Chapter 10: Open It Up (10)
The flight back was supposed to take 14 hours, but the arrival was delayed about an hour due to turbulence. By the time Sakae got home, it was around 11 at night.
When Sakae saw Shitara standing at the entrance to his apartment building, the nausea that overcame him wasn’t due to surprise, panic, or happiness. It was a sensation more primitive than emotion—an instinct even.
Apparently Shitara had only just arrived. He had taken out the spare key from his jacket and was about to input the unlock code when he stopped in his movements.
“I said that I’m starving. I completely forgot about it.”
He hadn’t felt like eating on the plane, and the only things he had put into his stomach were copious amounts of alcohol and some mixed nuts. Sakae just suddenly realized this.
“It’s unusual to hear you complain of hunger. Were you fasting or something?”
It didn’t seem like Shitara had any idea where Sakae had gone.
“Want to eat out somewhere? I’m not hungry though.”
“I’m too exhausted to eat out.”
His entire body creaked and ached from sitting for more than an entire day in total from his two flights. He almost wanted that masseuse from the other day to show him hell again.
“But you don’t have any food at your place though… I guess there’s no other choice.”
Shitara put the key back into his pocket. He said, “I’ll go buy something,” and headed out again. So Sakae went up to his apartment by himself, sank down on the sofa, and stared up at the ceiling. When he closed his eyes, he couldn’t get the roaring echo from inside the plane out of his head. Shitara was back before 10 minutes had elapsed, and he started rummaging through the kitchen. What? So he was going to make something? Sakae tried to lie down on the sofa, but Shitara told him, “Hey, don’t do that.”
“If you lie down right now, you’ll fall asleep there. And if you fall asleep, you’ll become dead to the world, and you won’t wake up no matter how I try to wake you.”
“It’s not ‘probably’; it absolutely will happen. So just bear with it for 10 more minutes and stay upright for me.”
To chase away the drowsiness, Sakae asked, “What did you come here for today?”
“Nothing really. I was on my way home from a dinner that I didn’t really want to attend and felt like dropping by to see how you were.”
“If you didn’t want to go, you should have refused.”
“I can keep them to a minimum, but there’s no way to not attend any of them.”
Shitara pulled out a pot from the cupboard that was last used who knows when. He emptied a can of something into it and heated it up. Sakae couldn’t see what the can was, but when Shitara added milk to the pot and it started to simmer, in time Sakae could smell what it was.
“Thanks for waiting.”
It was a steaming cup of corn soup filled to the brim of a large coffee mug. Instead of croutons, there were pieces of torn sandwich bread floating on the surface.
“It’s pretty late at night, and even if I went all out to make you a bunch of food, you’d probably leave a lot of leftovers anyway… Here, take this.”
Shitara offered him a spoon and sat down on the sofa next to Sakae. When Sakae spooned some soup and brought it up to his mouth, the mild yellow liquid slid down from the spoon and headed for his stomach as it warmed up his throat and esophagus. Sakae never usually felt comforted by food, but this time he could actually feel the nourishment from the ritual. He used the back of the spoon to dunk the pieces of bread into the soup and ate them once they were soaked through. It overflowed with the sweet taste of corn.
“So, where did you go and what were you doing to bring you to the point of utter exhaustion?”
“…Visiting the grave.”
“I don’t feel any love in that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just that I wish that you would pull together a slightly more credible excuse. That was far too slapdash.”
“So it’s fine if I lie to you then.”
“Isn’t it impossible to be truthful all the time?”
He basically asked without saying, It applies to us both, doesn’t it?
“If you’re going to lie, I’d like it to be done with consideration and good faith.”
“Don’t you have it backwards?”
“The truth is nothing more than the honest truth. I think it’s much harder to praise the clothes that you can’t see than to yell, ‘The Emperor is naked!’”
Sakae asked himself some questions. What would he do if he hurt this man by announcing the staging allegations? And if he felt hurt and blamed Sakae for it? It didn’t matter; he’d do it anyway.
Sakae didn’t hesitate for even a second. The answer was so obvious that he didn’t even pause to reconsider it. Sakae wanted to know what the man had been thinking when he very clearly crossed the enormously wide gray zone that had been established in the industry. Sakae wanted to see it for himself. It was a raw curiosity, like wanting to see the innards of a living creature. He wanted to peer at the human who had fallen into the traps that he might have fallen into—the traps that he might one day encounter and fall into himself. It didn’t matter if Shitara wished for it or not. But didn’t Sakae feel bad for him? Sure, it was sad, but so what? There was no contradiction—that ego of Sakae’s existed right there with the feelings that didn’t want Shitara to lose something because of him. It was the same as how Shitara babbled that he loved Sakae and yet told him to trample on him.
“…Remember how I said that we operate on completely different wavelengths?”
“I’m revising what I said. That’s not the case after all.”
You’re screwed up in the head, but I’m not normal either.
The notion that he could try to be “normal” was a hubris to begin with.
“Don’t keep it to yourself, and tell me what changed your mind.”
Shitara reached a hand out for Sakae’s cheek and smiled, like he was reassured to feel the warmed skin heated by the soup.
“But I’m relieved. You’re exhausted, but you look much better. I love this face of yours the most when you’ve found something that engages you.”
Sakae placed his own hand on top of Shitara’s and went for a kiss, squeezing the hand between his fingers. There had been a night a long time ago when Sakae was overwhelmed with anger, confusion, and a sense of loss, and he could only scratch at this hand.
“Don’t regret those words.”
“I hope that you make me regret them though,” Shitara whispered with a tender look. “I want you to do something outrageous, something that makes me go, ‘Damn it, I’m no match for you.’ And I hope that you do it again and again.”
The day came when Sakae put to use the business card that he had perfunctorily accepted.
“I have something that I would like to discuss with you.”
It was a Monday when Sakae called Miyoshi’s cell phone number. Miyoshi was a little surprised by the call, but he readily agreed and said, “I just hope that I can help.”
Miyoshi said that he was free early Wednesday afternoon, so they arranged to meet at Shiba Park. Sakae could have reserved a private room at a restaurant or a hotel room for the meeting, but for some reason, he felt like holding it at a park. Shiba Park was a beautiful park in the city with a view of Tokyo Tower.
Sakae arrived at the plum orchard near the subway station about 10 minutes before their designated meeting time, but Miyoshi had already arrived before him.
“Oh, hello, how are you? Have you already eaten lunch?”
“How about we sit over there and talk?”
Miyoshi pointed to a bench over by the water fountain. It was hot and humid—and not the season for plum blossoms. It was a little early for the rainy season, but the sky was dull with overcast clouds. Sakae was carrying a large tote bag with him, and he placed it on the bench to pull out a pre-adjusted camera and then turned it on.
“…What is this?” Miyoshi narrowed his eyes slightly.
“I’m rolling the camera,” Sakae declared.
He pointed the lens at Miyoshi and went directly to the crux of the matter.
“Inappropriate shooting methods were employed in the production of My Document. In other words, some of the footage was staged.”
The narrowed eyes trained on him didn’t bat a single eyelash. Sakae could feel his pulse transmitted to his fingertips, and he had to make a conscious effort to hold still and keep the camera from shaking as he continued.
“It relates to the episode called Skyscraper Rats that was broadcast two years ago. The homeless man that you introduced as Tim Sutton, a veteran of the Vietnam War, is nothing more than a member of an amateur theater troupe that you hired for the role.”
When Sakae tried to continue and give the man’s real name, Miyoshi raised his hand in a light gesture. Sakae went silent, and a loud truck filled with some kind of cargo rumbled by.
“Where’s the pin mic? You don’t have one with you? Well, I guess if I put one on, that would make it look coordinated and not the surprise interview that you want.”
Miyoshi gave a wry smile and asked, “Do you want a retake? From the question that you were about to ask?”
“…No, it’s fine. I’ll continue. Do you admit to staging the footage?”
He very easily and very clearly admitted it.
“May I ask you some questions of my own? How did you figure it out?”
Sakae told him about McConnell and the small role in the movie that he had appeared in. “Seriously?” Miyoshi said in a bright tone of voice like it was someone else’s problem, and then stared up at the cloudy sky.
“I gave the conditions that the person can’t appear in movies or TV and that they don’t do social media. Well, I guess there’s nothing I can do about it after the show aired. I’m impressed that you noticed it.”
“Why did you stage the footage?”
“Before I answer that, are you sure that you don’t want to change the angle? You should feel free to change the framing of the shots. We can even go stand under a large tree if you want. Oh, but don’t get me wrong, I’m not putting up a useless fight. It’s just that with a single camera, it made me wonder how long you can hold the viewers’ interest without changing up the shot.”
Miyoshi looked around at his surroundings as if he had come to scout the location for a shoot, and then he settled his gaze on Sakae behind the camera.
“So you’re here by yourself,” Miyoshi commented. “Because you can’t trust anyone else? I see that you’re the same as me.”
“Please answer the question,” Sakae prompted him. “Who is Tim Sutton?”
“Didn’t you watch the episode?” Miyoshi answered. “The show explained it all. He had no relatives and joined the army, and without knowing anything, he was shipped off to Vietnam. He killed people there without understanding anything, and when he returned, barely escaping with his life, he lost everything and became homeless.”
“…So you re-enacted the life of a person who existed?”
Miyoshi pulled out a thin memo pad from his breast pocket and took out a zippered pouch that was sandwiched between the pages. Inside were some U.S. coins and a tattered photograph—the one that McConnell had touched dearly as he played the role of Tim Sutton in the video.
“This is all of Tim’s worldly possessions. An old photograph and two dollars fifty cents in change. This is truly all that there is.”
Miyoshi took the trouble to place them in his hand, holding them up so that the camera could get a better shot of the items. When the camera captured Miyoshi’s face again, he was waiting with an expression that was bright and yet a little sad at the same time. At least, that was what it seemed like to Sakae. Sakae wondered what it was that he was filming right now.
“It was five years ago when I met Tim. I was there to interview someone for the show when I accidentally dropped my wallet on the street, and Tim was the one who picked it up for me. I shamelessly checked my wallet in front of him to see if anything was missing, but Tim didn’t get angry about it. I tried to give him some money to express my gratitude, but he firmly refused it and asked if we could get a quick bite to eat together instead. He said that he hadn’t eaten with anyone in a very long time. So we bought sandwiches and coffee at a Starbucks and ate together on the grass in Central Park. There, I listened to Tim’s story about his life. When I asked him to let me interview him for a story, Tim looked like he couldn’t believe it, but afterwards he was really happy about it. He didn’t care if he was going to be on TV in Japan; he was just happy that someone had taken an interest in him and wanted to hear his story. It was just that simple of a happiness.”
Sakae didn’t know where in the large sprawling park they had stopped at, but in his mind, he imagined them sitting next to each other on the grass of the Great Lawn. With Tim eating a sandwich, unconcerned with the grime that covered his fingers. And Miyoshi listening to him attentively as Tim ate and spoke with difficulty, breadcrumbs and pieces of lettuce occasionally dropping from the corners of his mouth. They were a bizarre combination, and people would stare at them strangely, but they ignored the gawkers. That was the scene that Sakae imagined. As Miyoshi talked about his memories of Tim, hints of a more genuine person slowly started to appear within the mask that was concerned with getting everything to look its best on TV. Somewhere in his heart, this thrilled Sakae.
“I asked an NGO that supports veterans to look after Tim while I returned to Japan and made preparations for the story and interview. I collected all the research that I needed and requested a coordinator for their help, and when I had all the plans in place and the final approvals, I thought that I could finally start production, but then I received a hard stop from above.”
“Why is that?”
“The son of a board member of one of our sponsors was under fire for a video that was uploaded to social media that showed him throwing firecrackers at homeless people. I was told that it was not the best time to be doing stories about the homeless. Of course, that was something that had happened in Japan, and the sponsor itself had made no request of that of any sort. It was a decision that our upper management had come to on their own. The episode was scheduled to air in a month, and they thought that it might reignite the firestorm just as it was calming down. So I was told to put it off for a while, and I had to rush to work on other plans for the show, which meant that the filming had to be put on hold. I apologized to Tim through the NGO, and he was kind enough to say that he would wait. But he then died a month later.”
Miyoshi gripped the pouch that contained the belongings that had been left behind.
“There were times when he would become disoriented due to problems with his mental health, and he would slip away from the facility and wander around the city. The staff at the NGO really did their best to take care of him, but they weren’t able to prevent him from freezing to death after he ran away for the nth time. They ended up sending me the few things that he had left behind. And also a letter. It said that Tim had been really looking forward to the interview with me, even though it hadn’t worked out. That they were glad that Tim was able to encounter a ray of hope in the form of Shunji at the end of his life… But that can’t be true.”
Miyoshi grimaced as he spat the last few words at the end. Sakae wanted him to spit out even more, but at the same time, he wanted this interview to end as quickly as possible. He felt both sentiments equally. It would destroy the balance inside him if one were heavier than the other, and it would affect the camera, so Sakae put more effort into strengthening the core of his stance again.
“I thought that I needed to keep my promise to him. Not as a secondhand account or a dramatic re-enactment, but I needed to tell people the ‘reality’ of Tim Sutton’s life. Because he had certainly lived, and he had talked to me.”
“Were you aware that your actions constituted the staging of footage and that it was against broadcast ethics?”
“Of course, I was fully aware of it.”
The question and answer session proceeded smoothly after that.
“Are there any other people who know about the truth?”
“No, I executed everything by myself. None of the staff or members of the network were ever involved.”
“Have you staged other footage or misrepresented any information on other episodes of the show?”
“As far as I’m concerned, no.”
“What will you do after this?”
“I will notify the network and discuss the proper recourse with them.”
“When you put together the video, or after the episode aired, or even now, have you felt a sense of guilt for what you have done? Do you have regrets about it?”
“I will not answer any questions that have nothing to do with the facts of the matter.”
Sakae had asked all the questions that he needed to ask. He restrained a sigh that threatened to escape and was about to lower the camera when Miyoshi said, “Wait,” and stopped him.
“I have one last question for you. Was it Shitara who sniffed this out?”
“No. Besides, it doesn’t matter who it was anyway.”
“You’re lying. It’s obvious that it’s Shitara,” Miyoshi insisted.
A tepid breeze felt cool against the side of Sakae’s forehead. Before he knew it, he was sweating badly. Miyoshi’s face seemed to darken in the blink of an eye. He was different from earlier, but Sakae was sure that this was also his true self. Even if he didn’t want to see the man like this, he had no choice in the matter. He had no idea what would pop out at him until he opened the lid—because it was nothing more than the honest truth.
“A story just happens to fall into his lap—that’s pretty much his modus operandi. He pretends to be an idiot with a foolish grin on his face while he cleverly scores all the important points to get ahead. I’ve hated him since forever. A long time ago, when I heard that he was demoted for a scandal caused by one of his staff, I was so happy that I raised a glass to celebrate the news. I was like, there really is a god. He finally got a taste of some unwarranted treatment that he deserved. When he was passed around to different locations across the country, I would find some free time to visit him. It was so satisfying to know that he would probably end up all dried up, unable to settle down in any single place. But whenever I saw him, he always looked like he was doing fine, regardless if he had no budget or staff for his shows. He just stubbornly continued to be as he was. And then he came back to Tokyo, placed right at the center of the news, and now he’s trying to finish me off here. Must be great to be him. He must be enjoying himself. Since he always gets whatever he wants.”
You couldn’t be more wrong. He looked so happy talking about his memories with you—but nothing that he could say mattered. It wasn’t Sakae’s place to tell him what Shitara had carried with him—when he was demoted and everything afterwards—to get to the place where he was now. Shitara had told this man nothing.
“Well, I’ll be going,” Miyoshi said, his voice light, like something that haunted him had just been exorcised. It pissed Sakae off, and he wanted to yell, What the fuck are you doing getting the issue off your chest like that?
“I suppose that you plan to air this story for the evening news? Then I better make my move before then.”
“I won’t put it on the evening news,” Sakae said. “Because I’m on staff for The News.”
“See? I knew it. Shitara has you thoroughly trained.”
“‘Because you can’t trust anyone.’”
Sakae repeated the words that Miyoshi had said at the beginning of the interview.
“You said that earlier. I get it a little. And the one you can’t trust the most is yourself. That’s why you can only keep running—more than anyone else.”
Sakae packed the camera away in his bag and slung it over a shoulder.
The question for me isn’t who I believe. It’s what I should do to get others to believe in me. That’s the question that I want to answer.
“Make sure to watch the piece if it makes it on the air. It’ll be worth watching, I think.”
“You sure are confident in yourself. Is it because you have Shitara with you?”
“God, shut up about Shitara for a second,” Sakae shot back at him. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t give a damn about the guy. In fact, I wish he wouldn’t give a damn about me. The pressure is fucking heavy. You’ve gotta be a moron to seek him out yourself just to get all irritated about it.”
The face of stupefaction that Miyoshi made at him was the funniest face that he saw today. Sakae regretted it a little that he hadn’t caught it on camera.