Chapter 6: Open It Up (6)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
Sakae opened up his laptop in an empty lounge area and examined the playback of their broadcast as he took notes here and there when Shin happened to walk by.
“Great job today, sir. What are you doin’ here so late?”
“Checking the usage of licensed materials.”
The rights for the use of images of athletes and entertainers had become complicated nowadays, and even in the news, every day they had to purchase licenses for specific footage and photographs that they wanted to include. There was a possibility that they could be denied the use of the materials if they mismanaged the licensing terms, but basically, the work consisted of noting down the materials, how long they were used, and checking them against the application for the licenses. It wasn’t anything difficult.
Shin inclined his head again with a look that seemed to say that something weighed on his mind. He probably thought that Sakae didn’t need to do that particular work himself. In fact, when Sakae had been a producer on the entertainment side, he basically left all the work to his staff, and he barely even scanned through the invoices that had come his way for approval (which then resulted in the show running up the budget from all the extra ancillary expenses and the higher-ups having to give him a talk about it).
But right now, Sakae had no work that only he could do, so he worked on the tasks that basically anyone could complete. It was no hardship; it was pretty easy. So why had he tossed all the work onto everyone else back then?
Because there had been something much more fun in front of him.
Sakae used words to cover up a sigh that threatened to leak out of him. “Anyway, what are you doing here so late? It’s past 2 am, you know. Hurry up and go home.”
Shin laughed as Sakae made a hand motion to wave him off.
“I never imagined that there’d be a day when you’d tell me to hurry up an’ go home, Souma-san.”
It was understandable. Sakae had had no regard for human rights as he worked him like a dog even outside of work. However, there was no sarcasm or snideness in his words, and Sakae thought that Shin was a complete idiot.
“Because they won’t shut up about work balance reforms.”
“I suppose so.”
And yet Shin still didn’t leave. After a quick check of their surroundings, he asked in a quiet voice, “Have you been to the theaters or anythin’ lately?”
“I haven’t gone. What reason would I have to go there?”
The sole reason he had gone to the comedy shows at the theaters was to search for comedians for his variety show. A live show was completely different from TV; however, it never tired Sakae out to think about how to translate the performer’s appeal to the medium of television or how to bring out more of the performer to the audience. And when the show and the name of Souma Sakae became more widely known, the younger comedians became more desperate to catch his attention, and the bright glare of their enthusiasm and ambition was both irksome and fascinating. But that was all in the past now.
Shin had probably expected the curt response and gave an awkward smile.
“Nnh… I guess that’s true, but… I think that everyone would be happy if you were to go to the shows, Souma-san.”
“It would really make them happy. I saw the duo from Motor Coil the other day, an’ they asked about you.”
It had been a while since Sakae had heard that name. They were a comedy duo that he had used on his show several times. But it wasn’t like he had an interest in variety shows to begin with, and once he moved away from the field, he had become completely estranged from it.
“I heard that they went to Hawaii over Golden Week for a shoot. They were all suntanned.”
Sakae completed his work as he paid no attention to the conversation and powered off his laptop. The area was already dark with the lights dimmed to conserve energy, and when the light from the monitor disappeared, it became even darker. Sakae stared at Shin within the darkness.
“Just what are you trying to say? You’ve been rambling at me about nothing this entire time.”
“…It’s not nothing, sir.”
Shin’s nervousness was apparent, but he didn’t try to apologize and run away. Even though when Shin had worked for Sakae, he acted as if the world would end if he offended Souma-san in the slightest.
“Why should I care about performers who’ve moved on to other work? The same goes for them too.”
“That’s not true.”
Sakae could have never imagined that Shin would argue back at him like this.
“The Hawaii shoot was for a show on a local Kansai station, but the producer had seen Motor Coil when they appeared on GoGo an’ apparently invited them to be on the show. Their hard work finally paid off, and they feel like they owe it all to you.”
“Don’t be stupid.”
Sakae thought that they should be proud of themselves for landing the job after everything—that their gratitude towards him was completely misplaced.
“But I understand their feelings. Souma-san, you’ve done some really incredible work, but at the same time, it had to be pretty hard on you… When GoGo ended, and you went over to the Contents Division, I was a little relieved. It made me sad that I wouldna see anythin’ that you make, but I didna want to see you pushin’ yourself more than you already had. But then you came to the news right after that, and it makes me happy, but I’m worried at the same time.”
“You were relieved to see me all cowering and spineless?”
“In a sense.”
Why you little— You’re not going to deny the cowering and spineless part?
“To be honest, I ain’t quite sure what I’m tryin’ to say. Part of me feels excited at the chance to see you again in your element, but I also never wanna see you working yourself so hard that you fall apart like before…”
“What the hell?” Sakae snorted. He didn’t want to know that there were people who had been more hurt or more worried than him over his own damn fuck-up.
“What are you? My mother?”
“No, sir,” Shin replied. “I’m your underling. And I always will be. Because you were kind enough to call me that. …Shitara-san told me before that it sounded like something that you would say.”
“What?” Sakae said in disbelief. He hadn’t expected to hear that name here, and he slammed his laptop closed.
“He said that with an underling, you wouldna have to worry about me gettin’ jealous an’ that I wouldna leave even if I feel beat up and defeated. That’s why I want to stay as your underling. An’ if possible, I want to become a little more useful to you than I was before.”
He didn’t know the exact reason, but the words made Sakae’s skin crawl. It pissed him off. It made his stomach churn. It aggravated him.
You’re free to think and say whatever the hell you want when I’m not around, but why do you have to come and tell me about it?
Sakae got up without saying a word, put his laptop in his locker, and headed to a smoking area on a different floor. It was near the administrative departments, so no one was around at this time of night. The area was completely asleep for a workplace. Sakae was relieved at the peace and quiet that couldn’t be expected in the TV industry, and he smoked on a cigarette for a short while, but the peace did not last long. There were the sounds of voices and footsteps approaching. Who the hell were they? Probably other smokers who wanted a place away from everyone else too.
Maybe I’ll head out.
Sakae snuffed out a cigarette that was still more than half unsmoked and dropped it in the receptacle. As he rose to his feet, the door opened from the outside at nearly the same time.
His name was called out in unison. He had to hand it to them—they were perfectly in sync. No wonder the two of them were a duo. But Sakae had no intentions of saying so. Seriously, what the hell is up with today? he thought. The duo from Motor Coil that Shin had just mentioned earlier stared back at him in amazement.
“Hey, whatcha doin’ here in such a place?”
Smoking areas were meant for smoking. He was just doing what it was designed to do. For the time being, Sakae sat back down again and said, “Right back at you.”
The duo exchanged glances with each other and explained, “We found ourselves with a bit o’ a break. The smokin’ area out by the studio was all crowded, an’ the mood wasna the greatest, so we fled over here.”
“What’s the break for?”
“For a fella’s mood to get better.”
The name that they gave him as the source for the commotion was an in-demand solo comedian. On screen, he was a popular figure for his gentle but witty commentary that hit home for lots of people, but when the cameras were off, he had a pretty troublesome personality. If there were the tiniest oversights in the plans or the slightest errors in communication, he would yell, “I can’t work like this,” and walk off in a huff to the green room. The comedian was great at reading situations because he paid careful attention to every single action from the people around him. Conversely, that meant that he was also quick to notice any and all flaws. His tendency to get upset at the slightest offense was due his own sensitivity and lack of confidence in himself. The guy understood how precarious it was to make a living in this business that depended on what the public thought of him and how the winds could change at any given moment. He would probably understand the position that the staff was in as long as he was given the time to take it in, but it wasn’t any of Sakae’s concern whether the staff for the show had built up that kind of rapport with the guy.
“He’s really been snappin’ a lot lately.”
“I think that mebbe he’s feelin’ lonely, or he’s feelin’ like somethin’s missin’.”
Sakae had inadvertently left it to his curiosity when he asked the question, and unexpectedly the duo continued to talk about it.
Uh, I don’t really care about it that much though.
“…He said that things wouldna be like this if Souma-kun were still here. Apparently, he’s been sayin’ the same thing at the other networks too.”
“Give him a good whack for me the next time he says my name again.”
“Ya askin’ for the impossible.”
It pissed Sakae off to no end that the guy glorified the memories like that. He got to his feet, and this time the duo asked him, “How are things goin’ at The News?”
“We asked Nawada-kun about it, an’ he kinda hesitated an’ wouldna tell us very much. So that made us think that mebbe things werena goin’ so well.”
“And what does that have to do with you two?”
The two fell silent for a moment at the curt response, but it didn’t end there.
“It dun got nuthin’ to do with us, but… Now that ya left the variety shows, an’ the news is prolly differ’n an’ all, an’ somethin’ we dun really understand, but we want ya to do work that says, ‘This is Souma Sakae,’ ya know?”
“We’re really proud, ya know, that we got to appear on Go Go Dash an’ all. We still brag ’bout it to our juniors. There’re guys who watched it an’ became comedians ’cause o’ the show.”
The duo made their arguments without taking out a single cigarette, and Sakae was sick and tired of the rhapsodic glorification. After he became the producer of the show, every day was a desperate struggle to protect this hit show that the network was known for, and he felt as if he had been running over a dilapidated foot bridge for god knows how far as it slowly collapsed behind him. He came to realize that he couldn’t turn around or it would all be over. If he stopped, there was nowhere to go but down, but he couldn’t even see what—if anything—was on the other side. He didn’t want to remember it. That job that he hated like crazy. That job that he loved like crazy.
Sakae knew very well that the memories of the name Souma Sakae that one person recounted fondly could be a curse to someone else. They compared him against other shows and denied all the work that he did—It’s nowhere as good as that other show. If only that show was still on TV… And because the hit variety show Go Go Dash had ended in such an abrupt manner, it was able to maintain its shiny veneer. Its downturn and weaknesses would go unnoticed by the viewers and performers. No, there was probably one person who had noticed.
“Don’t cling to something that’s long dead like you’re a braindead zombie,” Sakae spat. “It gives me the creeps.”
“If ya gonna say that, then give us our last rites.”
An invisible thread stretched from the wide open eyes and tightened around Sakae’s neck. It was hard to breathe.
“So convince us then. That no matter where ya go, you’ll always be yaself, Souma-san. That GoGo might be over, but it was for the best for ya. That ya got something next for yaself… We wanna rest in peace too, ya know.”
Sakae silently pushed past them and left the smoking area. Why the hell did it seem like he ran away? But he did run away. Unable to say a single word back to them. He was overpowered by their resoluteness, and he was unable to spurn them. On the other hand, there was no way that he could accept what they had said either, so he could only avert his eyes and turn his back on them.
He boarded the elevator, pushed the button for the first floor, and repeatedly stabbed the button to close the doors.
He was fucking pissed. His stomach churned. He was aggravated to hell. Everything stabbed at him. Why couldn’t he handle things better? Even though those things were simple and ordinary like Mutsuto had described them.
The elevator didn’t go directly to his destination and stopped before it got very far. It was the news floor. For the few seconds until the doors opened, he thought to himself, Don’t be there. Don’t be there.
Sakae ran into Shitara before he could reach any sort of resolution, and ridiculously enough, he couldn’t determine what his emotions were. He wanted to say, I’m exhausted, and everything’s a mess in my head, so you decide it for me.
“You out for a late-night walk?”
Shitara stepped into the elevator, and the doors closed again. The finger that pressed the button for B1 went to press the ‘1’ button twice and canceled the floor that Sakae had designated.
“Oi, don’t do things without my say so.”
Sakae went to push the button for the first floor again, but Shitara grabbed his wrist away before he could.
“How can I let someone making a face like that go home on their own? If you didn’t want me to interfere, then I wish that you’d hide it better.”
What hell kind of face am I making? But he didn’t want to ask. The fingers wrapped around his wrist dug into him hard, and Sakae could feel a different pressure from the usual smile that he saw. When they got to the underground lot and climbed into the car, Shitara didn’t engage the engine and asked, “Did something happen?”
“It’s nothing,” he repeated. “I’ve got nothing. I’m doing nothing. Ever since I got here. Nothing. You’re the one who knows this best.”
“It hasn’t even been two months yet. You can take your time to get used to things.”
Sakae felt like saying back to him, What? Is that all it is? The difference in attitude towards the frustration that he felt irritated him. It was a fucking insult if Shitara truly believed the lackadaisical words that he just gave. Sakae didn’t need the lukewarm consolation given to “normal” people to make them feel better.
I’m “special,” aren’t I? To you, to everyone out there. In all the good and all the bad ways, I’m exceptional, right? I mean, you can’t be recognized just for doing “normal” work. No. It’s gotta be more. So much more.
And yet, he had wasted away from the effort and worry to become “special,” and now he became depressed and angry over it. If real genius was someone who produced exceptional results with normal methods, then he would never achieve such a thing in his lifetime.
“You’re fulfilling your duties as the Chief Producer just fine, and it’s a great help that you can quickly make decisions and get the work done. So I wouldn’t say that you’re not doing anything when you’ve stayed at the office this late at night working.”
“…But this isn’t what you expected from me, is it?”
“You’re such an idiot.” Shitara leaned back in his seat and crossed his arms. “Your purpose at the show isn’t to satisfy my expectations, is it? Toss away that insignificant motivation if that’s what’s on your mind.”
I know that. You’re a man with no interest in puppets that behave according to your will and wishes. But is it really that insignificant? You’re the one person I never want to disappoint. I want to make you say that you watched something great. I want to hear you say, “Sakae, you’re amazing.” This is your show, so I don’t want to screw it up. I don’t want you to pay for the things that I’ve done anymore.
Those were the emotions that ran through him.
“…Even I have things that I want to protect,” Sakae whispered with his head faced down.
“I know that.”
“No, you don’t know.”
“I do know. You’re pulling yourself back because you think that if you do whatever you want, you’ll adversely affect the teamwork or the operation of the show. But for me, I think that a small amount of conflict is beneficial for us. It’s different from when you were in entertainment production… You have me here now. So you should just make the things you want to broadcast. I can act as a buffer or a stopper if you need me to, and if any trouble occurs, I’ll clean it up myself.”
“That’s what I’m saying!” Sakae twisted his body and scowled at Shitara. “That’s not what I want!”
That would mean he had made no progress from when he was 24. All while someone else covered for him. Protected him. It was only natural back then, but now it was different.
“What are you so afraid of?”
Shitara’s eyes stared at the rearview mirror—at his own eyes reflected inside the mirror.
“Just use me as a stepping block and trample on me all you want. That’s what I’m here for.”
“…What the hell is that?”
“Because I’m forcing my ego on you when I asked you to stay here. It was the same when I sent you over to entertainment production. The one thing that I never want from you is your guilt.”
Shitara was serious. He would give up his job and his standing at work all for the sake of Souma Sakae. And Sakae couldn’t stand the thought of that. He didn’t need his damn freedom if it meant that Shitara had to sacrifice something for him again. But Shitara wouldn’t let him do that. But if Sakae were to stay at this standstill, unable to do anything, would Shitara grow impatient with him and throw him over to another department? Would he stop coming over to Sakae’s apartment like it was his own home?
When you said that you liked me, what did you mean?
“We’re operating on completely different wavelengths.”
Sakae let out a laugh. Did he want to sneer at Shitara’s cruelty? Or did he want to sneer at his own stupidity?
“What do you mean?”
“I mean everything.”
Sakae placed his hand on the car door.
“I’m going home— I’m asking you, just let me go home by myself.”
This was probably the first time he had asked something from Shitara like this. Shitara closed his eyes and said once again, “You’re so unfair.”
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.