Chapter 1: Open It Up (1)
Translator’s Note: The Japanese title Hiraite has many meanings just like Fusaide. It is used to describe the act of something spreading open, blooming open, or unfolding open. It is a different open from opening a bottle or a door (unless it’s a double door and they both open at the same time), but it can apply to abstract concepts of opening, like opening a new business, opening a ceremony or a meeting, or opening things to the public. As for a dirtier meaning, it is what you would say when you want someone to spread their legs open.
“—A male director in his thirties who works for a production company has filed a lawsuit that contains allegations of harassment such as verbal abuse from a male chief producer of a television news program. The director is…”
…Ugh, shut up.
He fumbled for the remote and turned off the TV. He rolled back onto the sofa and stared at the ceiling. Apparently he had fallen asleep with the TV on. With the remote in hand, he wondered in a daze, Was that a dream just now? Or was it real news on TV? …Whatever, it didn’t matter. Instead of the turning the TV back on to get the answer to his question, Sakae slowly got up from the sofa. He should probably go take a shower. And since it was his first day today, maybe he should wear a suit… Too bothersome, just a jacket would be fine. It wasn’t like he planned to go around and introduce himself politely to everyone.
He was about to head for the bathroom when he was stopped by the ringing of his cell phone that had been thrown into the corner of the sofa. He frowned a little when he saw the name Shitara Sousuke as the caller, but he answered it without a word.
“Morning, are you awake?”
The tone of voice was cheerful, so he knew that at least there wasn’t any trouble or emergency.
Sakae responded, “What is it?”
“It’s a wake-up call.”
“It would leave a bad impression if you were to suddenly show up late, you know.”
“That’s none of your business.”
Sakae continued to scowl as he ran his fingers roughly through his hair.
“Don’t call me if you’ve got no real business for me.”
“When I have real business for you, it’s probably a huge problem that you’ll need to resolve. So which do you prefer?”
“They’re both goddamn awful choices.”
He knew bitterly well how much trouble the problems could be. Despite the rude comment, the man who was his former boss—and starting today his new boss—let it slide with good humor. He sounded happy as he said, “Well, I’ll see you later,” and hung up.
Did he really just call to wake him up? Do you have nothing else to do? Sakae muttered, abandoning his cell phone.
About an hour later, instead of the Contents Division where he had been assigned up until today, Sakae reported to the staff room of The News located in one corner of the news floor for his first day with the show.
The caller from this morning and the head honcho of this area, Shitara, stood up and pointed at the desks.
“Feel free to sit anywhere you’d like. No one has a fixed desk where they sit except me, but well, people do tend to congregate in the same spots regardless… You can put your work and stuff away in your personal locker. The staff will show up according to their roles, but we’ll be busy by the time everyone’s gathered, so how about we save the introductions for after the broadcast?”
“No need. I’m sure that everyone knows me anyway.”
About half a year ago, he was forced to help out on the show due to an irregularity, so they were probably aware of Souma Sakae’s existence. Plus the news of his transfer was pretty well-known.
“We can’t do that. There are staff members who weren’t there that day. Oh, right, tell me if you have any specific days when you prefer to have your welcome party.”
“Do you think that I’ll attend?”
“Aren’t I giving you this warning because I think that you won’t?”
Shitara’s smile was always more polished than usual when he gave his warnings. It was smooth and frictionless, and the insults and glares that Sakae shot at him slid right off the surface. He couldn’t even put a crack in it. Nevertheless, Sakae didn’t answer him and chose a desk as far away as possible to set up shop. He piled all the morning newspapers on the desk with a thud and checked the articles as he looked at the interview schedule and the status of the manuscripts on his laptop.
“Oi, what’s the rundown for today?”
“If you’re going to ask me questions at the drop of a hat, then you should just come and sit next to me.”
“It’s unnatural to sit next to you when the place is still so empty.”
“Is it though? Well, I’m still thinking about the top stories for today. They’re kind of small beans and lack a decisive factor, you know? It’s a Monday, so we’ll go heavier on sports. We’ll have a live report on nighttime cherry blossoms for the weather corner, and there’s one video segment that we’ve reserved for a special report. We’ll put together the full rundown when the broadcast director gets in.”
The show aired at 10 pm, and right now it was a little before noon. This was essentially how things went. As the day went on, the evening papers would come in and the daytime talk news programs would transition into the evening news—the affairs of the day were always continuously changing. It had been a while since Sakae had worked on a live program. He had worked in entertainment production before moving to the Contents Division, and most of his career had been spent on making variety shows. And before that he had spent several months working for Shitara at the evening news. It didn’t require any deep thinking to know that he was a beginner when it came to the news. But he guessed that the reason he was here and given the extravagant title of Chief Producer was due to the insistence of the General Producer who sat diagonally across the room from him. Although Shitara had no strong fixation with power, when necessity demanded it, he showed no hesitation in pushing his weight around.
The staff gradually started to gather, and most of them would stop by to see Sakae and greet him politely like meek little cats with a Good Morning or a I look forward to working with you. Sakae kept his eyes trained on his reading material and gave vague replies like Yeah or Thanks, and then they would scamper away like they had dropped a load off their shoulders.
Well, it is what it is.
He had pretty much expected this reaction. Naturally he was well aware of his reticence, his rudeness, his utter disregard for other people, and how it all contributed to his poor reputation. It didn’t bother him one bit because he didn’t care what others thought about him.
The first time Sakae properly raised his head from the papers was when he heard Shin’s voice—the AD (and his underling) from his variety show days.
“Good morning! Um, I look forward to working with you again.”
Sakae thought that Shin was probably the only person in the world who emitted such a happy aura when he saw him. He didn’t know if he was mentally weak or the opposite, but they had worked together for quite a long time, and it was still a mystery to Sakae that in defiance to all the trouble and hardship that Shin had faced, he continued to be his underling.
It was a slightly more proper answer than anything he had said up until now, and while he was at it, he remembered something that he wanted to ask.
“Oh right, Shin.”
“Let me be the floor manager today.”
Sakae ignored the very bewildered-looking Shin and directed a question over his head at Shitara. “It’s not a problem, right?”
“What are you suggesting all of a sudden?”
“I was the broadcast director the other time, so I want to be the floor manager today.”
That way he could have an overhead view of both the control room and the studio. He was well aware that it was outside the scope of his job as the adjunct showrunner, but he wanted to experience it at least once for himself.
“I was thinking that you should just observe things for today.”
“That’s more tiresome for me.”
“It’s fine with me if Nawada says that it’s okay.”
“You heard him,” Sakae said, looking back at Shin again.
Shin looked nervous as he asked, “Does that mean that my floor is that bad? If there’s somethin’ wrong with it, please tell me what it is.”
“How would I know? I only watched you that one time. I personally want to see what it’s like, so I’m asking you to switch with me for today.”
“Oh, is that so…?”
Shin’s face relaxed as soon as he heard this, and so Sakae took it to be his OK. The staff room gradually filled with people, and when the final stretch for the evening news ended, they passed the baton over to the nightly news with all of its haste and frenzy. Since Sakae was the floor manager for today, he basically kept his mouth shut when it came to finalizing the stories for the show and the discussion of its contents—even when it came to the videos and scripts. He prepared the cue cards for each of the stories, clipped them together in the order of the rundown, and drilled into his head the set arrangements of the studio and the camera work that would be needed over the course of the show. As the finished captions and graphics work started to come in, Sakae accepted a stack of printouts and checked for typos and mistakes at breakneck speed. Even though the director and the desk editor had double-checked them beforehand, there were still small mistakes here and there that he found.
“The suspect’s name appears with the regular kanji for ‘high,’ but sometimes it’s in the ladder form. Which one is it? And for this opinion poll, did the calendar year get mixed up with the fiscal year?”
He felt like little by little the floor at his feet slanted upwards. He slowly leaned into it, picking up his pace with the incline until his jog turned into an outright sprint. He chased the time, and the time chased him. It wasn’t fear that caused his heart to race. It was the sensation of this live broadcast—just short of an hour—as it condensed and took form. He concentrated on his work. He immersed himself in it. He faced it seriously— No, that wasn’t right. He knew of nothing that was more fun than this; that was all there was to it.
The presenters gathered one after another in the studio, and the sports news anchor Minagawa Tatsuki made a racket with his loud voice.
“Souma-san’s on the floor today? Seriously? That’s some incredible pressure~! I feel like I’ll be killed if I trip over my words~”
“I only wish there was a law like that.”
The eyes that went with the generous smile were not smiling. He was very much the type to relish in the thrill of unexpected curveballs that came his way, and he probably thought to himself, Just you watch and see. The brat got on his nerves, yeah, but sure, he’d take on that fight if he wanted one.
They rehearsed the prop changes and large-scale graphics that would be used in the studio, and when they completed their final checks, the time finally approached 10 pm.
“Good evening. Please join us tonight at The News. Our first topic for the show is…”
The host Asou opened the show, and the sub-anchor Kunieda delivered the lead-in for the video.
“It has been reported that a pattern of misbehavior and harassment by an executive leader at the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism has plagued the staff there. Asahi TV has obtained an interview with this executive leader who claims that he wasn’t aware that any harassment had taken place.”
The video rolled, and Sakae felt a slight relief when the studio no longer appeared on screen. However, if there happened to be a malfunction and the video suddenly cut out, there was the possibility of falling back to the studio, so he couldn’t completely relax. But in one corner of his mind, he thought to himself, Another harassment story? Uh, what was the other one? Oh right, from this morning. So that story was real after all? Of course, the thoughts only occupied a corner of his mind, and his concentration was mostly on the broadcast. While he listened to the situation in the control room over the headset, Sakae held out the cue cards that indicated the remaining time of the video. He looked around the studio and tried to discern from the staff’s expressions if they understood their roles and the next steps that were needed as the show progressed. A mood was just starting to develop within this space. How should he warm it up for an hour? How should he mold it?
It was the floor manager’s job to put the performers at ease. Even if the control room had turned into a war zone, he had to appear calm and composed in front of them. He was the one that the performers relied on, and he had to be an existence that they could trust—but that wasn’t something that could happen in a single day. He was born with zero skills that were necessary to encourage and uplift others, and so he had decided that he would do things his own way.
“We’re one minute behind.”
Their guest commentator today was a former government official. He had been in a different ministry, but he had a lot to talk about on the subject of harassment and abuse of power. He spoke fervently during the discussion, and they quickly went over their allotted time. Sakae did nothing to stop him. He just listened to the discussion silently. An AD tried to issue a cue card that said Please wrap it up, but Sakae restrained his hand and prevented him from doing so. He let the discussion go uninterrupted—because he thought that it was a fascinating account of Kasumigaseki1 from an insider and what he said about anger was a powerful statement. Why did people who worked hard at their jobs have to suffer for such a thing? The indignation was simple and honest—and also reasonable. His expression and voice were also great as well.
So cough up even more of it.
They were 1 minute 30 seconds behind. 1 minute 45 seconds behind. 2 minutes behind… For an hour-long program, they had less than 50 minutes of airtime, not including commercials. Although it was still the start of the show, it was quite a predicament to be running two minutes behind, and Sakae knew this.
“Please wrap up the discussion.”
The broadcast director seemed to have finally lost his patience and issued the instructions himself.
“AD, give the signal to wrap it up.”
“You don’t have to give it,” Sakae commanded. “They’re still on fire here.”
“But we’re two minutes behind, and it’s getting long though.”
“It’s still a good discussion. The host isn’t cutting him off, and he’s responding well to him.”
Whenever they fell behind schedule, people would panic and they never really listened to the contents of what was happening. But the viewers didn’t care about the length of the segments when they watched a show.
“What will we do then?”
“I’ll think about it as we go along.”
Everyone behind the scenes in the studio understood just how far behind schedule they were, and they were starting to get restless, but Sakae gave his reply calmly.
“That’s far too lax…”
“It’ll be fine. If this continues, I can see it ending within 30 seconds.”
And then he heard a frantic cry over the headset, “We’re 2 minutes 45 seconds behind.” The pillar of the studio was the floor manager. The pillar of the control room was the broadcast director. It was inevitable for conflict to occur between the two sides on a live broadcast. Shin likely wouldn’t have done things so forcefully, but Sakae didn’t want to pour water on the discussion that had heated up so nicely. And yet when he had been the broadcast director, he wanted to yell at everyone to follow his orders, so yeah, it was pretty self-centered of him.
But look, this is fascinating.
When the presenters, the studio, and the control room clashed from all three directions, it produced dizzying heights that could be seen live on TV. They would win some, they would lose some—and sometimes get burned by the sparks. It was damn thrilling.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
- Kasumigaseki is a district in Chiyoda Ward in Tokyo, and most of the cabinet ministry offices are located there.