Thu, Feb 28, 2019 - Page 14 News List

Living the memories of a conflicted generation

Tae Hitoto plays herself for the first time in the stage production ‘A Suitcase of Memories,’ which depicts the real-life story of the tumultuous relationship between her father, the reluctant heir of one of Taiwan’s richest families, and her Japanese mother of humble origins

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Cheng Yu-chieh plays Yen Hui-min, the eldest son and heir of the Yen family fortune, while Mariko Okubo plays his Japanese wife who has to adjust to life in Taiwan.

Photo courtesy of Imagine & Imagine Foundation for Culture and Arts

Just three months after Cheng Yu-chieh (鄭有傑) read Tae Hitoto’s novel My Suitcase, he was asked to play the lead role in its stage adaptation.

Producer Khan Lee (李崗) says it was a no brainer to cast Cheng as Hitoto’s father Yen Hui-min (顏惠民), the Japan-raised heir of the powerful Yen family, whose identity struggles and relationship with his Japanese wife of humble birth make up the meat of the drama.

Cheng’s father was born and raised in Japan, and even after he returned to Taiwan the family spoke Japanese and maintained a Japanese lifestyle. Cheng also faced an identity crisis growing up, and like Yen, refused to follow in the family’s footsteps. But while Cheng had the choice to become a filmmaker, Yen did not.

Lee also found the perfect candidate to play Yen’s wife Kazue Hitoto, who strived to become Taiwanese and fit in to the Yen family: Japanese model and actress Mariko Okubo has lived in Taiwan since 2011 and is married to a Taiwanese.

Finally, Tae Hitoto plays her modern-day self who is working with a documentary filmmaker to reveal her parents’ tale. The longtime resident of Japan has been exploring her Taiwanese identity since she found a suitcase full of letters and mementos that her parents left behind, which led to two popular books and a feature film. But A Suitcase of Memories (時光?手箱:我的阿爸和卡桑), which will run from March 7 to March 10 at Taipei’s Metropolitan Hall, is the most challenging and personal project for Hitoto yet — not just because most of her lines are in Chinese.

“I’m looking at myself objectively,” she says. “Every time we rehearse, I feel like I’m analyzing myself. The scenes with my parents often bring me to tears, as they involve memories that I want to forget, yet must face. But I also know that if I can’t stop crying, I can’t be in this play.”

Performance Notes

What: A Suitcase of Memories (時光?手箱:我的阿爸和卡桑)

When: March 7 to March 10 at 7:30pm, March 9 and March 10 at 2:30pm

Where: Metropolitan Hall (城市舞台), 25 Bade Rd, Sec 3, Taipei (台北市八德路三段25號)

Admission: NT$800 to NT$4,000, tickets available at the venue or online at and at convenience store kiosks

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The equivalent of Taiwanese royalty — Yen Hui-min stayed in late Japanese prime minister Tsuyoshi Inukai’s household when he was sent to Japan at age 10 — Hitoto says that the Yens of Keelung (基隆顏家) are now the most obscure of Taiwan’s “five great families” (五大家族). The north coast’s development, however, can be credited to the Yens’ gold and coal mining empire, including tourist favorite Jiufen (九份).

While the Wufeng Lin (霧峰林家), Banciao Lin (板橋林家) and Lukang Ku (鹿港辜家) clans rose to prominence during Qing rule, the Yens found their fortune by fostering good relations with the Japanese colonial government, which took power in 1895.

The Yens began mining northern Taiwan as early as 1847, but their business empire wasn’t born until Hitoto’s great-grandfather Yen Yun-nien (顏雲年) learned Japanese and gained the trust of local officials. By 1914, a 40-year-old Yen had earned the mining rights around both Keelung and today’s Rueifang District (瑞芳) in New Taipei City. In a few years, he would be known as the “King of Coal and Lord of Gold” (炭王金霸).

Yen Yun-nien’s son, Yen Chin-hsien (顏欽賢), provides the role of the capable and stern clan patriarch in the play. But his eldest son Yen Hui-min not only marries a Japanese waitress, but he refuses to return to Taiwan to work for his father. When he is eventually forced home, his wife struggles with life in a foreign country with one of its richest families. She tries hard to become Taiwanese, but her Tokyo-raised and educated husband longs to be Japanese. Conflict arises. The ensuing tale is told through Hitoto’s books, My Suitcase and What’s For Dinner, Mom?, with the latter being adapted into the 2017 feature film of the same name.

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