My fingers closed on empty air, too late to grasp her delicate wrist as she fled from me. As her silhouette shrunk steadily in the distance, I willed my frozen feet to bring me to her. My out-stretched hand fell, slumped limply at my side as an agonizing drape of despair veiled my world. I sank to my knees.
“But… Sakura. I loved-“ was all I could utter before the rising sobs tore free in my chest. Sinking to my knees, I muffled my pain in my chest.
“Alright, that’s enough.”
And just like that, the soap-operatic anguish of Shige Takeaki seeped out of my body, and I felt the sorrow I had embodied moments earlier vanish into thin air.
The voice that cut me short was a tad nasally, and the eyes that stared me down as the tears streaming down my face were cold and sharp. Somehow, Tanaka Misao was not the creative genius I had pictured in my head. I straightened up.
Tanaka-san sat comfortably in the director’s fold-out armchair, exuding an air of ostentatious imperiousness. Which, in layman’s terms, means that he’s acting like an obnoxious snob whose reputation seems to have bloated his head to oblivion. The leading lady that I had cried anguished tears over just moments earlier strode calmly to my side, offering me a polite hand and a restrained smile as she helped me to my feet.
“Kanzaki-san.” The piercing authority that radiated the corner of the room forced my head to swivel in his direction. “Nicely done. It was an extremely well-performed scene.” The first twinkling of approval seemed to flash in Tanaka’s eyes, and my heart leapt ever so slightly. From the moment I had set foot in the audition-room, I had not seen the frown that defined Tanaka’s features (at least, when he was looking at me) shift to anything even remotely resembling pleasure or appreciation. I had just about resigned to the fact that perhaps he just didn’t get a good vibe from me. “However,” Tanaka scheduled, as if aiming to shoot down any inkling of hope I had, “this is the final day of auditions, and I’m looking forward to a number of talented prospects later in the afternoon. I wouldn’t want to give you false hope.” I bit my tongue as I digested the master drama director’s saccharine, condescending tone, swallowing the resort that I had been in the industry just about as long as he’s been a household name.
“I’ll keep that in mind. Thank you for your consideration.” The rehearsed words spilled out of my mouth with a relieving, mechanical efficiency, and I turned on my heel to head out of the room. As I swung the door open, the footsteps of my ever-diligent manager scurried after me.
As soon as we had rounded the corner of the of the corridor, heading straight towards towards a neon EXIT sign that glowed like a beacon at the end of the tunnel in broad daylight, I let out a seething sigh, slowing down my trail-blazing pace so that my aging manager could catch up with me.
“You didn’t like Tanaka, huh?” he muttered between huffs once the two of us walked side by side. I snorted.
“Nope. Not a fan.” I answered tartly, matching his hushed tone. Even minor actors had to be careful what came out of their mouth, I reminded myself. There was never knowing what little sound bite could come back to ruin a career if I ever made it big.
“He seemed to like you.”
“You mean, he seemed to be patronizing me. As if I was some kind of rookie, scouted two days ago.”
“Well, you are.” I stopped dead at the simple, matter-of-fact tone of Matsumura-san’s voice. Like most managers, Matsumura kissed the ground that any of the big guys (including Matsumura) walked on- but you’d think he’d at least cut me a break when we’re in private.
“Did you just conveniently forgotten the last five years of my career?” I demanded, feeling too drained from the last couple hours of excitement to inject anything more than mild annoyance into my voice.
“No, it is a fact. You are a rookie to him.” Matsumura had paused a couple paces ahead of me, and the way he peered back at made flames of anger flare in me again. “You’ve done nothing but a few television specials, cameos, and CMs for your entire career. You’re a rookie in anyone’s eyes.”
No shit. Did this guy forget he was my manager? I took a step forward, willing myself to defend my reputation- wanted to mention the raving reviews I had gotten when I first starred in “Everlasting”, how I got so many jobs back then we actually had to cancel or delay at least half of the requests in order to get to them all. How I used to work sixteen-hour days and get by with only two hours of sleep on my second and third starring drama sets. Everyday used to be a workday for me- no holidays, no breaks.
There was that key word though: “Used to.”
I examined the lines in the palm of my right hand, wondering if I was only a shadow of the actor I “used to” be in my younger days.
“Just leave me alone.” I muttered, pushing open the heavy back doors, not waiting to see if he would follow me. He might be a hopeless drunk when I least needed him to be and a heartless asshole of a manager in all the wrong situations, but he always knew when the lay off.
As I stepped onto the grass-carpeted grounds, outside, a cathartic rush of tension release flowed out of me as the noon sunlight enveloped me with warmth. I slowed my heavy-footed, anger-fueled steps and drifted towards the soft buzz of noise near the front of the NiSo corporate building.
I had hoped for too much too soon. Gotten too excited because of this Tanaka guy pretending to want me, I told myself as I made my roundabout way towards the source of the incessant, noise. I’m so out of touch with this business, I thought. I mean, I used to know this stuff- that top producers will toy around with unfamiliar actors just to get a feel for what’s out there- but no, I had to get all worked up about it. I stifled a sigh.
I wanted to believe that I had some reason to defend my merits as an actor. I wanted to believe that I could at least be considered somewhat a veteran in this industry. I really did.
But seriously. My last gig really was Everlasting, and that really was a little over three years ago. Pretty damn lame.
The buzz of noise around me could no longer be ignored. Surveying my surroundings, it suddenly dawned on me. I was at the NiSo talent fair. Endless lines snaked across the yellow-taped parking lot, leading up to main and side entrances for all kinds of idol auditions.
Ironically, this is the type of thing I had always wanted to attend as a teenager- but as a couple of distraught high school girls stumbled by me, trails of tears glistening on their faces, I suddenly felt like foregoing the whole process might have prevented a lot of early blows to my confidence.
Peppy, disgustingly cute pop music blared to my left, and it was no surprise to find Kurimu Agency’s most popular girl group, Kiseki Kirari, popping to their synthesized tune in gaudy tutus on a pink-lit stage in the meet-and-greet area, which was drawing a good number of bespectacled, chanting wota in its audience, most of them shameless salary men still in their workday suits and a crowd of overly enthused of brazen college dropouts. I winced, my eyes fixed momentarily on the three prepubescent girls singing their tiny hearts out on stage. At the center of the triangular formation they danced in was the centerpiece and the face of the group- the ever recognizable Azami Yukigawa- perhaps more well-known than the other two girls combined (yep, didn’t know their names, but could have known Yukigawa from a mile away.) As I allowed myself to focus on their performance for a moment, I couldn’t help but notice the effortlessness with which Yukigawa smiled, danced, and sang, never faltering, her smile never fading. Her performance wasn’t that much different than the flawless performances of her group mates. Just enough to set it apart, I noticed.
Just as I contemplated the strange charm of the twelve-year-old idol, my fingers automatically fumbled with my phone as Matsumura-san’s ringtone blared. Reluctantly, I held the phone up to my ear, preparing myself for a curt scolding for not returning like a brooding child. Instead, what I received as a greeting was,
“You’ve got it.”
“I just got a call from Tanaka. I’m on my way back. You’ve got it. The part.”
It took a few moments to register.
When it did, I switched off the phone and sprinted back towards the backdoor exit, my shoes squeaking as I ran down the white-washed corridors towards the equally white-washed, dull audition room in which Japan’s most renowned drama director awaited me.
The door was cracked open. As I sucked in breaths at the door, trying to compose my thoughts, a few stray sound bites halted me at the doorframe.
“So you’re sure he won’t reconsider?” Definitely Tanaka’s signature nasally tone.
“His agent said he’s occupied at the moment.”
A long moment of silence ensued, and I was just about to push open the door and interrupt them when the dialogue resumed.
“I can’t believe he won’t even consider working with me.”
“Well, your runner up isn’t that bad. He seems to have potential. He’ll definitely be thrilled about this.”
“I’m sure he will, considering his position. But he still can’t compare… I mean, he’s just Kanzaki Hiro. When I could have gotten him… never mind. You know what, it’s fine. I’ve already started working on Beautiful Nights anyway. I’ll make sure to make him an attractive offer when it comes time to cast it.”
I backed away from the door, feeling thrill of accomplishment rotting into something cold and sickening. Leaning against the frigid corridor wall, I sank to my knees. I buried my face in my hands. But the tears wouldn’t come.