If the costume fits …
A group of seniors are turning back the clock and fulfilling their lifelong dreams by dressing up as characters from Japanese anime.
BY: Tan Boon Leng
Decked in the robes of a Japanese samurai (warrior), he swings his ‘sword’ with a flourish. Fifty-eight-year-old William Hiu is channeling Zatoichi, a blind swordsman from the popular ’70s Japanese series of the same name. Like the character he is dressed up as, Hiu is blind.
Hiu and 14 other seniors are blazing a trail in possibly the world’s first Cosplay (costume play) Club for seniors. Cosplay, which originated from Japan, is a performance art in which individuals don costumes and accessories to role-play popular characters from Japanese manga (comics) and anime (manga that is animated). The Singapore Silver Cosplay Club was set up in July 2011 by Fei Yue Community Services with funding from the Ministry of Community Development, Youth & Sports, Council for Third Age as well as the Tote Board.
The Club currently has 27 members, of which 15 are seniors aged over 50. The youngest member in the Club is just two years old, and the oldest 70. Sammy How, a senior executive from Fei Yue Community Services’ Elder Education Department, said that the Club was set up to promote intergenerational bonding among seniors and the young, as well as empowering the seniors by increasing their self-confidence.
Loss of sight gives him confidence to don costume
For Hiu who lost his sight at age 35 to retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease which causes damage to the retinae, he first discovered Cosplay while a student in Japan.
“I first came across Cosplay in 1979 when I was studying in Japan. I had always fantasised dressing up as Shintaro, the lead character from the ’60s Japanese TV series “The Samurai”, but felt too self-conscious to do so. In a way, my blindness has removed my inhibitions and made me more confident to do Cosplay. And as I can’t role-play as Shintaro because I am blind, I have to role-play as Zatoichi instead,” Hiu, a part-time guide at Dialogue in the Dark, chuckled.
After joining the Cosplay Club, the father of two girls aged 24 and 28 took part in the solo category of the world’s first Cosplay Idol competition for seniors held at Hougang Mall in November 2011, and walked away as the winner of the solo category – dressed up, as you guessed it, Zatoichi.
When he first started to Cosplay, Hiu needed people to guide him on how to perfect the poses of Zatoichi such as brandishing his ‘sword’. He is now so comfortable in his ‘second skin’ and he has the moves down pat without any guidance.
Cosplay makes her feel younger
Another senior, 60-year-old Amy Lee, a part-time marketing staff at an educational hub, is also having a whale of a time costuming herself as Ovalia, a character from the popular anime, “Final Fantasy”.
Lee picked her character because she liked Ovalia’s simple costume, which resembles that of a Dutch milkmaid. Together with Hiu and some other seniors from the Singapore Silver Cosplay Club, Lee participated in the recent two-day Anime Fair organised by Liang Court Shopping Mall. She also participated at Cosplay Idol competition for seniors at Hougang Mall.
“I’ve felt younger since starting on Cosplay because I get to interact with a lot of younger Cosplayers, and I get much encouragement from them. It also helps that I am role-playing a much younger person,” Lee said.
Lee’s only daughter Lynette, 30, is also very supportive of her mother’s hobby. She got her friends to vote for and support her mother at the Cosplay Idol competition. Likewise, Hiu’s children are supportive of dad ‘suiting up’. “They think that their dad is cool! But the wife is not so happy because she is very publicity-shy and she doesn’t like the attention that was showered on me after my win at the Cosplay Idol 2011,” said Hiu.
On a more serious note, Hiu felt that Cosplay has transformed his life. “Having the opportunity to be in the pioneer Singapore Silver Cosplay Club has allowed me to fulfill my lifelong dream of ‘transforming’ into a samurai. I’ve also become more confident and made new friends since becoming a Cosplayer.”
Fei Yue Community Services’ How added: “Through Cosplay, we hope to dispel some common stereotypes of seniors passing their time at home taking care of grandchildren or watching TV. Hiu and Lee are examples of active seniors who have been transformed through Cosplay. We hope to use Cosplay to reach out to the community and touch the lives of older people.”
So don’t be surprised the next time a ‘samurai’ walks down the street; it might just be Hiu showing off his Cosplay chops with other gung-ho senior Cosplayers!
Certification course in Cosplay for seniors
Want to play dress-up with Hiu and Lee in the Singapore Silver Cosplay Club? Fei Yue Community Services has launched a certification course in Cosplay for seniors. For a fee of S$600, seniors attend six three-hourly sessions that introduce them to the origins of Cosplay, how to choose and research their characters, executing the poses as well as learning how to apply make-up. Seniors are provided with and loaned the costumes, headgear as well as shoes and accessories for their characters. The certification course aims to improve seniors’ observation skills, stimulate their creativity and build up their self-confidence. Members will get to role-play at showcases and Cosplay events.
For seniors who do not want to take up the certification course, they are welcome to join the Club for free. All they need is to own a set of Cosplay outfit and be willing to participate in any showcase or assignments that Fei Yue Community Services entrusts to them. For more details, contact Fei Yue Community Services at 6593 6456.
(** PHOTO CREDIT: Fei Yue Community Services)