Dark comedy play Kuroko explores Suicide Forest, virtual reality, and the Japanese phenomenon hikikomori

The new Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre play runs from November 6 to 17, featuring playwright Tetsuro Shigematsu.

Essentially a Black Mirror episode come to life, the dark comedy Kuroko will be taking over the Cultch in Vancouver, B.C.

Written by Tetsuro Shigematsu, the play follows Maya, an extreme recluse, who has spent the last six years cooped up in her room playing virtual reality. After encountering a new stranger online, she is given a challenge that forces her to face the real world.

The objection? Save her father’s life by searching the spine-chilling Suicide Forest.

Hosted by Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre (vAct), the play will have showings starting November 6 until November 17. Cold Tea Collective spoke with vAct Artists Director Donna Yamamoto and Playwright Shigematsu to learn more about the dark comedy, hikikomori, and the importance of having Asian faces in theatre.

https://www.facebook.com/Vactheatre/videos/418510372137878/

In addition to following Maya’s adventure, the play touches on deeper themes like Suicide Forest, virtual reality, and hikikomori, a Japanese term used to describe young adolescents or adults who shut themselves off from society, often staying in their houses for months on end. Estimates believe there are over 1.1 million hikikomori in Japan

“Talking about social issues that are not so fun, [Shigematsu] does it in a way that makes us laugh at ourselves and allows us to breathe,” Yamamoto said. “It’s definitely a phenomenon that’s no laughing matter but [the play] is done with respect and humour.”

With this issue largely affecting young adults, the team at vAct hopes this particular demographic comes out to see the show. 

“Younger people especially, we get so focused on our social media circles and we don’t really get out and connect in person,” said vAct Operations Coordinator (and fellow young adult) Jenna Masuhara. “You’re only having virtual connections and young people need to expose themselves to this different point of view and reflect on how they are interacting with others in their lives.” 

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But it’s not just a play for young people. With the storyline taking place in Japan, it’s refreshing to see some Asian representation on stage. According to Shigematsu, Canadian theatre in particular seems to be evolving at a faster rate than the film industry; however, that doesn’t mean we can’t have more representation.

“To see Asian actors embodying stories about our community, that still remains something that most people have never seen before. And when an Asian person sees that, sometimes they need that story more than they need food.”

Tetsuro Shigematsu, writer of Kuroko

“I think it’s important to be seen because it gives [the Asian community] permission to be something more than just a stereotype,” said vAct Associate Producing Artistic Director Anjela Magpantay. “Your existence is validated, it’s empowering.  Knowing that there are so many sides of you that are being portrayed on-screen shows you that you can be any kind of person that you want to be.”

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As for the name Kuroko, the term refers to stagehands in traditional Japanese theatre. Like a running crew, kuroko are dressed all in black and move scenery and props on stage, aiding in scene changes and costume changes.  

“The kuroko enables the players to achieve a level of virtuoso and otherwise accomplish, impossible feats,” says Shigematsu. “It’s the perfect metaphor for this story because with the duplicity and the secrets that family members keep, who is the person in the shadows that is enabling others to do things that they would otherwise do?”

Anyone still on the fence about purchasing a ticket should also know that Shigematu’s previous play, 1 Hour Photo, was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama. If the writing is on the same scale as his previous work, then audiences can expect some high-quality content. 

Four nights have already sold out and there are limited tickets available for the remaining dates. Grab them online while they are still available. For more information on the play, check out the vAct website.

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