The World of Sam Shikaze

The World of Sam Shikaze

Dramaturgy Notes

Fire in the New World is a seriocomic, noir-style detective story featuring the intrepid private eye, Sam Shikaze, and his cohort of friends and allies. But the central crime narrative involving Sam’s reluctantly working for a predatory, powerful, and racist corporate scion, whose passion is to “make the neighborhood great again,” is woven together with binding historical threads spun out of the World War II internment of Japanese Canadians.

It is 1963, 20 years after the forced exclusion and internment of Japanese Canadians in inland camps following Pearl Harbor. In the rundown neighborhood around Powell Street, there are only remnants of Vancouver’s Japantown, the once-vibrant hub of the pre-war Japanese Canadian community, which has never fully recovered from the government’s permanent dispossession of the community.

The small number of former internees who had returned with hopes of reclaiming, rebuilding, and recovering the life and spirit of prewar Japantown embody the complex traces of Japanese Canadians’ displacement and expropriation, but equally, their strength, resistance, and resilience in the face of ongoing White supremacy.

1939: Powell Street with a lightpost emblazoned with the Union Jack. (Vancouver Archives)

The intersections of White hegemony, systemic racism, extant British imperialism, governmental confiscation through eminent domain, and insatiable capitalist profiteering were as present in 1960s Canada, as they were prior to the internment and as they still remain today. In this sense, Roderic Alexander’s rapacious scheming and manipulation, incorporating racism, sexism, and xenophobia, all in the service of greed and power, and the elimination of the Japanese Canadian community, personify the insidious merging of these historical forces.

Set in 1963, Fire in the New World occupies, chronologically, the middle of The Sam Shikaze Trilogy by Rick Shiomi, bookended by Rosie’s Café, set in 1951, and Yellow Fever in 1973. Over the three-play cycle, Shiomi examines the trajectory of the Japanese Canadian experience from the post-war era to the beginnings of the Redress and Reparations Campaign in the 1970s, which was part of a revival of the Japanese Canadian community in Vancouver and across Canada. Enmeshed in the ongoing afterlife of the Japanese Canadian internment, the trilogy serves as a living witness and eloquent voice of social justice.

Fire in the New World and its two companion plays presciently capture the present-day admonition, “Never Again Is Now.” Embraced by manifold social justice coalitions, Never Again Is Now articulates the lived reality that watershed historical events and their complex afterlives continue to inform, conform, and deform our current thinking and practices, targeting the lives of marginalized peoples. In the end, Fire in the New World interrogates how the Japanese Canadian internment demands that we face up to our accountability, individually and collectively, to confront and mitigate the fire ignited by the real and present dangers of an increasingly regressive and authoritarian New World order. What is our ethical and moral responsibility to bear witness and intervene? How do we organize and mobilize communities to take direct action? What is our/your/my mandate to advance justice in a world where Never Again Is Now?

– Gordon Nakagawa, Ph.D.
Emeritus Professor, Communication Studies & Asian American Studies California State University, Northridge

Glossary of Japanese words, phrases, expressions:

bakkayaro / bakka: you fool; idiot; blockhead
bento box: single-portion Japanese lunch box
daijobu-yo: don’t worry; no problem
damme Samu: That’s terrible, Sam
donburi: bowl of meat, fish, etc. served over rice
gomenasai: I am so sorry
hai, so desu neh: Yes, that’s true
hakujin: White person; Caucasian
honto/hontoni: really; truly;
kabuki: traditional form of Japanese drama and music
nanda: what!
naniyo: What is it? What’s the matter?Nihonjin: Japanese person or people;
nisei: second generation Japanese Canadians (born in Canada)
ochazuke: a kind of Japanese “comfort food”
senbei: Rice Crackers
shikata-ga-nai: it can’t be helped.
yakamashii: shut up
neh / na: grammatical particle seeking acknowledgment or encouraging agreement, such as: Right? Isn’t it?


Oct 19 – Nov 6, 2022 | Proscenium Stage
Written and directed by R.A. Shiomi

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