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The West Australian – Tale of love, loss reborn

Hachiko, an Akita, really was man’s best friend — he waited at a train station in Japan for more than nine years for his owner to return.

What Professor Hidesaburo Ueno’s faithful dog didn’t realise was that he had died after suffering a stroke at work.

The life of Hachiko has been made into films, books and a puppet show by Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, which is bringing the production back to the stage.

Spare Parts artistic director Philip Mitchell, who directs the show, believes the pooch’s tale is a really important story for children.

“Often kids give up too quickly, they won’t stay at a task, they want to move on to something else,” Mitchell explains.

“So here was this tale of a dog that waited 10 years at Shibuya rail station for his master to return and I thought ‘wow, that is resilience and a metaphor for loyalty and all those things that unconditional love comes with’ and that is what animals give us: this unconditional love.

“At the heart of the story is that the dog’s master dies and Hachiko doesn’t know how to deal with that. He waits and then the dog dies and then a community comes and celebrates the life of that dog.”

Mitchell believes once we reach the age of about five, it’s time to understand that loss and death are permanent.

“It’s about us all as adults and children growing emotionally and understanding about themes of resilience and loyalty and also about the permanency and importance of understanding loss and death,” Mitchell says.

Rather than raising topics and leaving children to work through emotions on their own after each show there are Q&As. “We do discuss ‘why do you feel sad’ and ‘why did you cry’ and that’s the other exciting thing about the show is that we can talk about ‘it’s ok to cry’ and ‘it’s ok to feel something’,” he says.

“We feel it’s a really important question and answer time, that’s why I love the show because you get so many adults that are so worried about how the kids feel but the kids are going ‘how did the professor die’, ‘what is a stroke’.”

For this season of Hachiko, the set has been rebuilt, the cast has changed and the characters have been reworked. “Our entire set, all the cardboard boxes and everything have been rebuilt for this season because we want it to look, Japanese aesthetic … we reworked the characters; this casting is the first time Sean Guastavino has been on stage with Jessica Harlond-Kenny — that brings an entirely different dynamic to the characters,” he explains.

“One of the important parts of the story is that it is actually a lot of fun and it’s told from the perspectives of all the different people who knew or experienced Hachiko.”

Mitchell likes to bring the work back to life because he believes it fits into the company’s vision of emotional intelligence and creating intergenerational experiences.

“It’s about small acts of kindness (that can) transform the world,” he says.

“I think every act we do as artists, that can work towards greater understanding of each other and the place we live, is just so important and the more emotionally engaged and vulnerable and open we are in the world then the world is a better place.”

Hachiko is at Spare Parts Puppet Theatre from Saturday-April 22.

Written by Annelies Gartner, The West Australian, April 5 2017