Chapter 28: Where Home Is (4)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
“—The next award is for Outstanding Documentary Special. The recipients are Asahi TV’s The Foster Care System Today directed by Azuma Shinji, Towa TV News Division’s The Day Zoos Disappear directed by Kaneko Yumi, and JipanguTV’s Strait Distance directed by Urasawa Taichi.”
The directors sitting on stage stood up to make their way to the front and center to accept their certificates and plaques from the Chairman of the Commercial Broadcasters Committee. The process had repeated itself continuously over the course of the night. It was essentially an awards distribution ceremony: everyone was notified of their awards prior to the evening—only honorees were invited, and there was no tension or delight in the room. The ceremony progressed without much fuss (Kei wouldn’t want any anyway), which was fine, but the sparse claps around the room were a little sad to say the least. Silence would probably be better. The venue was filled with board members and high-level executives from each of the networks, their associated production companies, and sponsors—general staff would likely have no interest in the event. It was an atmosphere where no one hid the fact they were basically here to exchange business cards, share the latest news and gossip, and catch up with people around the industry. It was like everyone on stage, including Kei, was a boring TV program playing in the background. All that people really noticed was that something of some sort was going on at the stage.
Ahhhh, this is why I didn’t want to do this.
Most of the people had their backs to the stage. Sometimes the network president would smile at Kei and wave at him.
…Ugh, more importantly, I’m freaking starving.
Kei smoothly read the winners of the award for Outstanding News Commentary as he watched the dinner buffet spread from the corner of his eye.
God, that looks good. I wanna eat. I wish I could turn invisible and eat my way through the entire table.
Kei was of course doing his job seriously, but the obvious lack of interest from the room severely dampened his concentration. Everyone was from the industry, and so no one sent him heated looks either (though it would aggravate him if it did happen).
…………Good god, people!! Quit your chattering and eat!
It angered Kei that people would rather swarm around each other than to pay attention to him, but it pissed him off also that they took no notice of the scrumptious feast before their very eyes.
I mean, look at all that roast beef and nigiri sushi for the taking. At a normal party, it’d be demolished in 3 seconds. Instead, people have barely touched any of it, so the fish is going dry and the beef is wilting. What kind of blasphemy is this? Hmm, it could be a social inequality documentary with just 15 minutes of footage of this abomination.
Kei unconsciously imagined an all-out attack on the sushi counter with mosaics censoring out people’s faces.
Salmon roe, fatty tuna, seared salmon. Salmon roe, fatty tuna, seared salmon. I could probably eat 6 sets of those.
The next award is for Outstanding Seared Radio Commercial—Crap, no.
Kei chased the sushi lane out of his head and projected his voice further out.
“The next award is for Outstanding Radio Commercial—”
“Sorry, Kunieda, change in plans.” The operations director suddenly came from the stage wing and pushed a notecard at him. Kei glanced through the instructions on the card, nodded his head slightly, and returned to face the audience.
“—Please excuse the interruption.”
Most people didn’t notice the hiccup in the proceedings.
Guess I’m invisible in a sense. Tch, cats and dogs have better manners.
“Although we are in the midst of our awards presentation, we have from the House of Representatives, Representative Wakamiya Homare of the Liberty Democratic Party in attendance tonight. Let’s please welcome Representative Wakamiya to the stage.”
Kei only knew the name of this political figure. It was a name that always appeared in the Tokyo elections, but he couldn’t recall the man ever making a splash on the news, for good or for bad. The man calmly entered the stage off left, and he didn’t particularly strike Kei as a stereotype of a politician. There was no greasy or schmooze-like feeling that he would sometimes get from these middle-aged politician types. He had a blend of intelligence and austerity to him that would make him more suitable as a news anchor. There were probably not a small number of voters who compared the posters of the candidates on election day and chose him based on his looks. In another 20 years, Kei could see the man standing at the edge of a pond, clapping his hands to call over a school of koi fish.
It appeared to be a surprise appearance. Kei hadn’t heard anything about this in the program during the pre-ceremony meeting, and he could detect a bit of chaos going on behind the scenes.
What’s he here for? Did he get hungry and came over to snack on some sushi? If so, I’ll raise my personal estimation of him.
The moment that Wakamiya appeared on stage, Kei clapped his hands to prompt the rest of the room to follow his lead. But it appeared to be unnecessary, because the banquet hall immediately filled with thunderous applause.
What the hell is this?
Just a moment ago, the geezers and stuffy old men were absorbed in their networking activities, but now it was like a string pulled everyone’s eyeballs towards the stage, and they all stared intently at Wakamiya Homare. Kei stood dumbfounded in mid-clap as he watched the influence and authority that the name Wakamiya Homare wielded.
When Kei had hosted the premiere of The News, there was a full lineup of politicians with much bigger names, but honestly speaking, Kei was so preoccupied with his own matters that he didn’t have time to worry about them. The staff would obviously treat all their guests courteously, no matter who they were, and Shitara had even stopped him from going out to receive them.
Was this what members of the National Diet were like? There were close to 500 members in the House of Representatives, and there would be people who looked like morons and those who looked like scoundrels mixed in among them.
And yet, could they really move people to this extent? So much that network presidents and other executives would fall over themselves to grovel at their feet that it was almost embarrassing?
Shit, this world is dirty, Kei spat behind his perfectly maintained smile. Of course, his own personality wasn’t something to be proud of, but the jackasses couldn’t even pretend to be interested in their own event, and here they were wagging their tails at some politician who came for whatever reason. Sure, people had to get a leg up in the world, but wasn’t there something called moderation?
There didn’t seem to be anyone bringing out a mic, and so Kei took his own microphone from the mic stand and approached Wakamiya to offer it to him.
“Here you are. The switch is already on.”
It was a good, deep voice that paired beautifully with his appearance. He probably surpassed the average announcer that people could find on TV. Part of it was inherently individual, but there was a magnetic quality to his voice that could only be learned by speaking again and again in front of large audiences. It was a voice that knew how to reach people.
The wave of applause slightly subsided, and Wakamiya chose the perfect timing to deliver his greetings, all while sweeping his gaze over the rows of participants, likely making them each think they had made eye contact. He was doing what Kei normally did in front of a camera to a real, live audience.
“Just like I was kindly introduced, I am Wakamiya. I apologize for the sudden interruption, but I had heard such lively chatter coming from the venue that I had to stop by to take a look. I am honored for an opportunity like this to greet everyone here today.”
Considering the over-the-top welcome from the audience, Kei had expected a rather arrogant character to take the stage, and so the modest remarks were quite a disappointment for him to hear. But then again, it also helped ease the atmosphere of the room so that the laughs didn’t sound so fake.
“I have had public and private occasions to meet with many of you from the television industry, but I always find myself admiring the constant recognition of your responsibilities as a public institution and how you strive day in and day out to bring the country a media that is fair and widely loved by the people. Your efforts have culminated into the awards presented here today at the Commercial Broadcasters Grand Prix—it must be a special and rewarding motivational experience for all the creators and producers here. Please enjoy your awards ceremony tonight and continue to endeavor for more outstanding broadcasts in the future.”
The room broke out into a full applause again. Wakamiya lifted the corners of his mouth into a smile, but in a grave voice he addressed the crowd.
“However, there is one thing I must apologize for.”
A slight nervousness spread throughout the room, and with impeccable timing, he continued, “…To be brutally honest, my most must-watch shows are NHK’s historical drama series and their documentary specials.”1
The room burst into a roar of laughter. He was also a pro at controlling the flow and tempo of his delivery for the audience. Kei didn’t know if politicians only had to open their mouths to get people to laugh, but the ability to entertain guests was always a useful skill regardless of the occupation.
“Well, I’ve taken more than enough of your time. Please continue with your ceremony.”
Kei went to retrieve the microphone that was held out to him.
“Thank you very much.”
The moment that their eyes met directly, for some reason, Kei felt a sensation similar to a penetrating cold run through him. It was an amiable atmosphere between them, but it was like cold lead was poured into his stomach. Kei clutched the microphone that almost fell out of his hand and returned to his spot on the stage as he manufactured a smile.
“Representative Wakamiya, thank you very much for coming. Ladies and gentlemen, let us please show him another round of applause.”
What the hell was that just now? Kei thought as he watched Wakamiya exit stage right to the applause. He hadn’t felt any hostility or malice, but it wasn’t his imagination either.
After some careful thought, the conclusion that Kei reached was the elections. So he was on the receiving end of a scornful stare that said, Don’t underestimate the world of politics just because people are calling you to run. But if Wakamiya was someone from inside the party, then he should know that it was all a baseless rumor. However, Kei had never met the man before, and he couldn’t think of anything else it could be.
Ugh, I can’t deal with this anymore. Seriously, I’m not running.
Kei wasn’t hungover from the previous night, and yet his forehead was killing him.
The ceremony ended after about 2 hours, and after heading to the dressing room, Kei found a LINE message from Ushio asking, “How’d it go?” He could endlessly list out all of his complaints from today, but that would tire him out more, and so instead he answered, “The usual. Except that a member of the Diet showed up for an impromptu speech.”
“Did they come to scout Announcer Kunieda?”
“Seemed far from it.”
“What else was there?”
“Searing things with a blowtorch probably makes anything delicious.”
“Huh? You were doing your job, right?”
“Does a decidedly average person not understand?”
“I suppose so, Seared Announcer Kunieda.”
“Now that’s just plain torture.”
“Yeah, probably doesn’t taste good.”
“What was that?”
Either way, it’s ridiculous.
But Kei was relieved. He was still okay. He had a rough couple of days, but he hadn’t ventured into the yellow zone where he would stew in his thoughts by himself, close himself off, and then take his anger out on Ushio.
I’m okay. Of course, I’m okay.
Kei stared for a while at the speech balloons on his cell phone.
It was Monday, and when Kei went into work, it was a rare sight to see Asou stop by his desk.
“How was Saturday?”
“It was all right. There weren’t any particular hitches.”
“The president was pretty happy. He commented that you were meant to be on stage.”
“Oh, that’s far too kind… By any chance, was that the reason I was called to host the ceremony?”
“I haven’t heard anything about those details.”
“Well, no one was listening to me at the ceremony anyway, so it likely made no difference if I was there or not.”
“Oh.” Asou seemed to have guessed the true course of the event and shrugged. “Well, it’s pretty much a reception salon for all the old boys in the industry. It would be the same no matter who hosts.”
“—I wonder about that.”
Kei hadn’t meant to voice that doubt of his.
“Sorry, it’s nothing…”
Kei hesitated for a moment but decided to float his thoughts to him.
“I was thinking that if it was Asou-san hosting, perhaps the outcome would have been different.”
Kei couldn’t read his reaction. Kei thought that Asou would either brush his comment off with a Probably not or give him a nonchalant Piece of cake, but Asou stayed silent, and Kei felt like he was waiting for results of a job interview. This was what he got for saying something careless. It was too much trouble to deal with difficult people, and this was why he would never get too involved with them as Kunieda-san.
“You have some time, Kunieda?”
However, what came out of Asou’s mouth wasn’t a response, but an invitation.
“Let’s go get some coffee.”
“Oh, all right.”
Huh? Was what I said really that bad?
Kei nervously tried to look innocent as he followed Asou to the coffee room.
“I’m not a hypnotist, you know,” Asou said, crossing his arms and his legs in a chair. “It’s impossible to attract a person’s attention like a magnet if they don’t have any interest in the matter. But I certainly do have a manner of speaking that allows me to handle someone who might not feel like listening.”
“May I ask what method it is that you use?”
“It’s not a specific technique that can be explained. Just like how a carpenter judges when to pass a planer once or twice more on a piece of woodwork, it’s only a minute difference that you can just feel. By the way, Kunieda, how many different voices do you think you can use?”
“There’s no announcer stupid enough to read stories about a murder and the birth of a baby panda in the same voice.”
“I suppose I’m aware of a degree of hardness and softness when I’m speaking…”
“Yeah, I would guess you have about ten.”
“What about you, Asou-san?”
“Probably around a thousand.”
Kei was at a loss for words.
“It’s not a big deal. Generally speaking, the same news stories don’t usually crop up a second time around. We are not actors or voice actors; it is not our job to infuse emotion into our voices, but there is a way of doing things that includes it. Let’s say we have a disaster story, but depending on whether you need to urge viewers to remain alert to their surroundings or whether you need the viewers to notify others of important information such as shelter locations and such, you would use a different tone of voice.”
Kei understood what Asou was saying, but he didn’t think he could put it to practical use. It would be an extremely difficult task to separate off something that his body produced in order to use it like a tool. It was like asking that he chop up his intonation, cadence, tempo, everything into little pieces, within what he was allowed as an announcer, and then classifying each specimen to be pulled out for use whenever it was needed.
“I like watching news from other countries,” Asou said in a low voice, letting his coffee sitting in front of him turn cold.
“Do you mean like CNN?”
“Well, I would understand the English, and that would defeat the purpose. I like to put on the news in Farsi or Hindi, any language that I don’t have the slightest clue of, and just let the sound play. I’d imagine along trying to guess if the stories are about politics, a scandal, the economy, or whatnot. Ultimately, this what I think of every time I see our opening.”
“You mean the opening animation?”
“Yeah. Because they’re aliens. I wonder how they would interpret my delivery of the news after listening to me read it.”
Uh, yeah, his head’s totally messed up.
But it was this strangeness of his that made Asou uniquely himself.
“…I suppose I went off on a bit of a tangent.”
“No, this talk was very insightful. Thank you very much.”
“I thought it was good to see.” Asou uncrossed his arms and laughed as he brought his eyes up to Kei’s, like he was searching for something.
“What was good to see?”
“Kunieda, I bet you’re angry and frustrated.”
“Even though the job was boring window dressing, but it irritated you that no one paid attention to you on stage. I bet you were thinking that you weren’t some mannequin just reading a list of names.”
“It wasn’t like…”
Wakamiya Homare had easily stolen the applause and attention. It was true that the gap between them had irritated Kei. However, Kei didn’t want to change into someone else. It was just that he wasn’t able to command the room as Kunieda Kei, and yes, it angered and frustrated him.
“It’s fine if you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re reading a Buddist sutra or the digits of pi, if you’re the speaker, then the audience should damn well pay attention to you. And you should think that way too. Presenters should be greedy. I think it’s great that you’re finally showing some of that greed. You’ve changed a little.”
Greed, huh? Kei used to be satisfied with a moderate amount of attention. He had taken an outside view of his career and reached his position by analyzing what it took to become an announcer that the network wanted to put on TV. He never thought to broaden his horizons or to climb the ranks at the network. It would be a pain in the ass and a heavy burden to carry. As long as he could protect a world that was a 1-meter radius around him he was fine—no, this was true even now. There was no change. He had no ambitions. It depressed him to go into work, obviously, and he loved lying at home being lazy the best.
But hearing that he changed—it didn’t scare him, nor did it repulse him. If that was how it was then what would be would be. Kei was no longer alone, and no matter what happened, Ushio would never change—Ushio would be there for him. Ushio gave him strength.
“Come to think of it, Representative Wakamiya from the House of Representatives stopped in to give a short speech to the room. Does that happen often?”
“No.” Asou frowned at the question that Kei asked while they were waiting for the elevator. “When you say Wakamiya, do you mean Wakamiya Homare?”
“His father was part of the postal system commission, maybe he had established ties that way. I wonder if someone had asked him to come.”
The former postal system commission—which was now the general affairs commission.
I see, so he controls the air waves. No wonder everyone fawned over his every word when he came into the room.
“Is he a second-generation politician?”
“He’s third-generation. But he’s not an idiot who benefited from his family’s connections. Even if you take into consideration the strength of his political base, it’s incredible that the number of times he has run is in the double digits and yet he’s never lost a race. When their party was facing a wave in the other direction, he was able to protect his seat.”
“You seem quite knowledgeable about him.”
“He’s the representative for Tokyo 1st District. He’s at the front of the list.”
“My only impression of him is that he’s someone who always runs in the elections.”
“He’s not someone who makes gaffes that the mass media would pick up, and he doesn’t put on performances to try to score points. The fact that we don’t have our eye on him is proof that he is reliable in his job.”
“I see. Do you suppose he will be a cabinet minister one day?”
“Based on his career and achievements alone, it wouldn’t have been strange if he was appointed a long time ago, but timing plays a big part in cabinet posts. Right now there are plenty of candidates at suitable age, and it’s a competitive field.”
“It seems like a harsh world.”
“Harsher than being an announcer. …So were you really not scouted?”
“Of course not.”
Kei returned to the announcer department, looked at the network’s operations blog, and saw that there was already a post about Saturday’s award ceremony. There was only a brief story about the ceremony on the Sunday afternoon news—quite the inconspicuous time slot. As if to make up for the lack of exposure, there were over 10 photos posted with the write-up. The average person would probably never read this post.
Kei scrolled to a beautifully photographed shot of Wakamiya and felt a slight tug of the back of his mind. He didn’t have much of an opportunity to see the man’s face directly two days ago, but now that he could take a look at it properly, this face…
…Reminds me of someone.
But maybe that was obvious. He was a politician after all, and Kei had met him in person. But he couldn’t put his finger on this particular feeling. It was a sense of something strange, and it bothered him. Like when he couldn’t remember the name of a foreign actor.
“Kunieda, can you come here for a bit? It’s about next month’s schedule.”
“Oh, yes, of course.”
Well, whatever. What’s past is past.
Kei closed the browser on his computer, stood up from his desk, and switched his head back over to work.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.