Chapter 15: Secrets and Irises (2)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
Just like most businesses in Japan, the end of the year was a hectic time for the TV industry. Editing and scripting were things that could be done over the New Year’s holiday break, but for operations like making appointments with the contacts from the shooting locations, coordinating the agenda, and the actual shooting—if any of the involved parties were on vacation, it essentially put a stop to the entire process. It was already mid-December when Shitara had dropped the new assignment into his lap, and with the live report and broadcast scheduled for the top third of January, Shin had to rush to polish up the concept and planning for the video, negotiating with a bunch of different places, and somehow he managed to complete a number of shoots before the end of the year was out. They visited a sports science university to take advantage of the latest technology to measure physical strength and undergo sprint training. They selected shoes and athletic apparel at the giant flagship store of a sports apparel brand. They also planned to do some meditation training at a Zen temple to increase concentration, but they would save that after the New Year. The length of the Lucky Man race was a mere 200 meters plus change, in other words, the winner would be decided in less than 30 seconds; that was why Shin had to pad the video with additional content.
But no matter how hectic things were, he would take special measures to celebrate the special times in his personal life. He would find the time for it.
“…Hmm, did ya body change or somethin’?”
Shin looked up at the body that had thrown off all its clothes, and he ran his hands all over the arms and chest. Even without the dim light from the bedside table, Tatsuki’s bare skin seemed to radiate a healthy glow.
“Huh? Really? I wonder if it’s because of the gym and the high-protein diet I’ve been following? But it’s not like I want to build muscle, so I haven’t been lifting weights though. And I haven’t had to adjust my belt either.”
“Yeah, it ain’t that ya gained or lost weight, it’s just somethin’ different.”
There was a feeling like Tatsuki’s body was primed and waiting. Like a spring waiting to jump out the moment the lid was removed. Like water in a pot with bubbles stuck to the metal surface waiting to boil. Tatsuki was really looking forward to the Lucky Man race, and his body said it more clearly than any words or facial expressions.
Shin stroked the perfect shoulders as he thought, Just a lil’ more ’til the day arrives, and he became a little embarrassed that he said that Tatsuki’s body had changed. Up until a few months ago, he couldn’t even imagine that he could touch someone like this.
“Nacchan… Is it okay, now? Here—”
Fingers and lips—and heat—exceeded his imagination, his flashbacks.
“Oh, right, Shitara-san said he’d give me an assistant.”
“Oh, you mean Tsuzuki-san?”
“Yeah. How’d ya know?”
“He’s someone I know. When I told him about the shoot, he said that he wanted to come too. What did Shitara-san say?”
“That’s he’s the filmmaker who made the show’s openin’, an’ he’s gone out on a shoot for us before so he knows the process. An’ that I should add ’im to our Shinkansen an’ hotel arrangements.”
“Oh, he said that he would pay his own expenses, but I’m glad the show will foot the bill.”
Shin felt a little overheated under the covers with their shared body heat, and when he stuck his toes out, Tatsuki hooked a leg over his to tangle them together.
“Huh? Why do you seem a little down?”
“He’s an animation artist an’ filmmaker, right? He ain’t somebody who normally does odd jobs an’ errands. I dun really know how to approach ’im.”
Using people and relying on them had always been a weakness of Shin’s, and there were times when Shitara had warned him not to overwork himself, that he should delegate or ask others for help. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust other people, but if he was going to throw off their schedules or burden them with more work (or get unwilling or unhappy looks from them), then it was easier for him to take on the burden himself. Shin was timid and poor at communication; and telling him to use a certifiable pro from a similar though different field—he was ready to lose his nerve just thinking about it.
“What’s he thinkin’ in the first place, wantin’ to come all the way to Hyogo? If he’s lookin’ for some artistic inspiration, I feel like he’s gonna be disappointed…”
“Nacchan, you’re overthinking things!”
Tatsuki pressed against Shin, coiling their legs together from the knees down, and he laughed, “He’s not the type of person to be bothered by it.”
“But he’s older, right?”
“He’s the same age as Kunieda-san. Even if you order him around, he won’t get mad. It seemed like he wanted to take a look around since he was in the area for his own work.”
“Okay, if that’s the case.”
To be honest, he couldn’t really trust Tatsuki’s opinion because he would always play up the good sides of the people he knew, but Shin did feel a little better about it and relaxed.
“Oh, right, I almost forgot. Tsuzuki-san is really hot, so don’t let your eyes wander, okay?”
“What are ya even sayin’…?”
After the New Year holiday, there was no letting off the gas pedal with his avalanche of work, but somehow he was able to get all the preparations done in time, and soon the day of their trip arrived. They planned to meet at Tokyo Station at 7 am: Shin showed up 15 minutes early, Kei arrived 10 minutes early, and Tatsuki showed up roughly on time, with someone next to him.
“We ran into each other coming in.”
Oh, so this was the rumored Tsuzuki… umm, oh right… Tsuzuki Ushio-san. Shin nervously bowed and said, “Good morning.” He pulled out his card case with his business cards and tried to exchange a proper greeting, but Tatsuki made his introduction, an unnecessary one, for him instead.
“This is the director, Nacchan.”
“Hey!” Shin cried angrily.
“Hey, nice to meet you, Nacchan. I’m Tsuzuki.”
Shin was flustered, but Ushio smiled like he didn’t care about formalities. And at that moment Shin understood that he’d be an easy guy to work and get along with. Tatsuki had been right with his assessment. He definitely wasn’t the type of person who would say, “Don’t worry about me,” and then throw a fit when he didn’t get preferential treatment. Tatsuki could immediately grab someone with just his smile, but Ushio was his opposite in a way—he gave off a sense of security like he could accept pretty much anything.
And Tatsuki hadn’t exaggerated when he called Ushio hot. Shin hadn’t taken him seriously, probably because they had just finished up in bed, but he was secretly a little shocked. Men and women with a bit of good looks were a dime a dozen, and he had seen plenty of them himself. He thought himself to be pretty immune by now, but seeing Ushio, he thought it was a waste that such a handsome man was working behind the scenes. Not that his eye was wandering.
“What platform are we?” Ushio asked, very naturally taking the camera bag that Shin had carried on his shoulder.
“Platform 18. Here is your ticket. Um, I was told that I only needed to arrange for a one-way fare, but is it really all right with you?”
“Yeah, tomorrow after the shoot, I have my own work to take care of, and I don’t know what time it’ll be done.”
“You must have it tough.”
“You’re the one who has it tough. It’s a real slap and dash this time. You whipping up the rear too, Nacchan?”
“Huh? What’s with gangster-like lingo?”
“It means bein’ responsible for the finished video.”
“Ohhh, I didn’t know that.”
They boarded the Nozomi1 and went to sit in their reserved seats, two rows of seats front and back of each other, and Tatsuki immediately tried rotating the seats to face them together.
“Hey, stop it. We’re ain’t on an outin’.”
“Whaaat? But it’d be fun~”
“Ya can’t. Ya already loud enough as ya are, ya just gonna bother Kunieda-san!”
Kei had already pulled out a massive hardcover book from his bag. “He’s not a bother,” he gently intervened, “but the shooting schedule does appear pretty hard. I think it would be a good idea to nap a little.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Shin agreed.
They returned the bank of seats back to its position, and soon it was time for the train to depart. Not much time had passed when Ushio called out to them over the back of their seats.
“Did you two have breakfast?”
“Nope. I’m starving!” Tatsuki answered cheerfully.
“What about you, Nacchan?”
“I haven’t eaten either. I was planning on buying food for everyone from the food cart…”
“Oh, then you can have these. Here.”
Ushio passed them a paper bag, and inside it was filled with wrapped rice balls and hard-boiled eggs.
“Huh? Did you take the time to make these for us?”
“I was already making my own portion, so I thought I might as well. I didn’t use my bare hands to make the rice balls, but are you okay with ones that aren’t store-bought?”
“Oh, um, yes, I’m fine…”
Shin could only reply in surprise and gratitude, but Tatsuki didn’t pay attention to any of it.
“Oh, look, you’re ready for an outing too, Tsuzuki-san~”
“Say thank you first!” Shin admonished.
The hard-boiled eggs were already salted and tasty, and he ate the rice balls while he watched the view out of the window. There were three different flavors: pickled vegetables in sake lees mixed with perilla leaves in rice, sesame seeds with salmon, and shredded chicken marinated in ginger. All of them were delicious. They were still a bit warm, and that made him feel like he had a great meal. Tatsuki ate until they reached Shin Yokohama Station, and then he complained, “Tsuzuki-san, oh no, there’s not enough.”
“There’s nothing I can do about that. Go buy something from the cart lady.”
The food cart was just one car ahead of them coming their way, so Shin turned around and asked, “Would you like tea or coffee?”
“Hmm, can I get a coffee?”
“Yes. What about you, Kunieda-san…?”
“No, thank you, I’m fine.”
“All right. If you would like anythin’ to drink, please let me know. I also have room-temperature water with me.”
“Nacchan, I want a sandwich and ice cream!”
Tatsuki even had his fill of dessert, and happy and sated, he leaned against the window to take a nap—though it probably had nothing to do with Kei’s suggestion. Now that the seat next to him was thankfully quiet, Shin opened up his laptop to check the edits on the clips that were completed. While he made little detailed adjustments to the edits, before he knew it, the Shinkansen had passed Nagoya. There was a beautiful view of the snow-covered mountains around Sekigahara, and Shin wanted to wake Tatsuki up to show him the view, but he changed his mind when he saw that Tatsuki was deep asleep. Shin collected the empty cups from the coffee and ice cream and stood up to see that the aisle seat behind him was empty. He asked Kei, who was seated next to the window, “Do you have trash to dispose?” and Kei looked up from his book and shook his head.
“I’m fine, thank you.”
He was quite far into his book. Did he decide to read instead of sleep? Shin had worn his earphones and couldn’t hear anything while he worked, but he wondered if Kei had shared a conversation with Ushio at all. Apparently they had known each other from previous interviews and shoots, but Shin was curious what kind of things that they would talk about. He tried imagining it—since they were both such pleasant people, maybe it would be soft and harmonious?
Shin went out to the gangway to dispose the trash, and Ushio was standing there by the door.
“Oh, hey, Nacchan.”
“Is anythin’ the matter? Could it be that you get motion sickness? I have medicine for that.”
“No, no.” Ushio pointed out the window. “You can see Lake Biwa coming up soon.”
“Yeah. Once you hit around Maibara, then it’s Yasu, and then… Oh, look, there it is.”
Shin went up to the window to look outside, and beyond the short rows of houses was the surface of a lake, like a shallow sake dish filled with water, sparkling in the sun.
“Oh, ya right!”
The moment he thought that he could see it, it was already fading in the distance. It was but a brief 10-second view—but something that someone had understood to be there and something that someone had actually seen with their own eyes—those experiences were entirely different. And maybe that was one component of his work that made Shin feel like his job in TV was worth doing. He had the means to show people what he had seen. Although it also included an impatience in his bones that he couldn’t shove all the surprise and delight that he felt into a single package to pass on to the viewers.
Maybe because they had shared a brief view of the scenery outside, but Ushio’s profile felt closer to him than it did before. Shin felt a strong urge to talk to him about all the different things he was thinking about for this assignment, but from the standpoint of their fresh acquaintance, it wouldn’t be proper. He felt like it would be too presumptuous of him, and he held himself back. But if Tatsuki was in the same position, he would probably say whatever was on his mind.
“Hmm? What’s wrong?”
Ushio seemed to have sensed that Shin wanted to say something. Maybe it had been written on his face.
“Oh, um, uh… Are you good friends with Kunieda-san?”
Maybe the question was still rather rude; however, Ushio answered it easily. “I’d say so,” he said. “What about you, Nacchan?”
“Huh? …Oh, um, I only interact with him for work.”
Shin hadn’t expected the question to be turned back to him, and although what he said was the truth, it sounded too cold, and he hastily took back his words.
“No, um, I don’t mean that he’s cold or anythin’. Kunieda-san is always very kind to everybody, but he ain’t the type to chat an’ gossip with people. The only one who goes up to talk to him is pretty much Minagawa… Hmm, it’d be rude of me to characterize what we are, I guess.”
Ushio seemed to find something amusing about Shin’s difficulty to explain himself.
“Okay, then what kind of person is Kunieda-san from your point of view, Nacchan?”
“He’s someone who is always workin’, I suppose.”
“Well, that’s a given since you see him at work.”
“But even when we have some free time, or when people are gossipin’ together, he never takes a timeout. I’ve never seen anybody like him. When we’re not busy preparin’ for the broadcast, he’s either reading a newspaper, or researching something… Even right now, the book that’s he readin’—a commentator who appears on the show wrote it.”
“It ain’t been half a year since I came to The News, but I was really surprised that such a flawless person existed. But then…”
The quiet expanse of mountains and fields shined so brightly that Shin had to squint his eyes. The high-speed train plowed forward, breaking up the view of the scenery.
“Shitara-san said this to me, that Kunieda-san’s a product of tireless dedication and hard work. So the person I see ain’t really the reality here, he’s a person who tries really, really hard to be the person he decided that he wanted others to see. An’ I think that’s more amazin’ than the person that I think I see.”
“…I see.” Ushio nodded. “We’ll arrive at Kyoto soon, so we should go wake Minagawa.”
“Oh, you’re right.”
They were about to step back into the train car, when Ushio stopped in front of Shin with his back towards him.
“Nacchan,” he murmured.
Shin couldn’t see what kind of expression he was making, and he didn’t know why Ushio was thanking him in the first place. But Shin did understand that he had put his heart into it.
“Oi~ Minagawa~ Wake up, we’re almost at Kyoto.”
“Nnn~ …Good morning~ Kyoto? Don’t we have plenty of time until we arrive at Shin Kobe~?”
“We’re getting off at Shin Osaka. We’re supposed to shoot you eating kushikatsu skewers2 for good luck, then after that we head to Nishinomiya Shrine. Didn’t you read the shooting schedule?”
“Oh, that’s right~ Sorry, it’s just me waking up~”
This degree of absentmindedness in a way probably made Shin feel more relieved than unshakable perfection. They completed a shoot at a shop inside the station, met up with Kansai Asahi at their minibus, and headed to Nishinomiya Shrine. The coverage for the live national broadcast was limited to the race that started at 6 am, but the local stations would cover the festivities live before and after the race.
“Is it really okay to give us four live coverage spots?”
Each segment on the air was roughly 10 minutes. They probably decided to give them a full segment’s worth of time from their regular format to show that it was worth their while to come all the way here by Shinkansen, but Shin was pretty nervous about having to go live a bunch of times over the course of the morning.
The Kansai Asahi director answered, “The numbers gonna be ’orrible anyway. There ain’t any real news happenin’… Last year our worst day o’ the year was Comin’ of Age Day.”
“True, it’s real tough for early mornin’ shows in the winter.”
When the sun rose later, people’s activity times also followed suit. Plus with a holiday, there was nothing the production side could do to change this reality.
“Yup. That’s why we were thinkin’ this year, we should do what we wanted. But it ain’t like we got money to splurge on fancy shoots or special guests. It was a real lifesaver when we got the request from Asahi TV to do the live coverage. It feels more rare an’ special to get an announcer from the flagship station than some C-list TV personality, right? We air the shows they appear in, but they never come out to Osaka normally.”
Shin had grown up in Osaka, but this was his first time visiting Nishinomiya Shrine. It sat quietly in the city, accessible by the regular and Hanshin Express stations, and the forest and the shrine took up an area similar to Koshien Stadium. They greeted the Head Priest and the shrine staff members and proceeded with their plans for the day which included meetings, discussions, and inspection of the grounds.
“I would like to introduce the course that Announcer Minagawa will be running in the race. The start line begins at the main gate, also known as the Red Gate… This stunning red-lacquered gate has the designation of one of Japan’s important cultural properties. The Lucky Man race starts with the doors of the gate slowly opening for the runners.”
Kei walked briskly as Shin manned the camera and shuffled backwards to keep him in the shot, while Ushio captured Kei from behind with his own camera. A poor announcer would have read each sentence line by line from cue cards prepared beforehand, but naturally, Kei had no need for them. He introduced what he saw with his own words as he walked.
“We begin with a 50-meter straightaway, where the lead pack will start to break away from the group. However, here, a sharp corner awaits them. This is the first hazard of the course. Please observe the ground. The path changes from concrete to stone tiles, and it can become quite slippery. If it rains, or a mist covers the ground from the cold winter morning, rounding this corner at full speed can be incredibly dangerous. This is where Ebisu-sama asks the participants to weigh their options, and so the corner has been dubbed the Curve of Balance.”
Shin thought once again, Kunieda-san’s delivery is really mysterious. Tatsuki’s voice and speech were well-suited for a sports announcer, and he had the power to amplify the energy and excitement on the field to pull the listeners there with him, but as for Kei, the moment the words came out of his mouth, the world seemed to pop in 3D. Even simply listening to Kei without any images—or even if people born without sight were to listen to him—Kei could draw the exact same images that Shin saw with his eyes, right into people’s brains. At least, that was the feeling that Shin got. There weren’t any long-winded explanations or hyperbolic expressions of emotions, but the listeners could very easily imagine what was happening. Shin didn’t know if it was a gift that he had from birth or if it was one of his accomplishments from that tireless dedication and hard work of his.
“—And with this last sharp corner, we reach the finish line at the main hall of Nishinomiya Shrine. Let’s see who will conquer this 230-meter course and come out on top.”
“Cut, that was great.”
It was a perfect single take. All that was left was to shoot Tatsuki paying homage to the shrine and drawing his fortune.
“I drew my fortune to see what my luck will be for the race tomorrow. And my fortune is… slightly good luck. Let’s see…”
Tatsuki laughed out loud and turned to show the fortune to the camera.
“Under the Wishes section, it says, ‘Be prepared; however, obstructions arise from amorous desires.’ …Just what does this mean? Should I interpret this that in the end I will come in first? However, the words ‘amorous desires’ do sound quite slanderous…”
Shin cut the camera while Tatsuki grumbled.
“Should I retake the fortune?” Tatsuki asked. “Until I get excellent luck?”
“Ya can’t. That’s staging it.”
“It’s just a production decision.”
“I-t-’-s- -s-t-a-g-i-n-g- -i-t.”
Shin ignored Tatsuki and faced the crew.
“Thank you, everybody, good work for now,” he called out. “Next we’ll reconvene at 8:30 pm by the Red Gate. We’re free to disband for now, and I look forward to working with you again tonight.”
Tatsuki kept pestering him about the fortune even after the crew was dismissed for the time being.
“It’s a better sign of things to come if I can get excellent luck.”
“Dun add more hurdles for yaself.”
To be honest, Shin wanted to retake the scene too a little. Because “obstructions from amorous desires” just sounded too specifically ominous.
It’ll be okay. I ain’t gonna mess up spectacularly, right?
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
- Nozomi is the fastest service train on the Tokyo-Osaka Shinkansen route.
- Kushikatsu – Skewers of deep-fried meat and vegetables. Katsu means ‘win’ so it’s for good luck.