Empire of the Son by Tetsuro Shigematsu

This was the world premiere of an original, multi-disciplinary performance by former CBC broadcaster Tetsuro Shigetmatsu, who discovers vast worlds contained within his emotionally remote father – from the ashes of World War II and Hiroshima, to swinging London in the 1960s. As he learns about how his own father was once a son, Tetsuro realizes all the ways in which he himself needs to step up and become a better dad. Empire of the Son is a funny, emotional portrayal of parent/child relationships, and a reminder of no matter how far we journey out into the world to find ourselves – across decades and continents – we never stop being our parents’ children.

Empire of the Son has toured to The National Arts Centre (Ottawa), Factory Theatre (Toronto), Centaur Theatre (Montreal), and will be visiting more cities around Canada in the upcoming season.


Photography by Raymond Shum

Critical Response

I’m telling all of the people I love most to see this show.
Tetsuro Shigematsu’s Empire of the Son is exquisite. It’s also painstakingly honest. In his script, which Shigematsu performs solo, he explores his relationship with his father, Akira. … Physically, the show, which was directed by Richard Wolfe and produced by Donna Yamamoto, is stellar. … I can’t say enough good things about Empire of the Son. It’s bound to be one of the best shows of the year. You should see it.

Colin Thomas – The Georgia Straight

Empire of the Son is gorgeous storytelling, wrapped inside an equally gorgeous production.

Mark Robins – Vancouver Presents

Directed by Richard Wolfe, produced by Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre and presented by The Cultch, Empire of the Son is jewel-like in its sparkle and perfection.

Jo Ledingham

In his one-man show that opened at the Cultch this week, actor, writer and former radio personality Tetsuro Shigematsu has bravely pulled his grief out into the open, creating a riveting, emotional theatrical experience.

Erika Thorkelson – The Vancouver Sun

Those who were able to get tickets for this show’s sold-out run will not soon forget how Tetsuro Shigematsu raised the bar into the stratosphere this year in his autobiographical one-man show about his relationship with his father, a former broadcaster for the CBC who was a child in Japan during the Second World War.

Erika Thorkelson – The Vancouver Sun (Voted #1 show in 2015 by the Vancouver Sun)

Shigematsu’s work is poised to be one of the most important of the season, both for execution and what the play symbolizes about our Canadian identity.

Cecilia Lu – Vancity Buzz

More detailed show description from Jo Ledingham

Interesting as the story is, the best part is how inventively it is told. The journalist in Shigematsu has kept old photos and letters, has tape recorded conversations and he uses them here to create a rich documentary: himself, his twin sister and his three other siblings together as children in the bathtub; his family – including his very conservative-looking father – with Big Ben in the background; his recording of his father describing the incendiary bombing of his village and the complete destruction of the houses – just “wood and paper” – that burned fiercely as every man, woman and child ran from the flames.

But most innovative is his use of large, real-time videocam projections: a tiny paper boat in a dish of water projected as he films it; two fingers playing with a miniature skateboard underscored with a less-than-respectful conversation with his father; two fingers like a pair of skaters gliding across an imaginary frozen pond on Grouse Mountain. A syringe of a cloudy liquid squirted into a bowl of clear water erupts like a huge mushroom cloud on the screen. Like a Japanese painting, it’s all about the minimal strokes of the brush; our imagination fills in the rest.

Creative and Production Team

Playright & Performer: Tetsuro Shigematsu
Director/Original Concept Dramaturgy:
Richard Wolfe
Dramaturge: Heidi Taylor
Set Design: Pam Johnson
Lighting Design: Gerald King
Costume Design: Barbara Clayden
Sound Design: Steve Charles
Audio Dramaturge: Yvonne Gall
Stage Manager: Susan Miyagishima*
Technical Director/Production Manager: Jayson McLean
Props Master: Carol Macdonald
Video Design Consultant: Remy Siu
Apprentice Stage Manager: Maria Zarrillo
Apprentice Lighting Designer: Tory Ip
Documentary Audio: Yoshiko & Akira Shigematsu