Chapter 3: Open It Up (3)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
Mutsuto was a freelance graphics designer for a place in Shizuoka, and when he had meetings, apparently they were held in Tokyo. The last time that the three of them had met was December of last year, and all that Mutsuto could talk about today was how cute his second child was, who had been born in early spring.
“Don’t complain if your eldest acts out and becomes a troublemaker.”
Sakae blatantly turned his face away from the cell phone movie that had been shoved towards his nose with a “Look, look,” and in return, Mutsuto gave him a serious reply.
“Aww, thanks for worrying about me.”
“Why would I?”
“But my eldest is the most lovestruck with the baby out of all of us. He always wants to help take care of him.”
“Well, that’s great to hear,” Shitara laughed.
“Aren’t you the one with the great news, Shitara-san~?”
“I mean, you know—”
“—Shitara,” a voice suddenly interrupted.
A man was peering over at their table. He looked to be in his late forties, about the same age as Shitara. To a certain extent, for some reason Sakae was able to tell with a glance people who had been in the industry for a while. It wasn’t anything that could be seen like clothing or hair. There was something about the feeling that the man gave off that said that he wasn’t quite the decent person that he appeared to be. Plus, Sakae had a feeling that he looked familiar. There was no doubt about it because other people never made enough of an impact for him to look at them twice. Did he meet him in person somewhere before?
Shitara lifted his head and turned to look at the man. “Miyoshi.”
Sakae was surprised to see Shitara’s profile suddenly light up. His expression was like that of a child’s—of defenseless delight. Shitara’s usual smile was nothing more than a form of armament, just like Sakae’s brusque attitude, and it was unusual to see him deviate up or down from the standard smile. Furthermore, in such an open manner even.
“Hey, it’s been a while. Probably since last summer, I think? It’s pretty crazy to run into you at a place like this,” Shitara said.
“What are you saying?”
The man called Miyoshi crinkled the corners of his eyes as he smiled.
“I work right in the neighborhood.”
“Well, that’s true.”
“A lot of my colleagues frequent this place, so you might want to hold back on any work discussions.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
So he did work in the television business. Sakae guessed that he worked for Yamato TV since he was in the neighborhood.
“Sakae, Oku-sama, let me introduce you two. This is Miyoshi from Yamato TV. Although we were at different networks, we were hired the same year. Right now, he’s the producer of the show My Document.”
Sakae was right. And he hadn’t realized it with just the man’s name, but when he heard the name of the TV show, it finally jogged his memory. Miyoshi Shunji of Yamato TV—he was well-known in the industry as a talented producer and was often featured in magazines and newspapers.
“Oh, I watch the show,” Mutsuto said, raising his hand. “It’s always really fascinating. The recent episode about the indigenous people of the Amazon was incredible.”
“Thank you very much. It makes me happy to run into a viewer unexpectedly like this. If you’re with Shitara, does that mean that you’re someone from The News?”
“No, he works in a different industry. Souma over here just became our Chief P this spring.”
“By any chance, do you mean the Souma-kun from Go Go Dash? Well, I see that you’ve added more firepower to your team again.”
Sakae was pretty well-known too, but for him, his achievements were likely a detail used to embellish the rumors about his poor reputation. However, there was no hidden maliciousness in Miyoshi’s tone of voice, nor was there any concern that hinted at the rumors—he just sounded frankly impressed. Miyoshi presented his business card and said, “It’s nice to meet you,” but Sakae didn’t bring any of his own with him, so he gave a slight nod of his head, and without standing up, took the card with one hand.1
“Well, I should get going. It’s good to see you.”
Miyoshi started to step away, but Mutsuto spoke up and stopped him.
“Um, excuse me,” he said. “Do you happen to be by yourself?”
“I am. I’m about to head home, actually.”
“Then how about you head over to another bar with Shitara-san and have a conversation without us around? We don’t mind lending him out.”
Sakae almost uttered a “What?” without thinking, but Shitara and Miyoshi beat him to the punch with a simultaneous “Huh?”
“What are you saying, Oku-sama?”
“Oh, I just thought that it might be nice since you did run into each other after all.”
“No, it’s fine, please don’t worry about me. We can meet up any time we decide to…”
Miyoshi very politely declined, but Mutsuto insisted, “Though you say that, it’s still surprising how hard it is to make time for it.”
He continued, “Plus you two are very busy people, I’m sure. And anyway, I have something I want to discuss privately with Souma as well.”
“What? Am I in the way if I’m here?”
“Of course not. But you know, there are just some things.”
“Okay, okay, I got it. So, do you mind accompanying me for a drink, Miyoshi?”
“Well, I would be happy to, but… I feel bad for imposing on your kindness.”
“Don’t worry, don’t worry. I look forward to watching your show.”
Mutsuto gave a friendly wave as he watched the two leave. All that was left behind at Shitara’s seat was an empty glass and the cutlery.
Sakae raised his eyebrows at Mutsuto. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Well, you know, it’s rare for Shitara-san to look so plainly happy. It made me think, ‘Oh, so this is what he’s like around friends.’ It’s refreshing to see. I thought that he probably wanted to talk to him more.”
Mutsuto had known Shitara for longer than Sakae, and he noticed the same change in him too.
“I mean, I could have invited Miyoshi-san to sit with us, but you know how rude and unfriendly you are. He’s like 10 years your senior in the industry, but you accepted his business card like he was a door-to-door salesman and you didn’t even offer your own…”
“Why would I have my business cards with me on a Saturday?”
“I bet you don’t carry them with you on the weekdays either.”
Mutsuto easily saw through him, so Sakae gave up and ordered another whiskey to dodge the topic.
“So,” Sakae said, changing the subject. “What did you want to discuss? I’ve got nothing to say though.”
“That was just an excuse, obviously.”
“Don’t give such a misleading lie.”
“If I wanted to discuss something with someone, I can pick a much better person for the job.”
Mutsuto kept saying things that were right on the mark, so Sakae downed his whiskey with a sour look on his face, and this time Mutsuto suddenly said “Sorry” to him.
“Uh, I just kind of feel bad if I made you worried about me.”
Mutsuto had a history of bottling up his anguish until he exploded from it, and Sakae and Shitara had experienced no small effect from it on their lives. They never brought up the subject to one another, but an uneasiness inside of Mutsuto from that time would probably stay with him for life.
“Are you a moron?”
Sakae sidestepped the remark and shoved a drink menu at Mutsuto.
“Here, drink up. Quit sipping on only Oolong tea.”
“I can’t, I still have to drive home today. But wow, that was pretty spectacular just now.”
“I mean, three popular producers all meeting in the same place? That’s pretty cool, you know? It’s like a meeting of masters.”
“Don’t lump me in with them.”
“What are you saying?” Mutsuto laughed. “Oh, I forgot to give him my congratulations.”
Mutsuto looked over at Shitara’s now vacated seat.
“What? Is it his birthday?”
“No. Err, well, it’s not like I know if it is or not. I’m just glad that he’s able to work together on a show with you again. He’s happy about it, right?”
“Aww, there you go again~ Hasn’t he always been excited about your work?”
It was that attachment to his work that was one particular reason that made Sakae unable to do anything at the show, and it gave him mixed feelings to be congratulated. Sakae then remembered a few words that Mutsuto had said to him once upon a time.
“…Oku, you told me a long time ago that you thought that I could be a producer that leads by bulldozing ahead, right?”
“Yeah, I remember.”
It had been his second year with the network, and Sakae was still fairly new at the job. He hadn’t been able to imagine a future where he held a position of power and responsibility.
“I remember, and I still think that it’s true.”
“You’re a terrible judge of character.”
“The failure is the proof.”
And Sakae refused to fail a second time, so he didn’t show his back or his emotions to anyone. He didn’t know how to moderate himself. The way that Sakae did things was either off or on, and nothing in between, and before he was even aware of it, he had cast people away from him. It wasn’t that he was full of confidence in himself; he was always compromising on something or another as he fumbled around and struggled through each day without rest. But everyone around him kept saying in unison that they couldn’t do things like him. And then they would generally head in one of two paths: either they developed a sense of inferiority that he hadn’t intended and became like little mice around him, or they refused to accept him and made him the target of their loathing. But now he wasn’t dealing with a weekly show; The News aired Mondays to Fridays, plus it was live, and he was sure that he would reach the breaking point in the blink of an eye. He wasn’t afraid of being hated or shunned, but he would hate it if the ripples that he made somehow caused a crack in their vessel and it broke because of him.
I mean, this place is your show.
He had to learn how to take long thin breaths so that he could swim for long distances. He had to put together a new show every day; he couldn’t take adrenaline shots every time. If he continued like he did on the floor that first day, he would either cause an accident somewhere or wear down everyone around him. He would sink and drown if he didn’t paddle with all his might—but he couldn’t always keep doing that. The ultimate challenge of his new job here was to deliver the show on time, not to be obsessed with the quality of every last detail. He had to remove as many risk factors as possible and at the very least broadcast something for their audience without any problems. That was the style that Sakae should conform to and adopt. He had been prepared to take on that specific struggle, but when he popped open the lid to take a look inside, his predicament was that he had no idea how to struggle and work through it.
Mutsuto puffed out one of his cheeks with air and shifted it left and right as he folded his arms. Sakae wondered how much Shitara had told him about the particulars that had surrounded his ousting from the entertainment production department or the forced cancellation of his show.
“I’ve been comfortably self-employed for so long that I’ve forgotten how confining it can be to deal with other people around you. But I guess that when you’re young, you can do whatever you want, and as long as you have one or two people who get you and will support you through the most important things, somehow everything will unexpectedly work out. But once you get people you need to supervise, you’re the one who needs to do the supporting, huh?”
Mutsuto nodded to himself with a “Yup, yup” like he was satisfied with the explanation to himself.
“And your skills are all concentrated to one area,” he chuckled wryly. “You’re a cut above the rest when you can dash out recklessly on your own to make something, but things like adapting to a group, relying on people, and entrusting tasks to them—you can’t do anything so simple and ordinary.”
What the hell? It’s like I’m the one who’s venting out my problems here.
When he realized how pathetic he was, it made his alcohol taste terrible.
“Well, that’s exactly why you should tell Shitara-san about it.”
And if he could take that piece of advice in the first place, he wouldn’t be struggling like this.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me.”
“I mean, you’re the Chief P and General P though? It doesn’t change the fact that he’s your boss. I’m pretty sure that Shitara-san will support you no matter what happens.”
That was something that Sakae understood a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand times over. Shitara was always serious when it came to Sakae, and he was always thinking things over while behaving like he wasn’t thinking about anything at all. Whether Shitara pushed him away or hauled him up. That full belief that Sakae had in Shitara was terrifying and heavy.
“I won’t use his help,” Sakae declared. “And don’t you dare say anything about this to him.”
“And if I did…?”
They both said at the same time, “Then I’m through with you.”
Mutsuto cackled at their perfect synchronization. He hadn’t had a single drop of alcohol, but he sure was cheery.
“But it sure feels different when I can actually sense that you’re human.”
“I remember one of the videos you made when you were with the evening news.”
Mutsuto abruptly pulled back his smile as he spoke in a quiet voice.
“It was a story about a small village deep in the mountains on the brink of extinction, and there was a very old married couple who spent a great deal of effort to walk up a mountain path and give an offering to Ojizo-sama, the guardian of travelers. They held hands as they walked, and both of them were always watching out for the other’s steps. I really loved that shot. You could feel the desolating effects of depopulation, the gentle warmth of the two backs that hunched over and curved in the same way, the depths of the mountains… It was like their lives and the passing of the years were packed into that 10-second shot. They were complete strangers to me, but all these feelings welled up inside of me and it made me feel like crying.”
“It’s the cameraman who shot the footage, you know.”
“I know that, but you were the one who picked out those shots from the volumes of footage, and you were the one who chose to place it there in the flow of the video… I wouldn’t have been so moved if you hadn’t been the one to make that piece. This is what it means when they say that you can feel the person behind the video, right?”
But even so, Sakae could only wonder if he had made a video like that. It was probably nothing more than a story that had aired during the news segment for the day, something that never made it to DVD or the Internet. It wasn’t a movie or a TV drama, and no matter how many people were enthused about it, it was ridiculous to hold any expectations for a mere news story. The creators couldn’t differentiate between those who watched the show and those who left the TV on. Ratings were just a simple report card that they used to woo sponsors and ensure that their show survived.
Of course it didn’t make him unhappy to hear that a fragment of one of the video pieces that he had made as part of his daily work routine had made an indelible impression on someone. But he also thought that Mutsuto was a very different person from him to be able to commend him so honestly for it.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
- Proper business etiquette in Japan is to stand and accept the business card with both hands and a slight bow.