I could feel the hot breath of an old hag rolling down the back of my neck. It wasn’t exactly the most pleasant sensation, but I gritted my teeth and kept staring at the ground- or at least, what I could see of the ground between the patches of feet that covered it. I hadn’t donned sunglasses, a baseball cap, or some loose hoodie, but no one gives me a second glance. Looking up, I stare straight at a cute short-haired girl wearing a grey, artsy hat, and she stares back at me for a moment before turning to stare out the window.
Not an ounce of recognition.
The doors of the train glide airily open, and the slumbering crowd that presses in on me suddenly bursts into life as eager commuters vie for a chance to squeeze onto the train station. I made a half-hearted attempt to push and shove my way to the front of the pack before falling back and waiting for the aisles to clear.
It was a good minute before the train became navigable, and as I followed the last dozen of stragglers towards the chiming double doors, I felt a soft tug on my sleeve. The soft jingle of coins gave the beggar away preceded the reek of alcohol that invaded my nostrils as I turned to face him. I wrinkled my nose, but dug into my pocket and threw some spare change into his tin can anyway.
As my feet hit the tiled floor of the station, there was a nagging thought maybe, just maybe, I could have been in the rags of that homeless man, stalking the subway trains scrounging for a bit of food to eat. My hands reach into my pocket, and my fingers find only a thin stack of 1000 yen bills.
Ha. I’m inches away from being broke myself, I told myself with a guilty, inward smile, giving the now empty train tracks a sideways glance as I jogged up the steps to the streets above ground.
It’s six o’clock in the morning already, and in Tokyo, the day has long since began. As my feet slapped the pavement, I can’t help but feel a spring in my step- surprising, if you considered the fact that I technically had no steady workload, lived in a company distributed apartment with people that I’ve come to despise, and have gotten little fame in a career where the value of a household name is often greater than the value of talent.
“Join us today in Niso Studios as we begin our pan-Asia talent search!” I found my eyes sidling upwards at the sound of the familiar, charismatic tone of the announcer’s voice. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a few teenagers in wearing purposely scruffed-up high school uniforms pause for a moment, seemingly transfixed by the ad. A flicker of cynical bitterness flared in me as I watched their eyes, glowing with excitement.
It seemed like years ago that I too, stood in the middle of an intersection, listening to the inviting voice of my now-roommate as he fed me fantasies of fame and glory in this same, grandiose tone. I fought the urge to take three giant strides over to those entranced high schoolers and snap them out of their revelry.
Suddenly, a faint tickle in my pant pocket brings me back to reality. I push open the slim upper screen of my cell phone.
“Are you going to be here in fifteen minutes?” No good morning, no hello. Guess it’s time for business. He doesn’t even make sure if I’m the one’s he’s talking to.
“I’m sorry Matsumura-san, in about twenty.” I hail a taxi while I’m talking.
“Whatever. Jus’ get your-ass o’er here. You won’t be sorry. I have good news.” He’s been drinking. Already. I sighed inwardly. Whatever good news he had could not have come from good means.
“Sure. See you in twenty.” When ten seconds are up and he stays silent, I snap the phone shut.
“Rakuen inc. building on Kurishima street, please.” I instruct the driver tartly as I shut the door. The driver eyed me for a moment, slightly bleary-eyed.
“Yer the fella that was on the toothbrush commercial the other night…” he muttered groggily. I flashed my best, toothy, appreciative smile. But, I died a little on the inside.
“Yes, sir. My name is Kanzaki Hiro.” If only that cute girl on the train could have had the same reaction as he did. The taxi driver gave me a vague nod in response to my gracious self-introduction, and gently nudged the taxi onto the road.
Ah well. You win some you lose some, I thought resignedly to myself.
When the taxi grumbles to a stop five minutes early at the curbside of the bland, rectangular establishment that looked more like an office building than a talent agency, I decided I was feeling generous in the morning and left the driver with the rest of my meager cash stash as I climbed out of the taxi and sauntered past the automatic doors of the agency, bobbing my head hello to the receptionist and flashing my ID card. Yeah, my fame is so unrecognized that even my own co-workers need an ID to make sure I work here. I let this painful realization sink in as I made my way up to my manager’s office and wrapped politely on the door.
The wooden frame rattled as the door burst open.
“Kanzaki! About time!” His red-eyed fury confirmed my suspicions that he was still under the influence. I offered him a tight smile.
“I was actually early, you know. Fifteen minutes instead of twenty.” I held up fingers for him to count. Staggering to his desk, he waved me in, already dismissing my apparent tardiness.
“I got you a good deal.” I approached his cluttered mess of a desk cautiously as he rifled through his files, a glint in his blood-shot eyes.
“Here!” He whipped a cream-colored piece of paper out of his manila folder and thrust it my way. Slipping it carefully out of his hands, I examined the fine print closely. After skimming the letter to myself for a moment, I looked up, incredulous, but trying to hide it.
“This is it? This is the ‘next big career move’ you’ve been jabbering about for so long?” I wanted to shoved the paper in his face, but he was my manager after all. I bit my tongue and fought to keep what little I said in a controlled, neutral voice. It was an audition for another possibly wonderful, possibly horrendous drama with another unknown actress already picked out. Again. Actually, not just again. Again, again, and again. Been there, done that. As if I hadn’t already been dubbed “ratings killer” Matsumura by every single director in the drama producing industry. Even alongside the most famous drama queens (no pun intended), my cameo would bring ratings down. It was downright ridiculous, but you couldn’t argue with the figures, right?
Sure, I appreciate my manager sticking his neck out for me to get more audition opportunities, but couldn’t he see that he was milking a dying cow?
Despite his drunken appearance, Matsumura-san seemed to read my mind.
“You don’t like it.” He said dryly, throwing up his hands.
“Sorry.” I admitted. I wasn’t sorry, but it was the thought that counted, right?
“Well, have you read the whole thing?”
“I don’t need to. It’s another audition. It’s another failing drama in the making. It’s another opportunity to re-establish myself as the actor who will bring ratings down even if he makes a one second cameo in the most popular show of the season! What else do I need to know?” I felt the bottled up frustration bubbling. I had followed his lead- figured the manager knew best- so many times. And yet, where has this lead me? On a fast track to absolutely nowhere.
I’m not going to continue down that road. I felt my fists clench. Out of the corner of my eye, I could still see the now fading poster that symbolized my one success in this industry.
I once had a dream of becoming a famous actor.
Now five years in the industry (been here since I dropped out of high school and read a couple lines to someone I didn’t know was a talent scout for NiSo) and landed an important supporting role in one of the season’s most popular dramas, “Everlasting.”
That season, every entertainment news source labeled me as the “Star Comet”, rocketing my way to stardom.
Looking back now, I did make a couple career stumbles here and there. After what was clearly a drama of top pedigree in writing, directing, and cast, I lowered my expectations to several smaller budget, more contrived small time dramas that have gotten less-than-spectacular viewership. Sure, initially, the shows’ ratings went above and beyond projections simply because of my presence, but as the viewers realized the story was full of crap, so began the crashing and burning of my ratings. Of course, when I returned to my attempts at “serious” and “first rate” dramas, few could take me seriously as an actor.
Fast forward five years, and I’ve dug myself into a rut, picking up jobs wherever I can find them, working on small-time CMs (Japanese industry lingo for commercials) and the stuff for debutants to get their name out there. That “Star Comet” concept I’d been pinned with has been a long time coming. Honestly, I’m not quite sure I’ll ever pull it off.
“Kanzaki! Focus!” I return from my musings, my eyes slowly grabbing on to the audition proposal that my manager is still hanging on to. Reluctantly, I follow his finger to the line near the bottom of the letter.
“Directed by Tanaka Misao.” I looked up.
Okay, so I missed that part.
And it happened to be a big freakin’ part of the deal, huh?
“Impressed now?” Matsumura-san’s face was alight with a sly smile. I swallowed.
“How did you get… Tanaka to do this?” Honestly wasn’t sure if I wanted an answer to that question, as it probably involved selling his soul to some degree. Matsumura winked. I prepared myself.
“Well, let’s just put it this way: he hasn’t been pushing a lot of dramas lately, has he?” I nodded. The legendary Tanaka Misao, king of drama screenwriting, usually produces at least one hit drama a year. This year, he’s been absent for two seasons.
“Well, turns out he’s been in New York resting up and brewing some new ideas.” I let myself nod some more. Matsumura sounded almost sober now, which was always good, so I could be almost certain that what he was telling me now was not a complete fabrication.
“Well, I caught him at the airport the other day when he was returning- he kept a real low profile, you know? Only us manager insiders know about this.” His secretive, conspiring tone almost made me roll my eyes. I resisted.
“Well, you know, I throw in some small talk and the like, and before you know it, I’m pulling out one of your demo tapes and pressing it into his hand.” Here, he paused for a moment, his eyes seeming to fix unwaveringly on me for a few moments. “Honestly, I’m not quite sure why he decided you were… worthy.” He looked down at the letter and squinted again, as if he wanted to verify its existence. “But that’s hardily the point.” His tone clearly indicated that he was back to business.
“Here’s the opportunity of a lifetime lying in wait, Kanzaki. Are you taking it or not?”
Oh, to audition or not to audition for the role in a drama that could possibly land me the biggest role of my currently hapless career. What a difficult decision to make.
Are you freakin’ kidding me?
I grabbed my wallet, ready to draw the taxi fare out before realizing that I had nothing but pieces of lint as financial support in this venture. Oh well. I smiled at myself. This beggar is about one audition away from becoming a chooser. Big time.