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

The family fortune was already declining during the time the play is set, as oil had started to replace coal. They officially shut down their business in 1971.

RECONSTRUCTING THE PAST

Lee had no prior experience in stage plays. His last production was the 2015 Attabu 2 (阿罩霧風雲2), the second part of a docudrama about the rise and fall of the Wufeng Lin family.

It was a natural progression to move on to other members of the “Big Five,” but he quickly decided that a stage play would be the best format for Hitoto’s tale as there was less information available compared to the Wufeng Lins. Instead of telling the family’s entire history, Lee focused solely on Hitoto’s parents, with a script that moves back and forth through time with fictional dialogue.

Lee was drawn to all the conflicts that shaped Yen Hui-min’s personality — race, nationality, family, class, generation, romance. Born at the wrong time and into the wrong family, Yen struggled to find himself, and his family suffered as a result.

“The challenge with a documentary is that you can’t get a single fact wrong,” Lee says. “We could not interview Yen Hui-min, but even if we did, would he be completely honest with us? He was hiding in his room for much of his latter life — that would make a really dull film. With a stage play, we can focus solely on the characters and put together an approximate silhouette of the truth for the audience.”

The stage is divided into four quadrants that represent different times and scenes, allowing for instant transitions between the eras as some even overlap. Hitoto agrees that a stage play would be the best format for such a narrative device, adding that the dialogue the screenwriter created feels very much real to her.

“I feel as if these words were really uttered in the Yen household back then,” she says.

The hardest part is playing herself. While Lee encouraged Hitoto to “be herself,” Hitoto felt that her own perception of herself was very different from what other people saw of her. Each rehearsal was a deeper look into herself and the family history that she had ignored for much of her adult life.

As of last week, she says her portrayal is still evolving, and could manifest differently for each show.

“One time I cried so hard that I couldn’t read the dialogue properly,” she says. “But now I’ve let these feelings settle inside me so I can really explore ways to portray this role.”

Cheng identified so much with Hitoto’s book that he accepted the role without reading the script or discussing payment. Like how Yen had to deny his Taiwanese identity to become as Japanese as possible, a young Cheng learned to hide his family’s Japanese lifestyle to fit in with his Taiwanese classmates.

“Hiding myself became an instinct,” Cheng says. “Luckily, I started coming to terms with my identity in college. For Yen, due to turbulent times and his family background, he kept running, eventually shutting himself down and turning to alcohol. I know how it is, because I’ve been there too, although my circumstances are much more fortunate.”

Cheng adds that it was a great help to have Hitoto on set. Not only did she share with him her father’s personal items and letters, he could feel her strong drive to discover and make up for what she missed out with her father.

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