turned the scenario into an opportunity to entertain, leading me to wonder whether the technical difficulties were real or staged (though I’m pretty sure they were real).

Empire of the Sun is an exceptional piece of theatre, and an honour to experience (if you are lucky enough to score yourself tickets at this point). Shigematsu’s performance draws you in, and his charm - much like his father’s story - lingers long after the performance ends.

© 2018 Erin Jane