Chapter 9: Open It Up (9)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
The plane landed at Terminal 7, a very lackluster wing of the sprawling JFK Airport. Well, it wasn’t like he was going to buy souvenirs, and it was easier to walk through the place if it was emptier.
When Sakae went outside, Megumi was standing in front of the Yellow Cab taxi stand.
“Oh, Souma-san, I presume? Good morning!” Megumi bowed so that he was nearly parallel to the floor. “Thank you for coming all the way out here!”
For someone who hated loud and excitable personalities, Sakae’s first impression of Megumi made him want to cringe.
“Please, after you!”
He even politely held open the taxi door for him, so Sakae said, “I’m fine, I have arms of my own.”
It annoyed him to have someone he just met do that for him.
“My apologies. It’s just that Nawada-san told me that I must be polite and respectful to you.”
“Shin? I don’t think that it means this though.”
Megumi was so surprised that he nearly fell backwards. Yeah, maybe he was pretty weird.
“Y-You call him by his first name…?”
“You got a problem with it?”
When Sakae got into the back seat of the taxi, Megumi rushed to get in as well and told the driver, “To the Museum of Natural History.”
“We’re meeting in front of the Roosevelt statue,” Megumi explained. “I thought that Central Park would be a good place for us to take our time and talk.”
“Did you bring the equipment?”
“Oh, yes. A handicam is sufficient, correct? I’ve also packed the usual gear for an outside shoot.” Megumi gave a light pat to the bag that he held in his lap.
Sakae hadn’t slept a wink on the plane, and he suddenly became sleepy and gave a rapid succession of yawns.
“Um…” Megumi nervously ventured, watching Sakae’s reaction.
“You’re like Nawada-san’s mentor or teacher, aren’t you, Souma-san?”
“I haven’t taught him anything. He just thinks that I did.”
“What about it?”
“Oh, it’s just that Nawada-san is my mentor, and that would make you the mentor to someone important to me… So it kind of feels like you’re a sort of father-in-law then.”
What the hell is with this guy?
Some of his drowsiness dissipated. Megumi had seemed to be perfectly normal when Sakae had exchanged emails with him.
“Did your Japanese get all weird from the stress of living overseas? Or is your head just messed up to begin with? So which is it?”
“U-Um, please make it the first option at least.”
When the taxi approached Manhattan Island, Megumi broached the topic of their meeting today.
“What kind of business do you have with Mr. McConnell by the way?” he asked. “From our emails and conversation, he seems to be a regular nice old man. You even came all the way here from Japan… Could you at least tell me what the purpose is for this meeting?”
What? So you do know how to hold a normal conversation.
Sakae gave a small yawn like it was an added bonus and said, “Staged footage.”
“There are suspicions that a documentary series on Yamato TV staged their footage. The old man we’re on our way to meet had taken part in it whether he knew it or not.”
Sakae gave a quick summary of the details, but Megumi made a somewhat complicated expression like it was hard to swallow the explanation.
“You unhappy about it?”
“No, sir… But to be quite honest, it seems almost trivial to me? Especially when it happens all the time in this industry. I don’t think that it will particularly surprise the viewers to learn that the show was staged. More like, if you take the deception away from TV, then what else do you have left?”
Megumi seemed to immediately realize that what he had said was bad and apologized, but Sakae urged him to continue.
“Continue? Umm, well… Actually, I’m a complete newcomer to the industry who just joined the network last fall. But I’m 28, the same age as Nawada-san. That’s why I don’t really know much about the industry. When we go out on a shoot, in order to make the best use of resources and travel time, we’ll shoot in the order of A, B, C, right? But in actuality, it will be edited and aired in the order of C, B, A. And C is the last location that we visit, but we’ll make the presenter say as part of the script for the narration, ‘This is the first stop on our journey.’ That would make it a lie to be precise about it. It’s the same as when I watch a cooking show and they say, ‘And this is the version that we’ve prepared ahead of time.’ It’s not that I think that they’re being dishonest… I can’t really describe what it is, but there’s something about it that feels off. But it’s not enough to say that it’s a lie…”
“—If you ban all of those things, there’s no way that TV can survive as an industry.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
After about a one-hour ride in the taxi, they arrived at the Museum of Natural History, which was very close to Central Park. It was still Saturday there due to the time difference, and this famous location was crowded with tourists as they stood on the steps of the entrance to take selfies or had others take their pictures with the Roosevelt statue. McConnell was already there, leaned against the pedestal of the statue. His appearance was a far cry from a homeless person—he wore a jacket with a cotton shirt and khakis. He seemed like an elderly man from a very commonplace middle-class household. When Megumi walked up to him and said “Hi,” the wrinkles around his eyes deepened and doubled as he smiled and answered, “Nice meet you!” Sakae did his best to appear more cheerful than he ever had in his life as the two of them exchanged handshakes.
“My boss actually came here from Japan. His name is Sakae Souma,” Megumi said in English.
“Oh, it’s very nice to meet you. Welcome.”
Sakae returned a halfhearted handshake that McConnell offered with a bright smile. The hand was dry and clean. Sakae recalled the dirty hand that he saw in the video. The areas between his fingers and under his nails had been completely black, and his palm and the pads of his fingers had been grimy. He probably would have gotten pink eye in an instant if he had rubbed his eyes with that hand.
In the video, he had run his fingers over a faded photograph.
“The military photographer took this picture for us. Everyone died except for me. We were caught in a firefight in the marshes, and when I looked up, the guy next to me took a shot in the face.”
“I’ve run my fingers over this photograph for so long that now the faces are all faded. But it’s strange. The memories seem to become clearer the more that the image fades and disappears…”
Had those words been a complete fabrication?
Megumi gave Sakae a quick glance and suggested to McConnell that they talk at the park. Central Park was vast, and there were plenty of places where they could go. They found a shady spot under the trees at a grassy area called the Great Lawn, and when they settled themselves in, Megumi spoke up.
“First, I need to apologize to you,” he said. “We actually called you out here today because there’s something that we want to ask you. We’re a news production crew from a Japanese TV network. Naturally, you have the right to refuse to talk to us should you choose, but I hope that you can at least give us a statement, a voice recording, or even a shot of you from the neck down if you answer our questions.”
McConnell didn’t appear to be very surprised and gave a light shrug of his shoulders. “I guess that means that this isn’t an offer to appear in a ninja movie,” he said. “But it is rather baffling. I don’t know you at all, so what could it be that you want to ask me?”
Sakae thought that if he was aware of his involvement in the staging of the footage that he would display more wariness towards them, but his reaction was wholly one of incomprehension.
“I’m not a Hollywood celebrity, a presidential candidate, or a major league baseball player. I’m just a normal regular American.”
“Megumi, get the camera ready,” Sakae ordered. “I’ll man the camera, and you do the interview and interpretation. I’ll let you control the flow of the interview, so get what you can out of him.”
Sakae got into position with the handicam and held out his cell phone that played a video clip from My Document.
“—Oh, this is…”
Surprise flashed across the old man’s face.
“Mr. McConnell, is this you who’s in this video?”
The answer was a brief and unequivocal “Yes.”
“Could you tell us about how you came to appear in this video?”
“I received an offer through my theater troupe one day. It was from a Japanese man. He said that he wanted to make an indie movie, and it seemed interesting, so I accepted it.”
“What kind of movie was it?”
“I’m not sure. The script wasn’t complete at the time, and he seemed to be in a rush to shoot the scenes that he could while he was here.”
“This was aired in Japan as a documentary.”
McConnell responded to Megumi’s words with frantic gestures of shock.
“What the? It can’t be! I was only told that the scene was in the style of a documentary. I can’t believe it…”
“So you don’t approve of what was done, and you had no involvement with it?”
“Of course not. I can say so with absolute certainty.”
“Do you know the name of the Japanese man who had approached you?”
“I can’t really recall. After some time had passed since the scenes were filmed, I wanted to hear about the progress of the film, so I called up his number but got no answer. There were no replies to my emails either. I thought that maybe there were setbacks with the film and he was too embarrassed to talk about it or something. I didn’t really think about it too deeply. He had given me $300 for my performance, and it had been an interesting experience to play the role of a homeless man. I sent my daughter a selfie, and she gave me a frantic phone call wondering what happened.”
“Did the Japanese man give you instructions for all the conversations in the video?”
“Yes, that’s right. The character had PTSD and was unable to talk very well, and he said that it would be more natural if I left some of the words out or stuttered from time to time.”
“What about the other staff?”
“There weren’t any. He was the one who got me into the costume and wig, and he also did the makeup.”
Sakae used a cell phone to search for an image of Miyoshi Shunji, and when he pulled one up on the screen, he passed the phone to Megumi and told him to show it to McConnell.
“Was this the person who approached you?”
Sakae didn’t have any expectations that the picture would help since he couldn’t remember the name, but McConnell immediately nodded and said, “Yes, that’s him.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“When I was still working, there was a Japanese guy that I got along with at one of my customer sites. I remember thinking at the time that they looked very much alike; that’s why I remember the face.”
When the interview ended, McConnell clapped Megumi on the shoulder and said, “You didn’t lie about being a Yankees fan, right? We should go see a game together sometime.” Then he gave them a quick wave goodbye and left. He had been a mild-mannered old man and probably noticed that Megumi felt guilty about lying to him in order to draw him out to this interview. But he had said that it was an interesting experience to play the role of a homeless man. He had enjoyed the reaction that he got from his daughter when he sent her that selfie. Because it never crossed his mind that he could fall into such a hard situation or that his station in life could have taken a very different turn if the stars hadn’t lined up the way that they had for him. Maybe he viewed it as merely a Halloween costume. But for the great number of homeless people in this city who survived on what coins that they could collect in a paper cup, when had they lost their places as “normal regular Americans”? Why had it happened?
Sakae gazed at the beautiful park that adorned New York City from north to south and at the collection of high-rise buildings beyond it. There was the Empire State Building which he had seen countless times in the movies, a skyscraper that seemed to tower over the center of the world. And in the Upper West Side where the Museum of Natural History was located, ultra extravagant residences were lined up majestically in a row, starting with the famous Dakota building. It was a neighborhood where it was normal for people to earn an annual income of over 1 billion yen.1 Just what had Miyoshi seen in this city?
“Is there anything else that you would like to film?”
“No, that’s it. Send the footage over to my email when you get back. Between the Yellow Cab and Uber, which is easier to get a ride?”
“At this time of day, it should be fine to get a Yellow Cab. Where do you plan to go next?”
“I’m going home.”
“Because I’m done with my business here.”
If he took the flight before 5 pm, he would arrive in Haneda on Sunday just past 9 pm, and he’d make it for the broadcast on Monday.
“But you only just got here!”
“Didn’t I say that I have nothing else to do?”
“Um, but I’ve prepared at least 10 different itineraries for sightseeing that we could do.”
The guy was smart enough, but he was a little off in the head.
“Anyway, I don’t need to go sightseeing. Save it for when Shin ever visits. He’s your mentor after all.”
Megumi gave an incredibly complicated expression that was mixed with hope and despair. The guy needed to get a grip, seriously.
“I hope that day comes… But I know that something needless will end up tagging along…”
“I’ve got no clue what you’re rambling about, but yeah, you’re strange.”
On his flight home, Sakae basically watched all the movies in the catalog from start to finish. They loaded one and after the other, and he wasn’t really aware of what he was doing. The sound that played through the headphones flowed smoothly through the space between his skull and his brain.
He had gotten something out of the trip, but it was nothing more than testimony and mere circumstantial evidence. Even the selfie that showed McConnell smiling in the photo was still rather weak. He hadn’t obtained clear evidence that Miyoshi had orchestrated the faked footage.
Sakae figured that he had no choice but to go straight to the source. What would Shitara think if Miyoshi were to admit that he staged the footage, and the story went to air? Sakae recalled Asou’s words—that he would feel bad for Shitara. So it would be awful to hear about the allegations when nothing was concrete, but it wasn’t awful if he was notified of it as a full news story with all of the testimony and corroboration in place? Of course not. That was why Sakae suspected that Asou hadn’t been serious when he said that and probably wanted to see for himself how Sakae would handle the situation on his own. And to that end, he had dropped a large sum of money to go to New York City and back.
If Miyoshi refused to admit to the allegations, the story wouldn’t be able to go to air. And even if he refused to admit it, Sakae probably wouldn’t curse him out for it. It wasn’t like he worked on the story out of a sense of righteous indignation. And if Miyoshi admitted it, the story would probably go to air. But it wasn’t like that Sakae was happy about that result either.
Whenever there were allegations of staged footage, the “mastermind” behind it was typically a director hired on contract or a writer or researcher from an outside production company. So basically staff members who did not belong to the network itself were the ones who perpetrated such a thing. That was how they protected themselves, even if it meant that they couldn’t pin the blame on the deficiencies of the management system. And in exchange for becoming the so-called mastermind behind the staging, their real names were never revealed to the public, which meant that it wasn’t impossible for them to continue to work in the industry. They could find work at a local TV station, or they could work on videos in a completely different genre. They still had plenty of ways to bring food to the table.
However, in this particular case, it appeared plainly evident that Miyoshi had led the deception or even masterminded it himself. He hadn’t overlooked it during his checks, nor had he kept quiet about it as it happened—the head producer of a popular program had staged the footage himself. And what he had done was not an embellishment of a minor detail in the story—he had been daring enough to fabricate the existence of the central character that the episode revolved around. To announce to the public the staging allegations was to essentially ruin the career that Miyoshi Shunji had cultivated for himself. The stigma would never disappear the moment when the news hit the Internet. Even if he claimed that he had only staged that one episode, that everything else was honest and clean, no one would care. All the praise and adulation that had followed Miyoshi Shunji would make a sudden turn for the worse, and the show My Document would become a taboo at Yamato TV.
To put it bluntly, Sakae didn’t give a damn about the man he had only met once before or how his life would tumble. He was a pro in the TV industry, and Sakae wasn’t about to let him get away with saying that he hadn’t thought about the risks if he were to be exposed. How many people would he burden with his actions? How many people would lose their jobs because of him?
If Shitara knew about this, how would he react? Would he get angry at his friend? Or would he get angry at Sakae? That Sakae had stuck his nose where it didn’t belong? That he didn’t want to know any of this? Sakae felt like Shitara probably wouldn’t react in either of those ways, but he was sure that Shitara would not be able to remain calm about it. After all, Sakae was trying to sling mud on the fondly remembered days when they had tailed newspaper reporters together in order to find stories and shared a hate for collecting photos of people.
Sakae thought about how much easier it would make things if Miyoshi were to feign innocence. Sakae could go, Oh, hey, a dead end, and then he could shelve the story. No one would have to get hurt, and no one would have to cry. If even a single person who had watched that episode thought that they should be nicer to the homeless or that war was a terrible thing, then it didn’t matter all that much if the interview was real or fake. Did the things that people perceived from a lie that extolled the truth make what they had felt a lie? Were they supposed to deny the emotions that they had been moved to feel?
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.