By Jocelyn Moore
Northwest Asian Weekly
Searching for love often requires courage and originality. In the case of the Akira, it means combining the wisdom of the traditional Japanese fairytales he heard from his great-grandmother with the mystical domain of the Internet.
Presented by Pork Filled Productions, “Online Dating Tales of Old Japan” by Kirk Shimano, playing at the Wing Luke Museum on Dec. 3, tells a story of the unlimited possibilities when you seek love on the Internet under the guidance of traditional Japanese folktales.
“Our story is, at its core, a tale of love and coming of age,” said Brad Walker, the director of the play.
“Even before I finished reading, I was hooked.”
One of the reasons that the production team is so interested in the screenplay is because of the new angle it sheds light into.
“I am excited to be exposed to a new world view with this incredible group of people through the unity of theatre,” said Emily Feliciano who plays as Akira’s genuine friend, Heather.
Producer May Nguyen said her work along with other producers, Roger Tang and Maggie Lee, is to find new work by Asian American playwrights and produce readings or full productions. Shimano’s modern twist on traditional Japanese folk tales caught their attention.
“The play jumped out to us because it comes from a perspective not often seen on stage: a gay American ‘yonsei,’ fourth generation Japanese,” said Nguyen.
Shimano first had the idea of exploring Japanese folk tales in the early 2000s. He began to write the first page of the play 10 years later.
“It’s been about a five-year process,” Shimano said. “The research for this play was really great, as it gave me a chance to read about a bunch of stories I never had heard before. When I was able to find a story that perfectly fit into what I was trying to say, it felt like a little bit of magic.”
Just like searching for love, perfecting a screenplay requires the courage to let go of some parts that may not be the best fits.
“It’s been difficult to find just the right transitions into and out of each section,” Shimano said. “I’ve thrown entire folk tales away and put new ones in their place, which meant cutting some of my personal favorite stories because they didn’t serve the play.”
Another challenge for Shimano is to stay focused with the protagonist’s arc.
“At the end of each draft, I really had to put myself back in the character’s shoes and make sure his journey was complete,” he said.
One interesting takeaway that the audience can expect from the play is the contrast on fairytales and dating norms between the Japanese and American cultures.
“Growing up in American culture, the fairytales that are told tend to end with a clear moral or lesson, the one thing that we’re supposed to learn,” Nguyen said. “Reading the play and going through the Japanese fairy tales, the ‘lessons’ aren’t so cut and dry, allowing for broader interpretations and more reflection on what it means to you, as opposed to one meaning for everyone.”
Nguyen believes that the fairytales in the American culture such as Disney princess stories and Hollywood romantic comedies can lead people to the expectation of finding the one true love bounded by destiny.
Ironically, as Walker pointed out, the lines of relationship in the American culture can be very ambiguous.
“This often leads to confusion about the nature and ‘status’ of a couple’s relationship,” Walker said.
“Xenophobia also comes into play. Despite being a melting pot, it can be trickier for non-Whites to traverse the dating scene in America – a phenomenon that Akira certainly notices as he scores over online dating profiles in the play.”
Such complexities and complications of the modern dating scenes are often unmentioned or beautified in American pop culture, which can often stray people from the “happily ever after” ending, Nguyen said.
“With this play, we’re invited to slow down, to allow complications to exist, to reflect on what is meaningful to us individually,” Nguyen said. “And maybe not put so much pressure on ourselves and our potential partners.”
Bottom line, “Online Dating Tales of Old Japan”, as Walker put it, is “a sweet story about discovering love in all its incarnations…And puppets. And silly hats. And ghost stories. What more could you ask for?” (end)
For more information, visit porkfilled.com/wp/2015/11/online-dating-tales-of-old-japan-by-kirk-shimano.
Jocelyn Moore can be reached at email@example.com.