Chapter 2: Yes, No, or Maybe Half? (2)
“Good morning,” Kei greeted.
“Morning,” the director replied. He then yawned very loudly, irritating Kei.
Apparently there were hoards of idiots who confused sloppy behavior as a way to express a level of friendliness between colleagues and acquaintances.
“You seem to be quite tired.”
“Yeah, I had trouble with editing issues last night and stayed up pretty late.”
Whatever. It’s your own fault if you can’t execute. If you wanted a job that was covered by the Labor Standards Act, then get the hell out of this industry.
“I see. It must have been tough.” Kei’s face was full of sympathy, but in reality, he hated co-workers who complained about their jobs at work.
“You always look so fresh and put together, Kunieda. Always prepared and in top condition.”
“I’m only able to be in my best condition because of everyone’s hard work and support. I’m honored and grateful.”
Translation: You little worker drones better make my job easier and work your asses off.
The director smiled through his exhaustion, not knowing all the wiser.
Don’t smile at me like that, it makes you look dumb. You think all smiles are created equal? Hah. There’s a big difference between my smile and yours.
“Aww, it’s nothing. Come on, let’s get going.” The director beckoned towards the van.
Settled into the van, Kei asked about Tsuzuki Ushio to see if he could learn some more information about him.
“I was wondering how the project for the new opening animation came about. I looked through the reference materials and mostly saw shorts that were more oriented for children stories than for social commentary.”
“Do you know Producer Shitara, who is producing The News?”
“I’ve heard of his name.”
“Well, he got to know the guy when he was at an affiliate station working on a children’s program called Midnight Kindergarten.”
“If I recall correctly, it was very popular on DVD.”
“Yup, it was trending on the net. I even have it at home. I love how ridiculously zany and out-of-the-box it was. They did things like making over prim and proper mothers with gyaru1 makeup, then testing their children to see if they could recognize them. It’s hilarious.”
I don’t care. Just get to the point.
“Yeah, that was when Shitara-san first commissioned Tsuzuki-san to produce promos for the show. After Shitara-san got called back as a nightly news producer, he got free creative reign on The News. I heard that’s why he pulled the trigger for the project.”
“So I see.”
The guy seemed to be in with the producer. Kei couldn’t afford to offend him in any way even if it was for a different show. He steeled himself to do a better job than usual.
“Yeah, so like I’ve laid out on the location schedule, we’ll be on location one or two times a week to shoot a 3-minute segment that’ll air every evening on Evening File. On the night of The News’s grand unveiling, we’ll tell the viewers to tune in at 10pm to watch the premiere of the new opening.”
“Well, today will basically be a face-to-face and then getting some intro material. The main focus will be to introduce Tsuzuki Ushio to the viewers—who he is and what he does. Not too big a deal.”
Kei had thought that the area looked familiar, and then he realized that their destination was located about a 10-minute walk from his apartment building. They were right by the main thoroughfare, full of neighborhood shops and luxury apartment buildings. Shit, it wasn’t impossible to run into each other here. But then again, who’d be able to recognize Kei on his private time if they met him out on the street?
Kei got out of the van in front of an austere-looking square wooden building. The ceilings of the first floor were elevated higher than normal, and a large shutter was rolled down covering it like a storefront.
“It used to be a bicycle shop,” the director explained. “Apparently he got the building for cheap, so he uses the first floor for his studio and the second floor for his living quarters.”
“Ah, I see where there used to be a signboard.”
“The entrance is this way. You can keep your shoes on in the studio.”
The director led the crew down an alleyway off to the side, following it to the back of the building. There was a simple aluminum door with a utilitarian-looking nameplate bearing the name Tsuzuki on it. Next to it was a rusty, red mailbox that was probably left over from the previous owner. The AD rang the intercom, but there was no response.
“Maybe he’s still sleeping?” the AD wondered aloud and tried the doorbell again.
Eventually the owner showed up to the door and opened it, offering a curt “…Sorry” before letting them in.
He obviously looked like he had just woken up, blearily rubbing his eyes and yawning loudly. Kei was beyond irritated.
What the hell. No one wants to see your dumbass face yawning with your mouth wide open. You knew we were coming today, why the hell weren’t you ready for us? I’m not even asking for tea, just receive us on time for fuck’s sake.
“Good morning. We’re very sorry to disturb you from your sleep.”
“No, I’m sorry, really. I thought it was tomorrow.”
“Hmmm, didn’t I call you yesterday to remind you?”
“Do I have time to change and wash my face?”
“Sure, in the meantime, we’ll get some shots of the building outside. Would it be okay for Kunieda to wait for us here inside? Oh, yeah, this is Kunieda. He’ll be in charge of the interview for this project. He’s a sub-anchor on Evening File.”
Kei greeted, “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I look forward to us working together.” He bowed gracefully and smiled, as perfect as the one that he gave on camera. It always sent his likeability meter through the roof, regardless if the person was young, old, man, or woman. …But it didn’t seem to work this time.
“…Sure,” Tsuzuki replied, shooting a look at Kei with sleep still in his eyes, completely uninterested. Then he asked the director standing next to Kei, “Didn’t you say it’d be a woman?”
“Oh, right… She’s scheduled on another assignment. Sorry about that. Did I forget to tell you?”
“It’s not a big deal…”
If it’s not a big deal, then don’t say anything in the first place! And weren’t you supposed be bi!? Appreciate your luck that someone as beautiful as me was sent to work with you. Didn’t the network commission you to work on both the opening animation and the documentary process of it? Not only do you get your commission, but you get free advertising out of it. Where’s your gratitude, huh?
Kei maintained his smile through all of his thoughts and offered a polite reassurance, “I’m terribly sorry about the miscommunication, but I will do my utmost to make this project a success.”
“No need, let’s just get it done and over with,” Tsuzuki replied indifferently, like he was brushing off specks of dust. “You have your regular jobs to do. I don’t have time to slack off in front of the cameras. I have a deadline to meet after all.”
Kei grabbed the jackass by the throat and punched him a couple dozen times (inside his imagination).
The director said, “Uh, so we’ll be outside taking some shots. Please get ready on your end.”
“Alright.” Tsuzuki turned around to head to the second floor.
The director leaned in to whisper in Kei’s ear.
Ugh, you’re way too close!
“Looks like he’s in a terrible mood today. He’s pretty easy to approach normally. Well, you should be okay, I think. Just communicate with him somehow.”
Easy for you to say! Ugh! And why didn’t you get your building shots during the location scouting!?
Kei nodded at the director to show that he understood.
After the production crew went outside and Tsuzuki disappeared upstairs, Kei looked around the room. There were several miniature sets of various sizes lined up around the room, from the size of a garden planter to a couple of large conference tables. He recognized some of the landscapes from the DVD—the fairytale towns, beaches, and forests. They were like islands of different worlds dotting a gray-colored floor. There were lights, backgrounds, and screens. A bicycle leaned against a wall. In the very back of the room, Kei could see a desk with a computer and a very large monitor.
Kei placed his bag down on an old, worn faux leather sofa, which appeared to be used to receive guests. That was when Tsuzuki reappeared down the stairs.
Kei politely asked, “May I leave my bag here?”
Kei was pissed off at all of the brusque replies, but he wasn’t going to let it get to him. He pushed on, continuing to make conversation, “Do you make and film everything yourself?”
“It’s not a profitable enough business to hire people.”
Figures. Considering you’re in the creative industry, you’re lucky to be making a living off of it at all.
“It sounds like a tough industry.”
“But I’m grateful to have people who want to pay me for my work. This is what I like to do in my free time anyway. There’s not much difference between me and a retired old man who builds castles out of toothpicks for fun.”
Oh, so you do understand. Here I was worried that you were one of those creators who had your head stuck up your ass.
Tsuzuki picked up several thick stacks of thread-bound paper from his computer desk and carried them over to Kei. “I was told to prepare this for filming.”
“This is a daily pad calendar?”
It was a common calendar that could be bought anywhere, with a little proverb and an auspiciousness label printed on each day.
“On the back.”
“Oh?” Kei flipped the calendar around and saw a pencil drawing on the back. There were more on the next page, and the page after that.
“Oh, I see… These are your storyboards. Is there a reason you drew them on the back of the pages of a calendar?”
“There was a stationery store in the neighborhood going out of business. They gave me their entire stock. You see how it’s from two years ago? They were going to throw it out anyway, so I thought why not. The paper’s thin, and it’s easy to use.”
“But don’t the numbers show through the back?”
“It’s fine as long as I can figure out what it is. I don’t really sit down to do things so they can be archived. I prefer to scribble on scraps of paper whenever inspiration strikes.”
Flipping through the pages, Kei realized that each page was slightly different from the next and connected together in an animation.
Seriously, what a painful and tedious job.
“How many pages would you need to draw for a single second of animation?”
“Television is filmed at 30 frames per second, which is a little different. So you would use up an entire calendar if you want to draw 15 seconds worth of animation?”
“Yeah. I’ve used up a lot of my stock.”
Hmmph, Kei imagined that he’d be a lot more conceited than he was. He actually seemed pretty humble, or maybe it was the penny-pinching talking. On Japan’s fairly small stage, people tended get arrogant once they became used to the spotlight and cameras on them. Kei had watched plenty of these people make fools of themselves, and he could only feel a deep sense of relief at his own ability to keep himself hidden. It was only by chance that he settled into his career, and it probably made him all too self-aware of how he’d be perceived by other people.
Someone from the crew called, “Excuse us, we’re done filming the building shots!”
The production crew returned inside the studio.
The director said, “Oh, Tsuzuki-san, are you ready? I’d like to get some shots inside the studio if possible.”
“Feel free to hide anything you don’t want filmed.”
“Got nothing to hide.” Tsuzuki finally offered a small smile for the first time since their meeting. Once he relaxed his face, he appeared quite friendly.
Oh, so you do know how to smile. It never hurts to show some courtesy to people, so keep it up.
Kei felt a little relieved, but then immediately shook the thought from his mind. Why the hell should he feel relieved for the guy? Personally, it didn’t matter to Kei one bit if he went on camera cold and brusque like before. Kei might have even elicited some sympathy from his colleagues and viewers for graciously handling such a prickly interviewee.
All of a sudden, someone cried out, “Ah!!!”
The AD had snagged a tripod on the handles of Kei’s bag, and the contents went spilling onto the floor.
The cameraman yelled at him, “Idiot!”
“I’m so sorry!”
Kei quickly rushed over to help the AD with his things. Concerned, he asked, “Are you alright? Did anything fall on your feet?”
Of course on the inside, Kei was calling him a worthless piece of trash.
“I’m alright. I’m really sorry about your things, Kunieda-san.”
“I had some heavy items in my bag, so I’m glad that you weren’t hurt.” Kei smiled as he returned his things back into his bag. As he stood up, he caught Tsuzuki watching him, like he was completely taken aback.
Shit, was I too unnatural?
Kei asked, “Excuse me, is there something wrong?”
The interview proceeded smoothly. After confirming their next upcoming visit in three days and the agenda, the crew headed back to the network studios.
In the van, the director turned to Kei and said, “I was really worried how it was gonna turn out at first. He was in a really bad mood.”
It’s your damn job to bring him out of that mood, but you turned tail and ran away.
“But he was back to normal when we came back inside. I knew you could do it, Kunieda.”
Kei shook his head and said, “Oh, no, I didn’t do anything…”
It was all an act to make him appear humble and polite, but Kei really had no idea what had made Tsuzuki change his mood. It was written all over his face that he didn’t care about this project. Maybe as he woke up, he finally noticed Kei’s good looks? But then again, that didn’t make Kei happy either.
So Kei offered a harmless explanation to put an end to the conversation. “Perhaps it was a case of low blood pressure.”