Chapter 4: Side Profiles and Irises (4)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
There were a number of stereotypes that the general public had of people who worked in the TV industry: 1) producers who wore cardigans tied around their shoulders, 2) floor managers who held up sketchbooks with a cue that said, Say something dumb here!, and 3) was probably… the poor physically abused ADs.
Shin never saw #1, but he did sometimes see #3, though it wasn’t supposed to happen, at least not in front of others. The stereotype that most closely reflected reality was probably #2. Shin was incredibly thrilled the first time he had witnessed it on set.
“I know you’re in the training process, but I’d like to see you try it out by yourself. You already know the full rundown for the show, right? You have others here keeping an eye on things to help you.”
Before the broadcast, Shin double-checked the stack of cue cards held together by a giant bulldog clip. They were written on A3-sized1 sheets of paper, starting with cues such as (Day), (month), (date) — It is time for The News, or Our first topic is (fill-in-the-blank), or After the commercial is weather. All the comments they would need to direct the show were prepared on the sheets. He also had a separate book filled with regular cues, such as (Number) seconds to go, or Please wrap it up, or Please extend the topic, and if there was unexpected trouble, like a video clip wasn’t completed in time or a guest was held up in traffic, he would scribble something down on a sketchbook (legibly) to let the presenters know. And if there was something incredibly urgent, he would say it aloud. In short, he had to act as an intermediary between the control room and the presenters using means that wouldn’t affect the broadcast.
“Are you nervous?” the floor manager who was supervising his training asked.
“Yes, the timing of the segments is much stricter here than for pre-recorded shows.”
“You’ll be all right. Our show isn’t one that runs on the floor manager. Just be careful not to show up in the shot. That’s the one thing you always have to keep in mind.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
It didn’t sound like something people would openly say about their show.
“Asou-san and Kunieda-san almost never look at the cues for their lines. They also have their lead-ins memorized, and even if we’re pressed for a little time or we have some extra time to fill, they will smoothly make the transition that we need.”
It was as if the three announcers for the show were three different and distinct colors: Asou Keiichi marshalled the entire show as the main host, Kunieda Kei was the handsome honors student who flawlessly delivered the news, and Minagawa Tatsuki was the bright one full of energy. They were like the three primary colors of light, and depending on how they combined, they could create any color of the rainbow to bring into the studio. Even without a female announcer to add some “radiance” to the show, the reason why it didn’t become dry and bland probably hinged entirely on the cleverness of the casting. If that was what Shitara had deliberately aimed for, he couldn’t have been an ordinary producer.
But there was still one announcer out of the three whom the supervisor hadn’t mentioned.
“Then what about Minagawa?” Shin asked, glancing at Tatsuki from the corner of his eye. Tatsuki was as usual making a racket on the sofa as he watched a baseball game on TV.
Shin received a “Yeah” and a wry smile.
“He can be a handful at times.”
“But I think it’s better than getting zero feedback from the presenters.”
“That might be true, but…”
“Oh, the technical meeting is about to start. Let’s head to the studio.”
Shin and Tatsuki hadn’t talked much today except to say hello, but Tatsuki treated Shin as if their argument over the weekend had never happened. Was he being considerate of Shin’s feelings? Or did he forget all about their argument? Shin thought that it was probably the latter. Tatsuki was busy and he had tons of people around him; he probably didn’t have time to be worrying about such trivial things. Shin felt a little relieved, but his cowardly relief made him feel frustrated.
It dun mean a single thing to me either. I gotta focus on work.
Shin reviewed the detailed outline of events with the camera operators and technical crew as they went through the rundown together in their meeting. He watched each of the teams’ operations to get an idea of their progress and gathered his cue cards in hand to go on stand-by. The presenters also entered the studio, putting on their mics and making their preparations.
“Kunieda-san, I went to that ramen place again after last week’s party. The tonkotsu shoyu is really good too.”
“What do you mean by that ramen place?”
“Haha, you know what I mean~ That place where you inhaled a huge bowl of ramen like a Dyson that one time.”
“Perhaps it happened in a dream of yours?”
He really goes to talk to anybody, Shin thought, a little exasperated and impressed at the same time. Or maybe it was a little impressed and exasperated at the same time. Kunieda was very kind and polite to everyone, but that just made it harder for Shin to approach and talk to him without any reason to do so. Asou was also very hard for him to approach; there was a kind of austerity and awe that surrounded him.
However, Shin shared one thought when it came to the three of them—they reminded him that announcers were different from ordinary people. They were different from the comedians that Shin had worked with, but they were also professional speakers. They had to speak to viewers with a natural expression, observing the accent of words, technical terminology, and a myriad of arcane rules for TV announcers—all while on live TV with no redoes allowed. Working behind the scenes, little by little Shin was starting to understand just how incredible they were.
“10 minutes before air time!”
Shin’s heart started racing. The palms of his hands and the back of his neck started sweating, and his breath slowly expelled from his lungs making it a little hard to breathe. What should he do if he messed up? If he made the presenters and the staff look bad? If he accidentally blocked the shot with his hand or the cue cards? Shin was scared and worried, but those weren’t the only things that he felt racing in his heart.
First, the opening rolled. Then came the greetings, the throw to the top news stories, and a 5-second bumper before the first commercial break. Out of commercial, they covered the Prime Minister’s overseas trip, the Yokosuka stalker homicide, and reforms for the Tokyo metropolitan government. Then after a 1-minute commercial break, they discussed the negative interest rate policy until they hit commercial #3, and after some time for their sponsors, they went to commercial #4 for a total of 1 minute and 55 seconds. The next topic was pharmaceutical lawsuits, then commercial #5 for 2 minutes, flash news with 6 stories in 3 minutes, commercial #6 for 2 minutes, and then—there was sports, the segment that Tatsuki presented. The delivery was stirring and uplifting, just like the announcer himself.
Oh, I can listen to ’im up close when I’m on the floor directing.
Shin’s spirits improved. There was no room for measly bitterness or jealousy to wedge their way inside him. The broadcast was scary and exhilarating at the same time.
Ahh, I’m beginnin’ to really like this show.
Shin didn’t want to work on this show at first. He honestly had no interest in news or sports, but slowly but surely, he was beginning to think that he was glad that he came here.
Shin had spent an hour crouching down, standing up, getting on his knees, crawling on the floor, and sitting in a kneeling position. When his floor duties finally finished, he noticed his joints creaking everywhere from all the physical activity. He had been far too frantic to notice them during the broadcast. It was going to be painful until he got used to it. He was constantly dodging the cameras, and so it also wore on his nerves.
“Good work, everyone!” Shin shouted. He looked up at the ceiling and took a deep breath. For now, it was over.
There were no indications of a review meeting right there in the studio, and Shin felt relieved that he seemed to have received a passing grade. As he helped tidy up the studio, Tatsuki came up to him.
“Nacchan, do you mind if I give you a criticism?” Tatsuki gave the unpleasant request in a light, breezy voice.
Shin wanted to say, No, but this was his job, and so he modestly replied, “Please go ahead.”
“At the end of the sports corner, why did you give the signal to wrap up the sumo wrestling story there?”
“Why? Because the control room told me to wrap it up.”
During the final news topic, one of the commentators spoke for longer than they had planned for, and the control room decided to air the flash news segment without cutting it short. There was no choice but to let sports take the hit. All the segments could equally run short or long, and any one of them could be adjusted to accommodate for the other. It probably wasn’t fair to say this, but Tatsuki was a network announcer on a news program. He was in a much different position from outside TV talent who had to fight to get air time, always clamoring for any extra second, any extra frame in front of the cameras. Was there really any need to argue over it? Didn’t he mention that he didn’t care about appearing on TV anyway?
“What? You’re just going to wrap it up because they tell you to?”
“Well, there ain’t no reason not to.”
“Why not? You should fight them more! All my excitement fizzles out when you start waving your fist in circles!”
Tatsuki continued to press his opinion harder. Was this what the supervisor meant by a handful?
“I mean, the match today was totally wild! I was excited; the commentators were excited. I don’t want it all to fizzle out.”
“Okay, but we can’t just extend our show like a baseball game, ya know.”
“I’m not talking about math here. Didn’t you find the match exciting when you were listening to me, Nacchan?”
“Yeah, it was.”
Tatsuki went right into Shin’s space without hesitating, and Shin reflexively took a step back. Shin had thought this before, but Tatsuki’s sense of personal space was much closer than normal. From the looks of things, Shin wondered if Tatsuki had grown up without suffering the hard blows of rejection in his life. Girls probably got the wrong idea about Tatsuki and misread his signals all the time.
“The floor manager is the closest viewer that we have, right? So I really, really care about your reaction, you know! If you find my segment fun and exciting, then you should want to listen to me more. You can negotiate with the control room to give me an extra 10 or 20 seconds. You relay all the info about timing just fine, but when I toss you the ball and you don’t return it back to me, I just feel completely unsatisfied. It’s like I can’t see what you feel or what you want to tell me, Nacchan. A floor manager’s job isn’t only to relay signals, you know?”
The words tumbled out fluid and smooth as this professional speaker kept talking and talking with no chance for Shin to get a word in edgewise. Shin rolled around an excuse on the tip of his tongue: But there’s nothing I can do about it. Why would anyone want to know about his personal thoughts and feelings? He didn’t have an antenna that picked up on little details that would allow him to exert his opinion on how to direct a national television program.
…If I were Souma-san, it’d be a differen’ story.
It seemed like maybe Tatsuki had picked up on Shin’s innermost thoughts, because Tatsuki’s face hardened a little.
“Hey, hey, give the guy a break.”
Shitara cut in with a wry chuckle, and Shin felt relieved from the bottom of his heart.
“It’s his first day as the floor manager, and you’re telling him not to listen to the control room? Of course he can’t do that. What are you trying to get him to do?”
“I didn’t say anything about not listening to the control room,” Tatsuki argued, pouting his lips. “I’m just saying I want more of a reaction from him. I can’t do my best if I get no response from the audience.”
“That’s pretty spoiled, you know~”
“No way, it’s super normal. Asou-san and Kunieda-san are the weird ones. Anyway, the show was way too heavy on the news today. We didn’t really need that last comment on the stalker story. They could have wrapped that part up in 30 seconds.”
“Yeah, yeah, you can take that up with the host, okay? Nawada-kun, great job tonight. Do you have some time to talk?”
“Um. Yes, sir.”
Shitara showed Shin to the empty control room and sat down in the chair that the broadcast director would use. Then he looked up at the banks of dark and silent monitor screens.
“When you’re surrounded by all this equipment in the control room, it can make you think that the presenters are part of the equipment too.”
“Is… that so?”
“Yeah, like they’re part of the assembly line. When you’re doing a live broadcast, you just want your show to go as planned without any accidents. But if the show starts deviating from the preparations, or if we get information that we need to get checked right away, it’s easy to go into a panic, and in the control room, we want to stick to what’s written in the rundown. The response we hate the most is ‘I didn’t hear about this.’ It makes us scream in our heads, ‘Just listen to our orders.’ But the studio has a case for their point of view too. They can feel the flow and the atmosphere in the room, and so they’re trying to maintain the show the best that they can, but surprisingly, that doesn’t get conveyed to the control room very well, even though we’re right next door. Television works in really weird ways.”
Shitara leaned back fully in his chair and suggested to Shin, “Why don’t you have a seat?”
“No, thank you. I’m fine.”
“The floor manager is a hard role to fill. No matter what you do, you just can’t win. You’re stuck between the control room and the presenters with nowhere to go. And maybe you have an angry director yelling in your ear over the headset, or maybe people are panicking because the video’s not ready, but you still always have to show a smile in front of the presenters.”
“Am I getting criticism for my performance today?” Shin asked nervously.
“No, no.” Shitara laughed. “This is just small talk. I remember getting something similar when I first got started. By the way, I wanted to ask you, Nawada-kun, what do you think about Tatsuki’s remarks?”
Shin hesitated a little, but he answered honestly.
“I sort of understand him, and I sort of don’t. I’ve never been on TV, so I do wonder about what he said… But it is important to maintain the atmosphere in the studio—that seems to be something in common for both news and variety shows, so I’ll try my best to accommodate the presenters’ wishes more.”
“That’s because he’s the type of presenter who thrives on positive feedback. If you give him the same script to read in front of a camera and in front of a live audience, his live version will be significantly better.”
“He must have nerves of steel.”
“According to Tatsuki, he’s never gotten nervous in his entire life. It must be nice, but I don’t think I ever want to be like that.”
Shin was about to smile and say, I absolutely agree, but Shitara continued speaking, so Shin held himself back.
“Tatsuki can be rash and impatient, but ultimately, I think he’s trying to ask you what kind of manager or director you want to be. He wants to know what image you have in mind for the broadcast when you’re on the floor and what are your expectations for the presenters.”
—Nacchan, what kind of director do you want to be in the future?
Those were the words he had asked Shin at the ramen shop.
“You’ve only been here for a short time, Nawada-kun, but watching you, I think you are someone who pays close attention to other people’s needs. You watch for little behaviors, or you watch where someone is looking, and you know to bring the person a water or a newspaper. Even just now you said that you’ll accommodate the presenters more. And yes, it is important, but I do wonder… how should I put it? I’d like to see more of ‘you’ and what you think, rather than always trying to accommodate others.”
What is this? I’m gettin’ criticized after all.
“…What if what I think is that I don’t want ‘me’ in it? Is that bad?”
“Well… There’s someone in the industry who I really respect, an’ I’ve decided to follow ’im wherever he goes. At any rate, I just wanna support ’im however I can so that he can feel good doin’ the work that he wants to do. That’s my personal motivation… And I dun think it’s wrong of me to think this way.”
“Hmmm, so that’s your response~” Shitara said, crossing his arms. “It’s not my place to decide if it’s right or wrong, but you’re still young. There’s the possibility you might grow and change in the future.”
Ain’t that the same as sayin’ it’s wrong?
Shin returned to the staff room with his feelings in a haze, and Tatsuki, bright and sunny as always, invited him to the cafeteria.
“I hear it’s open all night tonight. I wish they could keep it open this late every day~”
“…I can’t believe ya.”
Tatsuki was part of the reason that Shin was called out, and he could still come up to him like nothing was wrong.
“How can ya come up to me like nothin’ had happened in the studio?”
“That’s because it was for work. And now that our work’s done, we just leave it in the studio. But if you have something to say, I’ll listen?”
Maybe it was the quickness with which they switched over to other topics that allowed Shin to snap his comment without any fear. Tatsuki wasn’t afraid to express his opinions, and he wasn’t afraid of conflict. He looked people in the eye and said what was on his mind to anyone and everyone, no matter who they were—with irises bright and burning. But regardless of the words used to describe him—clear, distinct, articulate—there was a brightness to Tatsuki, like he was the sun and Shin couldn’t look directly at him, and he always found himself instinctively looking away.
Other staff members joined them, and they headed as a group of five or six people to the cafeteria. Although it was late at night, the room was bustling with people, and Shin heard his name called out from the crowd.
“Oh, good evening!”
Several regular cast members on GoGo were sitting with Sakae.
Shin hesitated as he held his tray carrying the dinner special for the night. The people with him observed the situation and gave him a nudge.
“You should go sit with them. They’re performers on your show, right?”
“Sorry. Thanks.” Shin bowed his head and headed to Sakae’s table.
“Nawada, who were ya with just now?”
“The staff of the nightly news. We just finished up. I was assigned to their show just recently.”
“Wow, the news!”
The voice belonged to a comedian, and it carried through the entire cafeteria. Sakae grumbled brusquely, “Keep it down.”
“Oooh, so that’s why we keep invitin’ ya out, but ya keep turnin’ us down!”
“Oh, it’s nothing like that.”
“It’s ’cause ya keep tellin’ ’im to pick up girls for ya when you’re around.”
“Ohhh, but didn’t I say I might become a politician one day? Maybe I gotta be nicer to Nawada just in case~?”
“Ya serious? Anyway, Nawada, do ya get to wear a headset?”
“Ya sound really breezy about it.”
“Just like if he wears one or not.”
Shin laughed at their conversation and thought about how he felt the most relaxed here. It reminded him of home, and he could instantly fit in. He was here, talking to the performers from his favorite show, having gotten to know them through that favorite show. It was worth it to work so hard to get to this point—that they joked around with him and gave him a place where he felt like he belonged.
When they were chattering about their upcoming filming location, Sakae took Shin’s chopsticks and started picking food off his plate. Sakae only had a cup of coffee in front of him, so maybe he saw the food and started getting hungry.
“Would you like me to get another plate of this for you?”
He didn’t seem to want a full portion. Shin remembered the words that the woman had said last week and was relieved that Sakae at least felt like eating a little.
“Huh, what’s this?”
Just as Shin was feeling relieved, Tatsuki had somehow slipped in soundlessly, standing right behind Shin.
“Didn’t you say you hated it when people put their chopsticks in your food~?”
Sakae threw a chilly look over Shin’s shoulder, and Shin’s blood pressure suddenly shot up and down—his head overheated and his fingertips turned to ice. His body was thrown into full chaos, and he hissed at Tatsuki, “Whatta ya doin’?” Was he really going to talk about that now?
“Um, please excuse him, he’s not anybody suspicious, really.”
“Oi, oi, what do you mean suspicious?”
“Please just keep ya mouth shut!”
Shin was panicked, but the performers around the table didn’t seem to be offended and started talking to Tatsuki.
“Oh, aren’t ya the one who does sports for The News?”
“I always watch the show~”
“Let’s see, hold on, hold on, the name’s comin’ to me, I’m pretty sure it’s—”
“Ninagawa-kun,” Sakae said. “…Was it?”
He clearly knew the name but messed it up on purpose (and didn’t bother to hide it either), but Tatsuki replied calmly, “Close, it’s Minagawa.”
“Oh, that’s right. Is this your 5th year here? You’re so young, and yet you’re the sports anchor for such a reputable news program. That’s incredible.”
“No way, I’m not incredible at all.”
“Yeah, you’re right. So don’t make that mistake again and let it get to your head, you second-rate hack.”
The half-joking voice changed into something that could cut like a knife. Whenever Sakae brought out this voice during meetings or filming, most directors would start shaking in fear.
“Don’t tell me you think of yourself on Asou’s or Kunieda’s level. Take away your looks and your youth, and you’re the same as all the lousy announcers out there. So quit your annoying yapping and get out of my face.”
Shin thought that Tatsuki was probably still calm after hearing everything that was said to him. Somehow he knew that Tatsuki was going, Hmm, what to do, as he thought about how to respond. But Shin was in too much of a panic, and he couldn’t utter a word. It wasn’t rare to have Sakae go off on someone, but because that person was Tatsuki, Shin couldn’t find a way to intervene and calm the situation down.
“Now, now, now, now!”
Thankfully they had very experienced comedians here to cheerfully cut through the tense atmosphere. If the timing was a second too fast or too slow, the tension could ratchet up in an instant.
“Let’s drop it, Souma-san. It’s ’bout time to head off anyway.”
“That’s right, that’s right. Nawada, sorry, but could ya return our trays for us?”
“Oh, yes, of course.”
Tatsuki helped Shin carry the trays to the return counter. Shin was grateful for his help, but he would probably be happier if Tatsuki just left him alone.
But Tatsuki spoke up very much normally.
“Was he complimenting me for my looks? Or was he dissing me except for my looks? Which one was it?”
They dropped the trays off on the slow-moving conveyor system. Tatsuki didn’t even grumble, and when Shin saw his back walking off, he felt incredibly guilty.
“Umm… I’m sorry.”
“Why are you apologizing, Nacchan?”
There was a brightness in Tatsuki’s voice, but he sounded like he wouldn’t tolerate a vague explanation. Shin couldn’t say anything. He finished cleaning up the table and headed to the staff room for GoGo. He bumped into the performers that he was just with, and they asked him, “What was wrong with Souma-san?”
“Sorry, I ain’t too sure myself… It looked like they had never met before today.”
“Maybe he just rubbed him the wrong way.”
“He hates people, so I can see it.”
“There’s no one more unreasonable than ’im.”
“His personality’s a complete failure.”
The performers would pretty much badmouth Sakae like this every day, but Shin didn’t think anything of it. They didn’t accept Sakae’s personality, but they trusted him to make a good TV show. They understood that Sakae put himself on the line for the show more anyone—that he poured his soul and blood into it, and they shared an unspoken promise that they would each do everything they could for the show. That was why they could overlook his arrogance and outrageousness. It was more unbearable to work for a producer who might be an upstanding person but only made terrible and boring TV.
“Oh, yeah, Nawada. I know it’s last minute, but Motor Coil’s gonna be in town this Saturday for a performance. Can ya put ’em up at your place again?”
“Sure, it’s no problem.”
“Sorry to trouble ya again, but they ain’t got any friends here yet.”
Comedy duos from Osaka, when they were invited out to Tokyo to perform a live show, they would typically take the cheap overnight bus the day before the show to get in and take it right back to get out. If they wanted to spend the least amount of money possible but still get some rest and a shower before the performance, then they would need to know someone with a place they could use. And so Shin would offer up his apartment for young comedians to borrow from time to time. It wasn’t like he was home very often, and they would clean the place up for him afterwards. He didn’t think it was trouble at all.
“Umm, where’s Souma-san…?”
They made a cigarette gesture, so Shin headed to the smoking area. Sakae was there by himself looking out the window.
It was normal for Shin to never get a reply, but the profile of Sakae’s face today required him to muster up a lot of courage to continue talking.
“I heard that you hate the news, Souma-san. May I ask you why you hate it?”
Shin knew that there was a high possibility that he would scowl and give him a non-answer, that he hated what he hated, but Sakae answered him without taking his cigarette from his mouth.
“What’s so fun about filming reality? I’d rather make my living making people laugh than exploiting their misfortunes.”
Normally Shin would answer, That’s true, and withdraw, but he wet his lips with his tongue a few times and spoke up.
“I think the news is fun too. Yes, it’s reality… But they don’t just broadcast reality with nothin’ else to it. They want the viewers to watch the show, so there’s editin’ and directin’ involved just like a variety show. And it’s a live broadcast, so everyone’s workin’ at their limit to try to get everythin’ done in time.”
Shin didn’t have any conviction behind his argument, and his faltering words were interrupted in an instant.
“Is what you have to say interesting?”
The question was asking, Is it worth me listening to you talk? Shin’s heart literally shrank at his words. He could feel the pain of the blood vessels freezing inside his chest, impeding his pulse. It scared him. That Sakae might kick him off the show because he thought Shin was being irritating or defiant. That he might suddenly lose the place that he had spent years building for himself. Shin hung his head and replied, “I’m sorry, it’s nothing.” Then he left the smoking area. Alone in the empty hallway, Shin let out a long and deep sigh. When Sakae was in a good mood, Shin could joke around with him, but when Sakae was in a foul mood, he could only back away and keep his head down, using obedience as an umbrella to keep the storm from hitting him. That was how everyone who worked for Sakae coped through their jobs, and that was what Shin had learned and never once questioned. But right now, he felt ashamed of himself. When he thought about the reason why, it was because he compared himself to Tatsuki, who said anything that he thought needed saying to anyone, no matter who they were, without batting an eye.
Minagawa isn’t mistaken. And he’s isn’t lousy.
That was what Shin really wanted to say.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.