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‘This Japanese kid who grew up in Whalley’ is thrilled to return with acclaimed ‘1 Hour Photo’

City’s Digital Stage to show Tetsuro Shigematsu’s solo portrait of Mas Yamamoto
Surrey-raised Tetsuro Shigematsu wrote and stars in “1 Hour Photo,” a Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre’s production to be presented online by Surrey Civic Theatres on April 23-24. (submitted photo/Raymond Shum)

Surrey Civic Theatres’ virtual staging of “1 Hour Photo” represents a sort of homecoming for Tetsuro Shigematsu, who wrote and stars in the Governor General’s Award-nominated drama.

A pre-recorded film of the solo show will hit the city’s Digital Stage April 23-24, nightly at 7 p.m., as part of a series designed “to help people staying home connect with the performing arts” during the pandemic.

The online event is an exciting one for Shigematsu, he said.

“You know, I’m just this Japanese kid who grew up in Whalley,” he told the Now-Leader, “and to be able to go all over the world with these shows is significant. But to come back to my hometown like this, my old stomping grounds, yeah, that really feels like coming full-circle, something I had never anticipated doing. That’s really cool for me.”

For a “pay what you can” ticket, both performances include a post-show chat with Shigematsu, who grew up in a home near Surrey Memorial Hospital and spent days learning to swim and running the track at Bear Creek Park. Today, he lives in the Cambie Village area of Vancouver.

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Shigematsu’s most recent solo piece, “1 Hour Photo” is heralded as a moving portrait of Mas Yamamoto, a Japanese-Canadian internment camp prisoner who later helped build the Distant Early Warning Line in the Canadian Arctic during the Cold War. The biography also made for a 112-page paperback available on

For a pandemic-era “virtual tour” of six theatres this spring, including Surrey’s deal, Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre company collaborated with Brightlight Pictures on a 75-minute “cinematic adaptation” of Shigematsu’s script.

“They’re a top-flight local production company – they do shows for Netflix,” he said of Brightlight.

“I use a lot of cameras in my show but they’re just GoPro cameras that fit in the palm of my hand,” Shigematsu continued. “But their cameras, the cinematic digital cameras, are, you know, the size of Harley Davidson motorcycles. To have that right in your face took some doing on my part, in terms of trying to remember that it’s a piece of theatre, a story. That was an amazing experience, and the final product is just tremendous. I don’t think you’ll see many theatre adaptations that are so lush and so beautifully shot.”

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The production is not to be confused with “One Hour Photo,” the 2002 thriller that starred Robin Williams as a troubled photo developer. “Yeah, not the same story,” Shigematsu said with a laugh.

So far, Shigematsu’s impressive resumé includes writing for “This Hour Has 22 Minutes,” being the first person-of-colour to host a daily national radio program in Canada, and rave reviews for his “Empire of the Son” solo work, which played to more than 20,000 people in 18 cities.

He typically attributes the start of his theatre career to his time in Montreal, during his final year of high school, but paused when questioned about that timeline. Turns out, Shigematsu’s very first exposure to theatre was doing improv while in Grade 10 at the old West Whalley Junior High.

“I couldn’t believe how much fun that was,” he recalled, “but I didn’t think of it as any kind of art form, it was just a way to make people laugh.”

One day, Shigematsu would love to hit a real stage in Surrey, in person, not only the city’s Digital Stage.

“For sure it would have been more amazing to actually be on stage at Surrey Arts Centre with this show,” says the domain-name holder of “When I was in Grade 11, I had my artwork in the gallery for their yearly exhibit, the high school show, so I remember that. Hopefully, fingers crossed, in the future I can be there for my next solo work, which would be a dream come true.”

To watch Surrey Civic Theatres’ online showing of “1 Hour Photo,” visit

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Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news stories for the Surrey Now-Leader, where I've worked for more than half of my 30-plus years in the newspaper business.
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