SINGAPORE - Doppo Narita, 45, an actor from Japan, has been cast numerous times as a stereotypically evil Japanese soldier, much to his chagrin.
But he will be stepping into the shoes of a Japanese general for local theatre group The Necessary Stage's upcoming production, Mobile 2: Flat Cities, which starts at the end of this month.
He tells Life! over Skype from Malaysia, where he is based: "The people who made those stories had no research about the real history - I always felt it wasn't fair, which is why I hesitate to do it. But why I keep doing this as an actor, is because I want to know what the truth is."
He chose to take part in The Necessary Stage's production because of their overlapping interests in Japanese history and how it intersects with South-east Asia's history.
Written by playwright Haresh Sharma and directed by Alvin Tan, Mobile 2 is a multi-generational tale spanning Japan and Southeast Asia.
A Japanese general suffers a stroke and a Malay gardener tends to him - just before Japan's surrender at the close of World War II.
Fast forward to the present and a Japanese man divorces his wife to be with an Indian woman in Kuala Lumpur.
Their son, a student in the United States, has to come to terms with Japan's past.
The work is a sequel of sorts to the first Mobile, which was staged in 2006 at the Singapore Arts Festival and wrestled with themes of migration and dislocation.
The intercultural connection weaving several countries together exists on many planes in Mobile 2.
Sharma, 49, says: "Within the text, there are different connections. You have the historical characters and the contemporary characters, but there are moments where they cross time."
Tan, 50, who is the theatre company's artistic director, adds: "I find Singapore and Japan similar - and then different. I suppose I see Japan as a crystal ball, where Singapore is heading towards. But at the same time, of course, I want to burst that perception as well.
"And then we are also so very different. They're more homogeneous; we have different cultures, so that continues to fascinate me. And also, our history is related. There's a connection."
The play also stars Singapore actors Najib Soiman and Sharda Harrison, and their Japanese counterparts Shoichi Ayada, Akihiro Hashimoto and Chihiro Hirai, with dramaturgy by Ken Takiguchi.
Most of the Japanese actors are either independent artists or from the performance group Moratorium Pants.
Mobile 2 marks a strong cross-cultural collaboration between the various practitioners, which also came across when they did theatre workshops together last year in Tokyo.
For instance, Najib conducted one workshop entirely in Malay, without translation, which meant that the performers had to rely on other forms of communication to bond and carry out tasks.
Takiguchi notes that for many of the Japanese cast members, this trip to Singapore will mark their first time abroad, even though they have gleaned a great deal of information about the country from the Internet.
The team will spend time visiting various places in Singapore that have a Japanese presence, including Sentosa and the Japanese Cemetery Park.
Tan feels that the world of theatre is a method through which nation-states such as Japan and Singapore can redefine themselves away from a prescribed history, especially one that comes with a lot of emotional baggage.
In this vein, Mobile 2 attempts to cut through the many layers of historical amnesia of shutting away the past, so that both countries can engage with each other on a deeper level.
Alluding to World War II, Tan says: "One of the Japanese actresses said, 'But what can we do? We can only apologise.' The younger generation is holding the burden of their forefathers. So she feels that we should forget, in order to find a new relationship with history. Not that we forget completely, but if it's too present, how do we forge ahead?"
He adds: "Singapore, because of economics, has pushed history aside. And that leaves a lot of strong hatred, especially for the older generation. Then there's the younger generation who are full of admiration of Japanese aesthetics.
"In a way, it's also positive, there are new ways of building a new relationship and a new relationship that, maybe, can be strong enough to carry that history."
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