Chapter 1: Side Profiles and Irises (1)
Translator Note: Shin is holding up a sketchbook with a cue that says, “Act dumb!” Shin is from Osaka, but he tries to use standard Japanese when he’s in serious work mode, but his Kansai dialect will sometimes slip out when he’s excited. He will also use his Kansai dialect around people he’s comfortable talking casually with.
He liked looking at profiles of faces from a slight angle behind the person. It didn’t scare him when it was just one side of the face and they couldn’t turn their eyes to look at him. As they softly landed their gaze, he wondered what they were looking at, what they were thinking about—or possibly, what they would do. Shin extended like an antenna, similar to a cat trained on any kind of movement. It wasn’t just his ears, but he strained his entire body, anticipating every moment that would happen next—the corner of a mouth shifting in and out of view from over a shoulder, the tiniest bit of movement that accompanied the light sound of lips parting open to say something—just seeing these things made him unbearably happy, like his heart might float away.
He loved faces in profile.
It was dawn when he started on the footage logs for the tapes they had just shot. He put on headphones and jotted an outline of segments and topics as he watched the tapes. He would write out the timecode and a brief description of the audio, such as 0:32:15-0:33:17 Mother’s childbirth story, so that the editors could go directly to the footage that they needed. Essentially, it was like creating a table of contents for a book. He had already seen the exchanges live in the studio, but checking the tapes over in order to turn the footage into material for the show, he would laugh all over again at the things that he had seen, find new things to laugh at that he had missed the first time around, and admire the performers for how well they could deliver and talk—he was always discovering things he had never noticed before. The work wasn’t glamorous. In cooking terms, it was similar to the food preparation steps, but Shin loved preparing the footage logs. The difficulty was stifling his voice so that he wouldn’t laugh. He wanted to hide away in a private editing suite to do this, but they were all occupied. He had no choice but to pick an editing booth from one of the cubicles, and from time to time, he would concentrate on reining in his facial muscles.
Shin immersed himself into his work without eating or drinking. When he stretched out to loosen the stiffness in his back, he looked up at the wall clock and saw that it was already 10 o’clock. He decided to take a break.
When Shin removed his headphones, the sounds from the outside world burst back into his ears. It always felt like a flash hallucination to him, as if he was in a world being flipped through like a TV channel. The cubicles had been empty and silent when Shin first came in the room, but now it was filled with voices and the presence of people. He could hear a voice reading out loud two cubicles away from him.
“—When she received a tentative job offer from a television station in Tokyo, her parents were strongly against her decision to accept it. She was shy and reserved, always hiding behind her sister who was two years older than her. They probably thought that the job of a television announcer didn’t suit someone like her.”
It sounded like a video montage to be played at a wedding reception or afterparty for one of the female announcers. It was a man reading the voiceover—he was probably an announcer too. Whatta bright an’ cheery voice, that was Shin’s first thought. Maybe too cheery.
“As the Shinkansen pulled away from the station in her hometown, she watched her family wave goodbye to her until she couldn’t see them anymore. Ahead of her was a 4½-hour ride to Tokyo, and she cried. It was her first time in a big city, her first time living on her own. She had finally arrived at the announcer department that she had dreamed about, and she spent day after day drilling her accent out of her speech. It was our groom here who had supported her through her worries and fears, despite their long-distance relationship.”
Based on the script he was reading, it was a tough and sobering time, but the agony and fear didn’t quite come through with the cheerfulness that was clear in his voice. It was an excellent and powerful voice, and he read through the script smoothly, but it was terribly mismatched.
Shin could clearly hear a disappointed sigh, even from two cubicles away.
“Listen, can’t you read it so it hits home a little more emotionally?”
Yeah, yeah, that’s right.
Shin couldn’t help but agree with the criticism from the unknown person.
“What? Really? You think it doesn’t work?”
“It’s a disaster… If you use that voice to say that she cried, people are going to think that it’s a lie. They’ll imagine your face when they hear this and laugh.”
Hmm, who can it be?
The voice sounded familiar to him, but he didn’t know any of the announcers well enough to recall his name just by the sound of his voice.
If he were a comedian, I’d know ’im.
“But that’s only because you know me. Leave behind all your preconceived notions and listen with an open heart. See? Tears are coming already.”
“Only if you’re delusional. I don’t know how you can be so terrible at emotional voiceovers. I should ask Kunieda to do this…”
“Oi, oi, oi. Don’t go crushing my enthusiasm to do something nice for a colleague and her wedding. We entered the same year too.”
“At any rate, there’s still time until we record the voiceover, so you better practice until then. I gotta go now. I have to head out for an assignment.”
Guess they’re done. Backta work for me then.
Shin was about to put his headphones back on when he heard the voice from earlier directly behind him.
“Oh, hey, it’s GoGo.”
The voice seemed closer to his shoulder than his back. Shin turned around in surprise, and a pair of eyes captured his gaze, up close and personal without even flinching. Those irises sparkled with life—the rings like colored glass shards. Shin squeezed his eyes shut without thinking and pushed his chair back to put some space between them.
“Huh? This is Go Go Dash, right?”
The guy was right in Shin’s personal space, but he didn’t seem concerned and stared at the monitor that was paused on some footage.
Shin immediately understood how that voice went with this face when he saw the guy’s cheerful appearance. He had an incredibly bright curiosity for the world, like a dog let out on a walk for the first time in his life. But he didn’t have a look of innocence about him. There was a glimmer of sharp astuteness that suited his youthful, handsome looks. Shin answered belatedly, “Yeah, it is.” After he answered, Shin thought that maybe he should have used more polite language. But they seemed to be close in age, and more importantly, the guy didn’t seem to take any offense to Shin’s reply.
“I knew it! Oh, hey, it’s Motor Coil!”
The guy pointed at the screen where there was a popular, young comedy duo sitting at the very end of the tiered table seating for a panel of guests. He cried, “I love them!” getting more excited. “When’s this airing?”
“In two weeks.”
“Cool~ Oh, what’s this?”
This time his eyes were drawn to a half-empty plastic bottle on the desk. He said, “I didn’t know there’s a yellow Pocari.”
“I added Red Bull.”
Shin drank half of the Pocari first, then poured in an energy drink and mixed it up. It was what he would do when he had to pull all-nighters for work, but no one else really cared for it.
“Is it good?”
It made him sleepy when he ate, so Shin tided over his empty stomach with fluids instead. It seemed to keep him awake, and it went easier on his stomach—at least, that was what he felt like thinking.
“Maybe I’ll try it sometime. Oh, sorry for bothering you. I’ll let you get back to work~”
It was an extremely casual conversation despite never having met the guy before. He literally stuck his head in, said what he wanted to say, and left. If Shin recalled correctly, the guy’s name was Minagawa Tatsuki. Shin had memorized his name and face recently out of necessity. Entertainment production, news, and announcer departments were each on different floors, so Shin had never been aware of him before, but seeing him in person, his first impression was mainly, He’s amazing. He just seemed to enjoy life, like he had no worries in the world. Not that Shin knew anything about him.
This time when Shin was about to get back to work, a voice called out from behind him yet again.
“Aren’t you a little too jumpy?”
“Ya keep callin’ me so sudden-like!”
“Well, it’s not like I can circle around in front of you. Here, for you.”
Tatsuki placed a can of vegetable juice on the desk.
“I got it because it looks healthy.”
“Good luck with the editing. I can’t wait to see it on TV~”
The juice aside, Shin was happy to hear his words, and so he slightly bowed his head towards him. In return, Tatsuki smiled back broadly. He was the very picture of a normie—the popular kid who loved to socialize with others. Guys like him simply made Shin uncomfortable, that was why he had these cynical thoughts despite being treated so nicely. It was hard for him to deal with people who had no trouble flashing their showy and brilliant auras wherever they went. But Shin knew that it was his own problem that he felt this way.
When Shin finished off his Red Bull mix and then the vegetable juice, he decided to pause his work and return to the staff room.
“Excuse me. I need to stop for now, but I’ll work on the footage logs again tonight.”
“Huh? Don’t you usually head over to OrientTV at this time?”
“They overhauled the show and cut the segment I was working on. They probably had budget cuts and wanted to keep the work in-house.”
“Every place has been in a slump lately.”
“Oh, but I got assigned to another show.”
Shin pointed at the floor above them. “The News.”
“Seriously? Have you ever worked on a news program before?”
“No, never. I’m real nervous about it, but that’s where the company assigned me…”
Shin worked as outsourced staffing for a production company. If a place needed someone to work on a show, they would dispatch him, and he would collect his wages.
“Shitara’s the producer for The News, right? He’s supposed to be an easy guy to work for— At least easier than the producer here.”
Shin could only smile wryly when the director lowered his voice to make his final comment. Last week, Shin had briefly met Shitara when he came over to the production company to discuss business. Shitara did seem like a reasonable man, and he wasn’t stiff or uptight.
“Hmm, you probably shouldn’t mention the news side while you’re here though. Just saying.”
“Haven’t you heard about it? Everyone knows that—”
That was when the producer here, the one they were gossiping about, entered the room.
The producer headed to his desk like he hadn’t heard the rounds of greetings from the staff in the room. He saw the mess of papers and called out, “Shin,” sounding irritable.
“Clean this up.”
The “producer here,” also known as Souma Sakae, tossed his bag on a chair and headed to the smoking area upon arriving at the office. The desk was buried under so many papers that Shin couldn’t see the keyboard. He got down to work separating the documents. The desk looked like it hadn’t been organized for a month, but it hadn’t even been a week since Shin last straightened it. Television producers received all sorts of things from people—CDs and DVDs of stars and entertainers who people wanted to promote, invitations to press previews of movies and stage performances and their associated promotional materials, offers from department stores and other businesses to cover their events—that was in addition to the direct mail that they received. Mixed in were important receipts for business expenses that Shin had to be careful to fish out. Sakae hated it when people bothered him with questions about what to keep and toss, and so he often ordered Shin to take care of it. Well, more accurately, Shin was the only one he ordered. It wasn’t a good practice to have normal staff members handle items addressed to the producer, but Sakae was the showrunner here—there was no one with more authority who could warn him about it.
Shin sorted the items into four categories: things that were clearly important, things that were clearly trash, things that were in the gray area but could be important, and things that could be trash. He organized them so they were easy to pick out and then went back to the director that he was talking to before.
“You were sayin’ that I shouldn’t talk about the news here. Why’s that?”
“Because of him, of course.” The director lifted his chin in the direction that Sakae had went. “He hates the news side of things.”
“Maybe because there are a lot of restrictions? They seem really particular about how they do things there. Why don’t you ask him yourself if you want to know? Just watch when you decide to ask him, okay? If he snaps because of it, it’ll be hell for the rest of us.”
Sakae was alone in the smoking area, resting against the window sill with his chin in his hand and a cigarette in his mouth. Shin considered himself lucky that he had all to himself a view of this side profile that he loved, but it was also hard not to draw any attention with no one around. Fortunately, Sakae wasn’t the type to care about his timid behavior. The light of the August sun filtered through the window, flooding the space, and Sakae blinked repeatedly from the brightness, his eyelashes fluttering up and down. He might have come to work directly from a bar.
“I’ve finished sorting everything.”
“How did location scouting at the shopping district go?”
Sakae didn’t acknowledge Shin’s report with an Okay or a Thanks—he only said whatever he wanted to say. That was the type of person Sakae was.
“Mostly okay. There is one shop that doesn’t want to be filmed, but they love watching GoGo, so we’re negotiating with them. Honestly, it will probably depend on who we send as the reporters.”
“Can’t tell if they’re stubborn or really fans of the show,” Sakae snorted. Shin thought that he probably looked most alive when he was looking down on other people. In short, his personality was exactly what he showed to people.
“Maybe I’ll send in Electric Shock Chateau.” He gave the name of the most popular duo in the comedy circuit.
“Will we have time to get them in?”
“They figure things out quick, and it’s not a long shoot either. We can hash things out in about 3 hours. I’ll call them.”
They were a popular group with a jam-packed schedule, but Sakae had discovered them when they were first starting out, gave them their big break on Go Go Dash, and developed them to where they were now. They would probably accommodate any request of his. Comedians in particular valued their industry connections and honored the obligations they had to the people who had given them a leg up. Sakae rubbed out the stub of his cigarette and inserted a new one in his mouth. Shin hurried to pull out a lighter and lit it for him.
Despite calling for his attention, it was typical for Sakae not to respond to Shin. Sakae seemed to think that responding to greetings and short filler words was a waste of his breath. If Shin were to keep repeating himself, wondering if he had heard him, Sakae would probably blow up with a Shut up, goddammit, so Shin continued to talk instead.
“I’ll be working on another show at the network starting today.”
Shin could hear the slight crush of the cigarette filter in between Sakae’s teeth. It surprised him, but there was no further reaction. Sakae then hurled the bent cigarette into an ashtray, and without seeking a new one, crossed his arms and stared down at the sunlight. It was like there was a film over his eyes, his aggressive glare clouding over as he rejected the outside world in silence. The staff whispered among themselves, Souma-san’s off today, but he was far from being “off”—his brain was in full tilt. His thoughts were always about the show, and when he popped back into the staff room, he commented with relish, “I think we should do it,” and “I have a hilarious idea.” Sakae was arrogant and treated people with contempt, but here he was like a child bursting with stories to share about his day at school. Every time Shin saw this flash of inspiration before his very eyes, it wasn’t an exaggeration for him to think, I’m so glad that I followed him here. To think, I want to follow him as long as I can. However, no one knew when his switch would suddenly flip again, and so Shin quietly left the staff room.
In the evening, Shin headed to the staff room of The News with a representative from his production company.
“Hey, didn’t I tell you to at least wear a collared shirt on your first day today?”
The representative frowned at the T-shirt and jeans that Shin was wearing, even though it was the standard uniform for the industry, but Shin didn’t care.
“I didn’t have time to go home and change.”
“You’re not spending nights on end here, are you? People are going to call you a child spirit who haunts the studios again.”
“Don’t bring up that story from when I was a new hire…”
Shin had physically no other choice at the time. He was inexperienced and had mountains of tasks to learn.
“Just be careful about the working hours you put in. They’ll come after us with the Labor Standards Act.”
“Then you don’t have to put me on other shows. Especially on a show that airs…”
“We can’t do that, and you know it. You put in far too much work for GoGo.”
“I put in that much work because I want to, it’s only natural,” Shin answered back. “I’ll do all my other work properly, but if you ever take me off GoGo, I’ll seriously quit.”
“I know, I know.”
And if Sakae was the one to say that he didn’t need Shin anymore? …Shin wouldn’t be able to do a thing about it. It would be because he lacked the skills that Sakae needed. It was a fear that drove Shin to work his heart out, that maybe that day would come any day now. Maybe that was why Shin was even able to come this far.
“Oh, hey, thanks for coming.” Shitara rose from his desk and approached them. “Let’s see, Nawada-kun, right? I look forward to working with you. Do you mind if we save the introductions for after the broadcast? Everyone is up to their eyes with work right now.”
“It’s all right.”
“I’m thinking of having you work around the studio, support the editing team, and after you get comfortable here, work as our floor manager. I’m short on hands after one just left us. Have you ever worked the floor before?”
“I’ve only watched the floor managers on GoGo.”
“I suppose you understand how it basically works. Then for today, let’s just have you watch how we do things around here.”
“Please give me any work that you need done,” Shin said. “I don’t feel comfortable just standing there, and I came in these clothes intending to help out.”
“Do you know the flow and order of all our segments?”
“Yes, I studied the recordings of the show. I know when and how long the commercials tend to be too.”
Then there were the presenters. The main host was Asou Keiichi. The co-host and anchor for the news was Kunieda Kei. Minagawa Tatsuki, the one he ran into this morning, was in charge of sports. Then there was the weather forecaster and the different commentators that went with each of the special topics that rotated daily. Shin had learned the show’s routine lineup in order to prepare for this new role.
Shitara hummed, gave Shin a top-down gaze, and for some reason whispered, “I should have expected it.”
Then he continued, “All right, I won’t hold back then~ Oi—!”
The staff, which had been separated into various groups across different tables around the room, all raised their heads simultaneously.
“This is Nawada-kun. He’s joining us as of today to work on the show… Uh, how old are you?”
“So that means you have some young, additional manpower at your disposal. He’s slogged pretty hard at the late-night variety show Go Go Dash, so he can probably handle anything you throw his way. He says he wants to be put to work, so have at it~! First come, first served~”
“Me, me! I’m splicing video of the press conference, and I need a banner for comments and follows!”
“I need help with the traffic report. The roads are a mess due to accidents and congestion.”
“Can you use the editing workstation? Can you prepare an insert? The materials are here; it’s about 20 seconds.”
“Huh? Hold on, you don’t need that done right now.”
“Here, make 50 copies of this and distribute it to anyone who might need it.”
“But he doesn’t know who needs it.”
All at once several voices and hands went up in the air. Shin didn’t know if they were serious or joking, but he could tell that this was a busy and lively place to work. The producer did seem like an easy guy to work for.
“I think you’ll find plenty of things worth working on here too, just like the variety shows.”
“It sure looks that way.” Shin smiled back cheerfully at Shitara.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.