There are certain nights where the stars align, and something shifts in reality. A past decays behind you and new futures open up. The thing is, you don’t realise it at the time. Just the feeling of spinning out of place. I’ve felt that a few times, but I never expected it from quiet drinks while networking.
I was getting pretty desperate for a new big project as Tokyo started to fall into autumn. Leaves turned to red and gold, the nights drew in and film producers started to search around for big new projects and actors to fill them. My agent was being worryingly quiet about anything that wasn’t an exploitation flick where I got to kick some fiends in something tight fitting. I realised that Kazuya had started worrying for me when my morning coffee was experimentally replaced by a chamomile tea. I turned to pacing. Suddenly Kazuya was into whale music. I complained in no uncertain terms, and suddenly Kazuya was lighting aromatherapy candles, and trying to hide a notebook labelled destressing. I think it was a relief to both of us when a message arrived from my former director and acting friend Nakano Umi to meet at a bar. It was a swanky location in central Tokyo and Umi suggested that on the following Friday there would be a fruitful networking session. This was a chance I would not waste, nor allow Kazuya to disrupt. The first thing was clothes shopping.
Kazuya remained reluctant, and I virtually needed to ambush him in what I promised was a shopping trip for a new dress. It took what felt like hours of bullying to get him to try on a couple of jackets, a decent shirt, and trousers that didn’t look like they belonged to some try hard teen. He cowered, arguing he couldn’t afford a proper grown up wardrobe, despite this being a mid-tier clothes shop. In the end I had to grab the full collection out of his hand and pay myself. He was not showing me up! He moaned and stammered the rest of the day despite me explaining it was necessary and all for my benefit. At this event he was my accessory, and he needed to dress up to make me look good. After that Kazuya accepted his lot.
As we walked back to my flat, Kazuya decided to ask who the mysterious Umi was. I explained that Umi had been kind to me as a fellow actor on a 1000 Cranes and as an actor director on The Heron Princess. He and his girlfriend Nana had been there for me when I felt I would fall apart and had understood and given me the space to recover, and more importantly a project to keep busy. I trusted Umi and I needed to prove I was up to whatever chance he could offer, and I required Kazuya to step up too. I showed him a picture of me and Umi on set, and he looked pensive. I didn’t know why, maybe just daunted by the way Umi had such a natural chemistry with everyone.
I was getting a little tired with Kazuya’s questioning and his unwillingness to accept that I knew best about the business. I needed to keep him busy and remind him of his place as my assistant. ‘You know what, you should be out there sourcing a gift bag for the host. Can I trust you to get out there and buy a nice bottle of wine, sources some flowers, and maybe twenty or so business cards?’ That at least got the boy out of his funk, as he nodded his assent, taking on a determined air.
The day of Umi’s drinks I kept myself occupied with a new script for a theatre performance, fussing over every nuance. The art of labelling and interpreting a script has always given me such peace and control, able to lose myself in someone else, how she should act and behave. This part was another comedy, an airhead young woman comedically on the sides making wacky comments. It was relaxing to shape her, work out for myself how she tied together her thoughts, untie, and connect her in a way my own thoughts would not.
By early evening I just had to get ready. I took herbal tea to calm the nerves, applied the jasmine perfume, gave myself a lick of makeup to look natural under the light of the bar. The art of acting to give verisimilitude, of a precious truth hidden within a lie. The next stage was settling on a dress, and in the end, I picked a garnet red dress and rose red cardigan against the cold night, matching it with a scarlet lipstick. Tonight, I would be confident, clad in my favourite colours. I was tempted to do something fancy with my hair, but no braid felt right, and hairclips seemed too childish.
I had half heard the door open as I had worked, but I was semi surprised to see Kazuya sitting in the kitchen, anxiously gripping a tote bag labelled Nagomi Sake, holding a small bunch of pink roses mixed with ferns and tied with twine. Despite sitting upright like a concerned meerkat, Kazuya looked more mature than I had seen before. The blue jacket, clean white shirt, civilised charcoal grey jump and sharp cute royal blue trousers made him look like a young adult, rather than a lost child. He turned round as I opened the door, and his eyes lit up, a certain redness to his face that suggested he was impressed, that was not unflattering. However, there remained one problem.
I grabbed a comb and towel from my room and ordered Kazuya to stay still as he tried to mouth some platitudes about how good I looked. I leaned forward, looking him deeply in the eyes, and saw him redden a little further. ‘I can’t let you go out with your hair in such a mess,’ I explained looking at the gelled monstrosity in front of me. Certainly, it was tamed, but it looked flat and lifeless. I tutted, lightly towelling off some of the layers of gel, before styling his mop with my comb. It was closer than I needed to be, but I needed to get this right. I stood up and admired my handiwork, a smart looking side parting, organised and calmed rather the shock of orange hair I had become used to.
‘Thank you… Do you think I look good enough?’ He asked carefully. ‘Almost acceptable for polite society Mr Kinoshita,’ I joked back. He smiled and I laughed. This had been worth it, as a sense of calm rolled over me. I was prepared for anything.
It was beginning to cool as the sun set, giving Tokyo an orange glare that neon signs fought to fill with colour. We arrived, movie star and assistant. Kazuya diligently handed me the bouquet and tote bag, and I could feel him shrink behind me, like a nervous shadow. Umi and Nana were playing the perfect host and hostess just inside the bar’s entrance, giving me and Kazuya a chance to take in the décor before greeting them, a fusion of western style marble desktops and eastern fittings, bathed in shifting shades of neon.
As we reached Umi and Nana, following twins and some child stars, I proffered Nana the roses and we kissed cheeks like proper actresses. It was so good to see her, though something seemed a little off, even if she was as friendly as ever to her Chi-chan. I offered Umi the tote bag carefully while he questioned me in his silky way, ‘So this is the boyfriend you’ve been hiding Chizuru-chan? He really is adorable.’ I am sure I kept my composure at this ridiculous insinuation, and my face just felt a little warm from going from the cooling autumn air to the warmth of the bar.
‘Nakano Umi, this is Kinoshita Kazuya, my new assistant,’ I explained patiently, trying to keep myself as formal as I could be, but Umi was already opening the bag and appraising the sake. ‘A Dewazakura Cherry Bouquet Oka Ginjo,’ he exclaimed, ‘I didn’t think you had this much taste in sake. Choosing a Ginjo with a hint of acidity that gives richness to floral and fruity taste, it really suits you.’ I was about to explain that Kazuya had chosen the sake, but Umi continued to rifle through the bag, revealing a copy of Ultramarine Constellation, that blasted novel that Kazuya couldn’t let go of. Umi smiled, but his eyes hardened as he glanced over the book and wondered out loud, ‘This isn’t your attempt to butter me up for your next role?’
I could feel my smile become false, plastered over as a mask to cover my fear. Umi had been good to me. Treating him as another industry connection rather than a trusted colleague was a shame too great to bear, even if by accident. Then came the anger as I turned to Kazuya, only to see him move forward from behind me, apologetical yet determined. ‘I’m sorry, Nakano-san, but it was me. I fell in love with the book, and I heard from Mizuhara-san you were such a good director that you would enjoy it too. It’s my first time with all her actor friends, I don’t want to get Mizuhara in trouble for my stupid mistake!’ He had walked right up to Umi, and he looked ready to dogeza, eyes looked a little watery. There was a silence and tension in the air before Umi cracked. He let out a belly laugh, the first I had ever seen from the director, even on the set of the Heron Princess, and slapped Kazuya’s shoulder as the assistant looked ready to cry in relief.
‘I wish I had an assistant as loyal as your boy Chizuru-chan. I like him. Tell you what, as its your first time, I’ll be gentle, and explain to you the protocol of flattering your boss’s friends,’ Umi said, still grinning, as he guided us to a table equidistant from bar and door that seemed to be Umi’s little bolthole. It took a few minutes and a white wine to calm my nerves, while Kazuya seemed to adapt well to Umi leaning in close, conspiratorially talking about their favourite films… I think. All I heard was some nonsense about a coughing robot with four arms and whoosh sounds and both laughing like children. Nana leaned in instead, tapping my hand to get my attention, smiling softly, though I think a little sadly, ‘I like him.’
‘I’d expect you to like your boyfriend,’ I said rolling my eyes slightly, ‘he’s a skilled actor, and finds it so easy to get along with people.’ Nana’s smile shifted, as if about to come unstuck, but she recovered herself, and shook her head, ‘I mean your Kazuya-chan. He’s a good boy. He didn’t need to stick his neck out or be so genuine. In this business that means a lot. I would keep an eye on him… but for now I will. You go out and mingle. That’s why you are here, isn’t it?’
I nodded gratefully, taking a few moments to centre myself, before giving Nana’s hand a squeeze, ‘You are a good friend getting me this opportunity. I won’t waste it.’
Circulating was easy, and being the glamorous, outgoing Mizuhara was easy in the bar amongst strangers who wanted a piece of her for their productions if she could make them a bit richer. I recognised a few talent scouts and producers, and pretended to recognise a few more. Maybe being in Power Zords 5: Wrath of MechaNeko wouldn’t be so bad? Better to be in another disposable love triangle or harem for some dull protagonist then to be forgotten and let the spark go out. Acting is acting.
I was patiently speaking to yet another bearded director who wondered if I was interested in a romance based on barbecuing when the evening shifted again. To this day I’m not sure how she managed it, but the halogen lights went dim, before lighting up again in a vibrant yellow, and I could swear the main door opened from the night air with a hint of fog blowing in. Into a pool of radiant light entered the sweetest looking young woman, golden hair with pink ends lighting up almost like a halo, the angelic impression built up by her blue eyes. Behind her two young actresses I vaguely recognised, and an assistant who looked either twenty-one or forty-one depending on how I squinted at his widow’s peak and goatee. This was the famous agent Nanami Mami, who had gone from young face to mover and shaker in barely a year. If I could work with her then I could have any role I liked…