British Columbia

Love, history and family: the true story of a Japanese-Canadian internment camp survivor

1 Hour Photo showing at Vancouver East Cultural Centre until Oct. 15.

Clare Hennig - CBC News

October 03, 2017

'1 Hour Photo' tells the story of Mas Yamamoto, a teenager when he was sent to a Lemon Creek internment camp and his life afterwards. (Photo Ray Shum; photo design Terry Wong)

A new play, based on the true story of a Japanese-Canadian internment camp survivor, first came to light after playwright and performer Tetsuro Shigematsu unexpectedly discovered that a friend's father once owned a popular photo finishing franchise.

Shigematsu dove deeper, exposing a story linked to a dark chapter in Canadian history. The former CBC Radio host and playwright interweaves a tale of history, love and relationships in 1 Hour Photo.  

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"1 Hour Photo is the story about the life and times of this man whose life reflects the major upheavals of the 20th century," Shigematsu told CBC's Margaret Gallagher.

That man, 90-year-old Mas Yamamoto, was a teenager when he was sent to a Lemon Creek internment camp. There, he met and fell in love with a fellow internee, a 14-year-old girl, Midge.

"Mas goes on to have this extraordinary life. He becomes a scientist and a businessman but he never forgets his first love," Shigematsu said. "There is a moment in the play where, very unexpectedly, those two manage to have yet another encounter."

Tetsuro Shigematsu, left, wrote the play '1 Hour Photo' about the life of Mas Yamamoto, right. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

Unconventional love story

Shigematsu said it's a story about enduring love but not a conventional one. Mas, by that point, already has a family and his happily-ever-after ending with his wife.  

"To me, what resonates about Mas' story is that even if you are in a happy relationship, a committed relationship, each one of us has at least one person in our heart that we can never forget," Shigematsu said.

Yamamoto spent 30 hours telling his story to the playwright through interviews.  

"When I was being interviewed, I kept thinking 'Why doesn't he ask me about my 15 years that I spent in the academic world?'" Yamamoto said. "I felt very comfortable. I've got great faith in Tetsuro."

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A new play, based on the true story of a Japanese-Canadian internment camp survivor, first came to light after playwright and performer Tetsuro Shigematsu unexpectedly discovered that a friend's father once owned a popular photo finishing franchise.  7:05

Contemporary politics

One Hour Photo comes full circle after Yamamoto and Midge meet again.

He invites her to attend a session at the B.C. Legislature when his daughter Naomi Yamamoto, the first Canadian of Japanese descent elected to the B.C. Legislature, introduced the B.C. government's apology for the injustices to Japanese-Canadians during and after World War II.

"It's very emotional," Shigematsu said. "She can hardly get through her speech because it's the weight of history; it's the weight of his daughter's heart who is very full of love and respect for her father who faced so much adversity in life with so much dignity."

"I'm anxious to see the play. People love 'love stories,' I guess," Yamamoto said.

1 Hour Photo runs from Oct. 3 until Oct. 15 at The Cultch's Historic Theatre. 

With files from Margaret Gallagher.

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