Chapter 7: Open It Up (7)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
Sakae woke up in the morning and uttered, “Whoa, what the hell,” the moment he saw the LINE message.
“Are you free for a talk tonight after the broadcast? Just the two of us.”
It wasn’t from Shitara, and the unfamiliar nature of the message made it even more frightening in a way—because the host of the show, Asou Keiichi, had sent it. Sakae had no recollection of ever exchanging messages with the man, let alone a face-to-face conversation with him. It seemed too implausible for Asou to invite Sakae out for drinks together to get to know him better, and if the discussion was work-related, he could just approach him at the network. Anyway, if there was something that he wanted, it was faster to ask Shitara directly for it. Maybe Asou wanted to call him out for his lack of drive at the show…? But he didn’t seem to be the type of person to do so. Asou took things at his own pace through and through without an inkling of regards for others, and Sakae had no memory of Asou paying any sort of attention to his existence.
Sakae had snapped awake with a jolt, but he wished that it was a dream if possible. He had no idea what Asou wanted to talk about, but he had a very horrible feeling that it wasn’t good news. Nevertheless, now that the message was marked as read, he couldn’t ignore it any longer than he had, so he sent a brief reply that said, Sure. In return, he received a map and a message that said, Meet me here on the fourth floor at midnight. It was a multi-tenant building near the network located in an area behind the shops and restaurants on the main street. Sakae searched for a tenant list of the building, but he couldn’t find any information about it. Maybe it was a private office or a membership-based bar—anything was possible. It was no use thinking about something that he didn’t know. He figured that whatever happened would happen, so he replied with another message that said, Sure.
Sakae arrived at the dinghy-looking, six-story building that Asou had specified, and looking up at it from the outside, only the fourth floor of the building had the lights on. He checked the names of the tenants on the mailboxes, and there were a number of offices that seemed to have names that disguised the fact that they were scam rings or some other shady businesses, but there was no name displayed for the fourth floor tenant that he was supposed to visit. It smelled fishier and fishier by the moment. Maybe it was a gambling den? If so, he could play some baccarat.
He rode a cramped little elevator that barely fit two adults inside, and when it stopped, it made a huge jolt. For a moment, he almost thought that the elevator had broken down. But the doors slowly opened like nothing had happened, and in front of his eyes was an open room. However, there were screen partitions like at a school infirmary that blocked his view, and he couldn’t see what it was like inside. At least for now, it didn’t seem like a bar, casino, or brothel—or so he thought—and then a man suddenly popped out from behind the screen. He was short and stout, appeared to be past his 60s, and wore a traditional Chinese suit.
“Good evening. Are you with Asou-san? Please keep your shoes on and come in.”
There was an accent to his speech, and the intonation was different from the usual dialects.
Hnn? So is he Chinese?
Sakae walked past the screens, and there he saw two sets of reclining chairs with ottomans, and Asou was reclined in one of them.
“Hey, you’re here. Just right on time.”
He was offered to take a seat, but Sakae was still unable to comprehend the situation.
“…What is this place?”
“A massage parlor,” Asou answered. “They do Taiwanese-style foot massages, and the guys here are excellent.”
That made sense. There was another man dressed in the same outfit at Asou’s feet, massaging a bare foot.
“Come, come. What are you doing? Sit down and take off your socks. First we’ll start with a foot bath,” the old man said.
Sakae was still suspicious of the place, but he did as he was told—he sat down in the chair, took off his shoes and socks, and rolled up the hems of his jeans. When his feet were submerged in hot water up to his ankles, Sakae felt relieved despite the strange circumstances. He felt like it was within the realm of possibility for Shitara to saunter out and join them, but apparently it really was just the two of them here.
“Why are we here?”
“Didn’t I say that the guys here are excellent? More importantly, insults, death glares, and mulishness have no effect on them whatsoever.”
Are you referring to me?
The man at his feet commented, “Well, that’s outside our jurisdiction.”
“Besides, they’re open late as you can see, and the greatest selling point is that they know how to keep their mouths shut. They won’t go blabbing your business around.”
So it isn’t their massage skills?
“So what do you want to talk about that you can’t say at work or at a pub somewhere? I’ve got no idea what it could be.”
“Hey, there’s no need to rush things. Since we’re here, let’s take it easy.”
After about 10 minutes, his feet were lifted from the water and roughly dried with a towel. The towel was a promotional item from Asahi TV and considerably faded.
“Ok, on to the massage. Let’s start with the left foot.”
“Please feel free to put your heart into it,” Asou interjected.
“Really? Can I?”
“Yes, please do.”
“Oi, what the hell are you—”
Sakae clenched his teeth in pain. It was like the thumbs embedded rocks into his foot. That was how much it hurt.
“Oh, I see that a massage will be quite worthwhile here.”
The man appeared awfully happy as he applied pressure to the sole of his foot from one point to another. The painful rock seemed to move with each location, and electric shocks buzzed through his back and even reached his fingers.
“This is your liver. This is your autonomic nerve… Hmmm, you seem to be in terrible condition everywhere! You’re still so young. It’s bad to neglect your health like this~”
“Listen to what the man says.”
Next to him, Asou received the treatment with an exceedingly nonchalant face.
“Switch with me,” Sakae demanded as he bit back his voice. “You can have the old man, and I’ll have the guy who looks like his student.”
“And here I am, granting you the precious opportunity to have your feet massaged by a master masseuse.”
“I see.” Asou nodded his head lightly. “Master, please put all your strength into it.”
When fingers ground into his toes, it felt like they were being pulverized, and the searing pain forced Sakae to grip the armrests of the chair and he nearly fainted from the agony.
“So, you wanted to know the reason that I called you out here.”
“Don’t talk to me about that when I’m in fucking pain!”
He used about 80 percent of his nerves just to keep himself from screaming.
“Wow, you’re weak. Even though you inflicted this very same procedure to your performers’ feet for your show.”
“That was my job.”
“You spread out acupressure foot mats all over the place and made them play a card matching game about silly things that comedians do. The cards were huge, the size of movie posters. Plus you even rented out the Tokyo Dome and filmed the thing from a helicopter. The department director pretty much screamed when he saw the invoice.”
“You sure know a lot about it!”
“Because it was funny.”
Sakae couldn’t imagine Asou watching a variety show and laughing at it, but there was no need for Asou to flatter someone like him, so he figured that it was just a regular compliment. If his foot wasn’t being maimed, it probably would have made him happy.
Asou looked up at the fluorescent ceiling lights and asked, “Do you watch Yamato TV’s My Document?”
“Not every episode.”
“Do you like it?”
“Not particularly. But I think that it’s put together pretty well.”
“Yeah, it does have a little of your taste in it.”
Sakae tried to recall the episodes that he had watched, but he couldn’t see it at all.
“I don’t think so.”
“I don’t mean in the show itself. It’s a matter of how you craft your shows and your approach to the process. It’s like one person digs into the topic, and others find it hard to step in and contribute. And although it’s highly focused, it’s not closed off either.”
“Yeah? So what about it?”
Was he going to say, You’re better suited for that kind of thing, and pack him off to the documentary team? It seemed easy enough for someone like Asou to pull off if he decided to put in a word or two.
“Nothing. They’re just some thoughts that I had.”
“Cut to the chase already, will you?”
Asou looked over at Sakae. He braced himself, thinking that Asou would instigate the master masseuse again, but he gave a small smile with just a quirk of his lips and broached the topic.
“I guess it aired about two years ago,” he said. “There was an episode that interviewed a veteran who had fought in the Vietnam War. His name was Tim Sutton, and he lived in New York. He suffered through PTSD as a result of his horrific experience in Vietnam, and it covered his life after he became homeless—a dark side of the U.S.’s history.”
Sakae had seen that particular episode. It had been a heavy show, and as expected, it didn’t feel as if anything had been forced. There were no showy displays of grief or loud accusations of blame. It was a well put-together show as always—one that contained a sense of distance that was a signature of Miyoshi’s style.
“What about it?”
The pain in the sole of his foot continued, but it wasn’t as bad as before when he wanted to howl. It wasn’t that he had gotten used to it. Most likely the masseuse had sensed the flow of the conversation and decided to go easier on him.
“Something about it had bothered me when I first saw the episode. I wondered about it for the longest time, but now I’ve finally figured it out. Tim Sutton appeared in a movie.”
“It was a small-budget movie released last fall, so it wasn’t shown in Japan, and his role in it was a hotel clerk. I streamed the movie and watched it again, so I have no doubts about it. When I compared it to a recording of the episode, they both have two big moles on the back of their left hand. But there’s no way to get his name because the role is so small that it’s uncredited—he basically shows up in one scene and says, ‘Your luggage has arrived.’ I’ll send you the title of the movie later, and you can check it out yourself.”
“…Are you saying that it was staged? That the veteran was made up?”
“Either that or they made someone else tell that veteran’s story. There’s a scene where they show a picture of him from Vietnam, but I feel like it was a different person.”
The black and white photograph of him with his fellow troops was blurry to begin with, but on top of that, it had to be pretty faded and creased in Sakae’s opinion.
“It’s only natural for his appearance to change. It’s been half a century since the photo was taken, and he’s even become homeless.”
“But even if you take that into account, I still feel the same way. Well, maybe it’s my own preconceived notions. It’s just that the first time I saw it, I felt like something was off about the man—like those weren’t his own words. Even though I never felt that way about any of the other episodes.”
“Well, they do write up a script to a certain extent.”
“It’s completely different from thinking up phrases that’s meant to bring the video together.”
Asou would not back down. It was a very common tactic to deploy members of a theater troupe where street interviews would be conducted. It was also very common for those actors to find themselves on TV some other way or for sources close to them to reveal their identities that publicized such dealings. However, for an obscure individual to pose as another obscure individual in a country across the ocean for a limited audience in Japan to watch—if that was true, then it certainly did feel different.
“Maybe he had been an actor before he became homeless and he was able to get that one small part? Could that be possible?”
“Out of the question. He said it in the interview. Due to his PTSD, he gets headaches and dizzy spells when exposed to strong lights. He wouldn’t be able to withstand the lights in a studio.”
That was right. That was why most of the episode contained scenes that were shot on darkened streets. The darkness had made the image hard to see, but he thought that it had been put to masterful use. Sakae remembered a scene at night where the veteran, with a beat-up knapsack on his back, looked up from the street and squinted at the glaring lights of the skyscrapers. Sakae let out a sigh. Was it of disappointment? He wasn’t too sure. Setting aside the question whether it crossed the line of acceptable or unacceptable behavior by broadcast standards, Sakae should have understood very well that nothing on TV was ever as it seemed.
“So? What do you want me to do about it?”
“Nothing really. I’m just passing the information to you.”
“There’s too little to work with, and most of it is your own subjective opinion. If you were able to identify the person on the show, then maybe we could do something about it.”
“It’s your job to investigate and get the story. Oh, right, there’s a director named Megumi over at our New York office who worked with us for a short while. I think if you ask, he’ll help you out. Get Nawada to connect him to you.”
“Wait, don’t operate under the assumption that I’ll cover the story. Why are you even telling me this in the first place?”
“Because you seem to have a lot of free time on your hands.”
“I don’t have free time,” Sakae argued, fully aware that Asou saw right through him.
“Is that so? Forget that I said anything then.”
Asou said nothing more and closed his eyes. He seemed to pull away so that even his presence was gone, and Sakae almost thought that he had disappeared under the dull lights of the room. Like nothing was there except a human-shaped dent left in the dark brown chair. It was creepy, like he could control his own heartbeat and blood circulation.
“…So what will you do if it turns out to be staged?”
Asou lifted his eyelids at Sakae’s words, and an air of life suddenly seemed to appear again. Well, no, maybe his whole existence was never ever there in the first place. He was just a shadow that flickered in and out of view depending on the light. This man’s entire livelihood was to stand in front of the cameras and burn that shadow into people’s minds.
“You mean if we’re going to say it on the show? It’s not like I want to show them mercy or anything, but normally television never says anything about the lies of television.”
Either the papers would get wind of it, or the tabloids would hear about it, or someone would file a complaint somewhere, or the network in question would suspect that it would blow up in the open and instead made a statement about it themselves. If the show was to denounce someone in their same position, they would find themselves on the defensive as others rushed to probe their own dark underbelly—everyone had a bomb or two of their own that lurked in the shadows. There were also times when the commotion died down with no findings to speak of—only for an expected bombshell to land and hit them.
“Are you under the impression that we’re a normal show?” Asou continued.
Sakae was at a loss for words.
“…Alright then, does the head of our abnormal show know about this?”
“Because he seems to be friends with their producer. I’d feel bad for putting him in that position.”
“I said that I’d feel bad for putting him in that position.”
“Uh, I wasn’t asking you to repeat yourself.”
Are you seriously saying that? No, are you in your right mind?
However, when Sakae remembered how happy Shitara looked after seeing Miyoshi, he couldn’t unconditionally deny that they were friends.
Either way, it’s not my place to guess what the two of them are.
“Oh, right, didn’t the two of you join the network at the same time? How very nice to be blessed with great friends.” Sakae said, voice dripping with sarcasm.
“Regardless of whether I’m friends with Shitara, I have no intentions of telling him this.”
“Are you asking me to do the story under his nose?”
“I have no authority to tell you what to do. Didn’t I explain myself already? I’m just passing you the information. Hmm, my feet feel pretty light now, so I’m heading on out.”
Asou told the younger man, “Thanks,” put his socks and shoes back on, and when he got to his feet, he put on his jacket that had been hanging on the wall on a hanger.
Sakae tried to get up as well, but he took a powerful blow right to the arch of his foot. It was like all of his vitals throughout his body was collected there. His sense of pain seemed to be on the fritz.
“Please don’t move, okay? I still have to work on your right foot as well.”
“I’ve had enough.”
“No, no, we can’t stop now. It will ruin your balance. You’re already unstable as it is. They say that the bottoms of your feet never lie.”
That was the first that he’d heard of it.
“You heard the master. I’ve already paid for everything, so don’t worry about it. I’m off then, good night.”
Just as Asou left, he reminded the master masseuse, “Please give him your best care.”
Sakae tried to retract his foot, but the masseuse held the heel of his foot in his grip like a vise, and he was unable to shake it. It was clear just how much muscle was in his neck and shoulders even under the traditional Chinese suit, and it was impossible to exercise any use of force no matter how much Sakae struggled.
“I have no choice but to give it my all after Asou-san’s kind request~”
“No, don’t give it your best. Seriously, I’ve had enough.”
“And this here is the gastrointestinal pressure point.”
Sakae ground his teeth down so hard, he almost thought that they would sink right into his gums.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.