Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Nisei Blue – An evening with Mieko Ouchi

Thanks to Ms Ouchi for her bookshelfie
On September 3rd, the Playwright Workshop Montreal Studio hosted half-Japanese, half-Irish, but 100% Canadian actress, playwright and director Mieko Ouchi for an intimate reading of her award-winning play, Nisei Blue. Those who hadn't already been won over by her warm smile and friendly demeanor, were indubitably enthralled by the perfectly timed punch lines and lovable characters of her compelling story.

Set in both the 1930s and the mid-eighties, Nisei Blue tells the story of two partners in the police force who, after more than forty years, go back to the remnants of a once striving bar in Vancouver's Japantown in hopes to pick up the trail of a cold case.  Soon, the memories of this distant past bleed into reality as John, fighting the onset of Alzheimer, tries to make sense of events long passed.  The characters are well-fleshed, the dialogues economic yet powerful and the contrasting eras make for great transitions.  The play is a nothing short of a masterpiece.

Through her work, Ouchi attempts to bridge the gap between two seemingly irreconcilable eras despite their being inhabited by the very same people.  Avoiding the formulaic structure, she explores the ravages of the internment of Japanese Canadians during WWII through the eyes of two white old men.  Moreover, she does so without even having to mention directly these sad events.  Through John's melancholy about this prewar golden age, she raises the question: how would the community have evolved had it not been permanently scarred by the events surrounding the war?

Following the reading, Ouchi answered several questions from a member of the PWS and the crowd.  What follows is a summarized version of the exchange.

  • The title of the play, Nisei Blue, is a combination of the Japanese term for second generation immigrant and the word blue, which refers to the two policemen.  Nisei blues was also a form of swing singing created by the Nipponese immigrants.
  • Ouchi said she chose not to give her Japanese characters accents because she wanted to tell the story of Japanese born in Canada and thus feeling more at home in their culture of adoption than the culture of their parents.  The Japanese Canadian community's response was positive as they found it easier to identify with the protagonists.
  • Ouchi says she feels it's the responsibility of the Japanese-Canadians to tell the stories of the community.
  • When asked why she chose two white men as her main protagonists, she said that it allowed her to show the prejudiced perspective of Asians of the period but that the coppers stereotype challenge expectations as the play unfolds.  Although it did make the play more accessible to the mainstream, she added that this was not the original intention.  Overall, it proved to be an interesting writing experience.
  • Finally, when questioned on the validity of telling internment stories after all this time, Ouchi answered that younger generations bring new takes on the story, and that they also have something to say about those bleak events.  These retellings help keep the story alive.
Ouchi confirmed that she currently is rewriting Nisei Blue, and that it should be back in theater as well as printed for the very first time soon.

To learn more about Mieko Ouchi's work, visit her website.


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