Choosing forgiveness

Hiro Kanagawa’s adaptation of Forgiveness invites us to discuss the divisive world we’ve come to live in and why embracing forgiveness is so important.

Photo courtesy of Arts Club

“At this point, in my life and career, I think it is important for me to engage with these stories and tell them from my point of view,” says Kanagawa, actor, writer and screenwriter.

Forgiveness, a best-selling book by Mark Sakamoto, is the story of his grandparents’ World War II traumas. The live performance, Jan. 12–Feb. 12 at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage, is a joint production with Theatre Calgary (Calgary) and Arts Club Theatre Company.

A true story

When Kanagawa began adapting Forgiveness into a play, he knew it would be a daunting task.

“For those familiar with the book, I think that the play is faithful to the emotional core of the book’s message of love for family, home and country,” he says.

Sakamoto’s grandfather, Ralph MacLean, and grandmother, Mitsue Sakamoto, both know the traumas of war – they’ve lived it.

“Both sides of Mark’s family suffered tremendously during World War II, on both sides of the conflict,” says Kanagawa.

MacLean enlisted in the Canadian army at the beginning of World War II, and was immediately taken prisoner in Hong Kong by the Japanese. Beaten, starved and tortured, MacLean watched the people around him die.

“It was a tremendously horrible place to be,” says Kanagawa. “Many atrocities were committed, and the men who were in prison in these camps suffered tremendous deprivations.”

Here in Vancouver, Sakamoto, a Japanese-Canadian, was detained with her family by the Canadian Government.

All of their property confiscated, they were sent to work on a farm in Alberta. They lost everything when their possessions were burned.

Despite having gone through tremendous suffering and struggle, both MacLean and Mitsue found the courage and grace to choose a life of forgiveness after the war.

It was that forgiveness that led to Sakamoto being born, and it was Forgiveness that would serve as the title of his best selling book – a gift for his grandparents.

“The book shows us a way forward despite the tremendous traumas that Mark’s family experienced,” says Kanagawa.

Animation mixes with traditional theatre in Forgiveness | Photo courtesy of Arts Club


With an adaptation, one feels this enormous responsibility to the original work and to the fans who love it, says Kanagawa.

It’s a true story, so there’s also the added responsibility that one feels for the characters, who in real life have an invested interest in how they’re represented on stage, and how their loved ones are going to be represented.

“There was quite a process of interviewing Mark’s family, and having meetings with Mark, but ultimately I did want to do it and found a way to structure it so that it could be a play,” says Kanagawa.

He hopes the audience first and foremost has an emotional connection and reaction to the material.

The show will also have animation.

“It’s a technical and artistic challenge, but I think people are really going to be excited to see how theatre and animation are integrated in this play and story,” says Kanagawa.

An important message

“Given the environment, I think the message of this play that despite tremendous deprivations and traumas being inflicted upon you, you can rise above, find forgiveness in your heart and find a common ground with your fellow Canadian, is a vital and important message at this juncture in the life of our nation,” says Kanagawa.

Kanagawa never thought society would get to the point where Asian people are being attacked on the street again, but it’s once again become a terrible issue.

There is a saying Kanagawa mentions: “History doesn’t always repeat but it rhymes.”

The Japanese internment is a seminal event in Japanese-Canadian history and experience, says Kanagawa. And there is a responsibility in telling that story with respect, and as completely – and as accurately – as one can.

For him, Many visible minorities in the arts are put in the position where the only thing we’re allowed to write or represent is our ethnic experience.

“For me personally, I think telling this story was a way to reconnect with the Japanese Canadian community,” says Kanagawa. “That’s another great thing about my experience of being involved in this project.”

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