Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Tatami Galaxy Episode 2: The Misogi Circle



The Misogi Circle

1

                                                                                                                                               
As far as literary clich├ęs go, I really can’t help it when I say it was a dark and cloudy night when Ozu and I rode over to Jougasaki’s place to do some intelligence gathering. From our nightly camp-outs on the embankment, we made detailed records of when Jougasaki came in and when he left. We made notes of his inebriated walks from the nights out from drinking too many cups of shochu. We used different inks and fountain pens of broad-, medium-, fine, extra-fine- and 1.1 mm stub nibs and markers and even pencils to fill pages of reconnaissance notes. The goal was to make sense of the random patterns of ingress and egress from his sprawling apartment, within a stone’s throw of the shallow waters of the Takase. And it was on this dark and cloudy night -if night were ever bright and sunny- a day after we figured out the method to his madness, that we rode on my trusty bicycle to pay a clandestine visit to The Director’s domicile. Ozu, with a practiced wave, produced a copy of Jougasaki’s key; a misplaced gesture of trust in the coiffured devil that Jougasaki would soon live to regret. We had then let ourselves in; the way lit by Ozu’s halogen flashlight. The arcs of light danced across the room and illuminated the book shelves, the mahogany table and the spines of digital video discs that featured the works of great directors like Kurosawa and Mizuguchi and lesser known avant-garde Japanese film-makers. Jougasaki was an unabashed consumer of the finer works of Japanese erotica; the sleeves of the plastic disc cases left little to the imagination: busty women and well-toned men writhing in pleasure, voluptuous women seeking worldly pleasures by themselves, and of course, women who weren’t even three dimensional.
“Leave everything as you see it. Jougasaki-senpai is one hell of a neat freak. He’ll notice if we fucked about with anything” Ozu called over his shoulder.
 I smiled at his choice of words.
As we headed inside the director’s hall, we stumbled upon what would later be infamously known as the Great Wall of Oppai. As I wondered aloud about the depths of depravity that Jougasaki was capable of plumbing, I got the unmistakable feeling that we were spied on. I turned around, and I saw a dark-haired, pale-skinned woman sitting in the corner of the room. Her aura was almost unnoticeable, and I started to panic. There was no indication that a woman lived here; the (colorful) recon notes did not observe a woman entering or leaving the premises under cover of night, and we had no notes to corroborate any purchases of feminine hygiene products in the clear plastic bags that Jougasaki lugged from his nightly ambits.
“Ozu!”
 Ozu made no effort to hide his utter lack of surprise at my panicked cry.
“It’s just Kaori, no need to make a scene, you know. She’s a quiet type. I’m just going to set up the video cameras and the microphones, and I’ll get you soon.”   
Kaori kept observing us from the shadows and made no effort to scream or show her displeasure at our housebreaking. Her pale skin shone in the dull afterglow of Ozu’s flashlight; her hands clasped together on her lap. Ozu came to get me. We left the house the same way we found it, but with the equipment from Jougasaki’s very own film club placed in strategic locations. As we locked the door behind us, I finally understood what Ozu had just said a minute ago. Oh, this was going to be good. This was going to be fucking good.

2

It was already cold enough on the sets of Jougasaki’s “Teacher and Student go to War”- a Chinese martial arts interpretation of the eternal struggle of the student who yearned to learn, against the master whom he loathed yet respected- without having to be kicked into an artificial puddle for added effect.
“Come at me, Mars!” screams Jougasaki, and his legions of (mostly) women admirers are already swooning and cracking their heads on the pavement.
I charged at Jougasaki and he “punched” me, and the men operating the pulleys pulled me into the air and towards the puddle. They let go at the opportune moment, and I land with a sick thud. As I’m toweling myself off behind the trailer and slipping into a fresh pair of pants, I hear Jougasaki exclaim that the take was good, but it could have been better. I’m sorry, he says in his booming faux magnanimous voice, for making the crew retake the punch scene, and I can hear more heads cracking the pavement. I finish drying off the best I can when I see a boom mike right over my head. I turn around to see Ozu, another college freshman, who’s rumored to be the lazy, vegetable-hating devil.
“You say such terrible things,” Ozu remarked. “But believe it or not, I’m your comrade.”
And this was my first contact with Ozu and also the worst possible one.

3

AN EXCERPT FROM THE SUMMER EDITION OF THE UNDERGROUND PERIODICAL ‘AVANT-GARDE FILMSCAPE’
A Question of Taste by Junior Reporter Takeda N___
May 15: The Misogi Circle at K_____ College is known for its long and over-the-top movies featuring the charismatic director, script-writer and producer Jougasaki with his million-yen pearly smile. I sat down with the young film-maker during the post-production of his most recent movie, Teacher and Student go to War and tried to see what made this young “prodigy” tick.
“Thank you for the chance to interview you.”
“My pleasure, Takeda-san.”
“So what do you hope to achieve with your films?”
“I say that every person is a latent film-maker. Everyone has a story, and everyone has a right to show that on the big screen.
“Right. And with your latest movie, what message are you trying to get out there?”
“The never-ending battle between what is unlearned and what cannot be learned. The struggle between the student, Mars, who yearns to defeat his master and the master who craves to be defeated. This is set in a Shaolin-styled era to highlight the struggle of the Japanese student’s middle-class upbringing.”
“But isn’t Shaolin Chinese and not Japanese?”
“…”
“And what about the allegations that your movies are a loose amalgamation of plot-points from various contemporary films released in the early Seventies?”
“Not sure what you're alluding to, Takeda-san.”
“I heard from other members of Misogi Circle that your sound producer, Ozu, and a bespectacled Misogi Circle member are working together to make some impressive works of art.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“If I’m not mistaken, Ozu’s partner seems to be the very same actor who was cast as ‘Mars’ in Teacher & Student. He didn't give me his real name, only a pseudonym.”
“That’s Teacher and Student Go to War.”
“His directorial debut in Year One was Approach. Ozu and ‘Mars’ played the roles of two disgruntled shoguns who were fated to participate in a never-ending war, and when the bloodlust finally took its toll on them, they finally took to playing silly pranks on one another.”
“Oh, that. I remember. I went to the only screening, and I recall that only one person in the audience laughed out loud. Everyone else seemed to think it was a drag.”
“But you must admit that his other two films: KOPOAB ANP and The Escape in Year Two were quite admirable. The story of a man trapped in a love quadrangle and that of the same man stuck in his room, unable to escape subtly explored the ideas of choices and how they entrap one.”
“Movies are made for the audience, Takeda-san. If the public cannot appreciate what they’re viewing, then that’s just a waste of Misogi Circle’s resources. I’ll have a look into the matter.”
“Well then, thank you for your time and before we conclude, do you have any news for any upcoming projects?”
“We’re planning an adaptation of the conquests of Alexander the Great. You see, Aristotle tutored Alexander, and the teacher-student dynamic was a fundamental aspect of how Alexander later turned out. He yearned to defeat his master (in skill, not combat) as Aristotle wanted to be defeated by Alexander. It’s something we haven’t done before.”
A lot of ideas are being pursued here at Misogi Circle at K_____ College. However, it is the humble opinion of this junior reporter that repetition could be the Circle's undoing.

4

Akashi-san moved with grace and precision, carrying cameras and tripod stands from one location to another. Although she was part of the engineering department’s Birdman Circle, her keen eye and her bewitching beauty moved Jougasaki to get her working in the Misogi Circle, with hopes that she would fall for one of his nefarious advances. Now, Akashi-san was not someone to be trifled with. I had no doubt that her razor-sharp tongue would have smote Jougasaki’s ill attempts at conversation. This much became clear to me when we worked on the sets at the foot of Mount Yoshida. We sat on separate stone benches and ate our bento lunches. I glanced over at Akashi. She had neatly combed black hair that covered her ears. She was in her signature sky-blue colored dress, with pens and sticky notes in her pockets and she wore a simple resin strap analog watch on her left hand.
“I was at the screening of Approach. It was definitely an idiotic film.”
“…”
“It was ridiculous for sure, but it was from your heart, and it was funny. I couldn’t help but laugh!”
So it was her.   
“It’s important to make films like that. Maybe the Misogi Film Circle has hope after all.”
I wanted to tell her about the progress I’d made with KOPAB ANP, but decided against it. It was a beautiful day and I didn’t want to ruin it. Besides, I could hear Jougasaki yelling about retaking a few scenes. 

5

Ozu and I sit at the low-rise table at the izakaya. There are no chairs; patrons are expected to sit on the thinly carpeted floor in the seiza position or Lotus form. Painful as this may be, the beer is cold, the food is cheap, and the service is lightning fast. I can already feel the alcohol rush and my face is tingling; I’ve turned somewhat red. Jougasaki is going to pull my access to the cameras, but Ozu has gotten away with a slap on the wrist; he’s still the audio technician for Jougasaki’s Alexander the Great venture.
“Damn it all. Why did I have to join Misogi? All I wanted to do was make movies and have people watch them. I wanted people to see how dull, vapid and repetitive Jougasaki’s films are. Somehow, every movie we make drives the audience into his camp. And how did you get away with it, Ozu? HOW?”
“No matter how much you blame me, aren’t you also responsible for the choices you’ve taken?”
“Why do you haunt me so, Ozu?”
“As I said before, I’m your friend; the red string of fate ties us.”
“Wait…did we have this conversation before?”
As I pictured Ozu dragging me down like an osmium anchor into the Trench of Japan, he pulled out a photocopy and passed it to me. It was a transcript; the length and breadth of it riddled with Cs and Ds.
“Jougasaki’s transcripts! He’s been here EIGHT years?”
“Our man is all talk and no substance as you can see. Jesus, are those mushrooms? I can’t stand vegetables!”
“Mushrooms are fungi.”
“Stop being so pedantic. Did you know that Jougasaki shot the entire finale of his previous project with the actors in their bikinis? But the final print showed them fully clothed. You know why? Jougasaki is an oppai man; he did it for the kicks.”
To be clear, women have alluring, curvaceous mounds that serve the evolutionary purpose of attracting mates, as sexual playthings and for feeding young progeny: oppai.
By now the alcohol had free reign over my thoughts.
“Ozu, we’re not going to let an oppai junkie get away with this. I still have equipment access for a couple of weeks. Let’s sneak-“
“-into his house and plant the goods” Ozu finished my sentence.
On the way home, we stopped at the stationery shop to pick up two notepads and a pen, knowing little that we would be back again to buy more.

5.5

In the editing room, I worked away on my laptop. We had footage from Jougasaki’s house, and the man had done things unknowingly on camera that will ruin him. Not just shame him, but utterly bring his downfall; we’re talking about Visigoth invasion levels of destruction. Ozu had brought in The Master, a weird tenant in the building I reside in behind the Eizan Demachiyanagi station. The Master, or Shishou, as he wished to be called, was draped in a moldy green kimono and wore a purple scarf that fluttered gently in the breeze. He had small eyes that were half-closed and this gave him the appearance of being lazy or ineffectual (which I later found that he was). Shishou, according to Ozu, had knowledge of all things of the world, and he was especially gifted at weaving narratives. His services, Ozu insisted, would make our filmographic takedown of Jougasaki even more brutal. We had enough material to ensure that. But as much as he was my cinematographic nemesis, he hadn’t hurt me. It was more of an egotistic move on his behalf to curb my movie-making. Should I destroy this man and his ability to make movies, however mind-numbing they are? I left the editing room for a breath of fresh air, and I walked down in the direction of Kiyamachi, reflecting on my aspirations.

A memory of autumn in my second year came up: the mossy eaves of the Honen-in Temple under cover of the camellia trees. Akashi-san and I are sitting at the footsteps, and we were discussing her engineering designs for the Birdman Circle.  She asked me what my dreams were and I told her that I was working on a true love story that involved the protagonist overcoming many struggles. As she was speaking in her usual terse way, a black moth came right out of the blue and landed on her face. She completely lost her composure and nearly fainted and would have cracked her head on the concrete had I not caught her in time. The moment lingered, the sounds of crickets in the dusk around us. She got up and apologized. In a weak attempt to quickly change the subject, she talked about the tiny plushy dolls (Mochiguman) on her key chain and mentioned that she had lost one of them just that day. I volunteered to scour the ends of the earth to find it.
“I’d rather you complete that movie of the true love story.”
“…”
“Promise me,” she said dusting herself off.
I had reached Kiyamachi.

6

Kiyamachi was called Korikichou Street back in 1611 during the Keichou Era when Ryoui Suminokura began his excavation of the Takase River. During the Edo period under the Tokugawa shogunate when economic and social reforms were implemented across Japan, the storehouses of Kiyamachi would be filled with coal and timber brought in by boats from Osaka. In fact, if one examined the Chinese orthography of the characters that make the word, Kiyamachi means ‘town of trees’. It served as the rendezvous point for the Emperor’s loyalists, and monuments to Sakamoto Ryouma and Kido Takayoshi are erected downtown. The place is quickly becoming an entertainment hub, and the pubs and izakayas are popping up quickly. At the steps leading down to the Takase River, I saw a white-haired old lady whose eyes were closed. For a second I wondered if she was alright, and as I approached her, she grabbed my hand and looked at me (with her eyes still closed) and started saying something.
“You have the eyes of someone who is dissatisfied with life as it is. You crave attention; you want someone to acknowledge your spirit.”
Ah, old hunched lady, how well you know me!
“However, there’s an opportunity that’s dangling in front of your eyes. If you do not catch hold of it now, you will walk the earth as you are now, forever unchanged.”
“Say, I feel like I’ve heard this before.”
I crossed the small wooden bridge and was heading downtown when I saw Jougasaki, drunk off his head, two of his Misogi Circle lackeys hauling him home. Jougasaki saw me, and he hesitated. One of the lackeys wasn’t expecting the sudden stop and tripped. Jougasaki found it difficult to place me at first, I reckoned, but then he said,
“You have a duty to make films. But if they are self-congratulatory masturbation fests, then you have no business making them.”
As they staggered away, my senses dulled for the briefest moment, and then everything became crystal clear: the sounds and smells of Kiyomachi, the shallow waters of the Takase, and the fury in the heart.
I headed back to the editing room and ignored Ozu and Shishou and focused on editing. I spent the next three days editing day in and day out. I put the final print on a thumb drive and entrusted it to Ozu so that he could swap it with the original. Forget Visigoths; I was going Genghis Khan on Jougasaki. By the time I was done with him, he would have panic attacks even looking at a camcorder.

7

The evening of the screening arrived. Jougasaki sauntered onto the stage and waited for the applause to settle down. He made a sweeping gesture and thanked everyone there. He brought Ozu on stage and introduced him to the audience as the audio technician. Then to my surprise, he made the same request to Akashi who declined to take the stage.
“She’s in charge of 3D effects,” says Ozu after he joins me at the back of the auditorium.
“Maybe we should back off, for Akashi’s sake!” I sputtered.
“And abandon our pride as film makers? I think not!”
We watch in nervous anticipation. Alexander (Jougasaki) fights off a Persian soldier (interestingly enough the same lackey who tripped in Kiyamachi) and then in the next scene, he walks in front of a green screen, and someone hands him a bottle of mineral water. The editing is done so well, that the jarring effect is almost entirely masked for a brief few seconds. Jougasaki sits down heavily and looks directly at the camera and calls it a take. The first murmurs start as our edits start playing.
Here’s Jougsaski running into a men’s room stall and suffering from a violent bout of diarrhea; the sights and sounds captured for all to witness.
Here’s Jougsaki violently scrubbing his arm from the elbow down under a gushing stream of hot water where a female admirer touched him playfully.
Here’s a video grab of Jougasaki disposing gifts from giggling juniors into the trash, followed by another montage to his arm scrubbing.
Here’s the audience gasping in visible shock; who are unaware of what is still to come.
Here’s footage from Jougasaki’s apartment where he’s practicing his indoor mountaineering skills on a wall of plastic hand-holds resembling oppai.
Behold, more footage of him sucking milk from a feeding bottle.
See Jougasaki running in front of the screen yelling to turn off the projector.
Finally, here’s Jougasaki with Kaori, his pale-skinned resident; combing her hair, adjusting her blouse and lying in bed (fully clothed) admiring her.
Here’s my face waiting for the audience to realize that Kaori’s paleness has nothing to do with genetics, but all to do with a plastic manufacturer in Tokyo.
They realize. Jougasaki is fighting back the tears of rage. It’s time for me to go.

8

Ozu and I split up while Jougasaki set every member of Misogi Circle to come after us. I bump into Akashi-san, and she asked me if I was responsible.
“People are still watching it?” I asked grimly.
“It’s entertaining, but in the way that I can appreciate.”
“Well, what’s done is done. Farewell, Akashi-san, don’t judge me too harshly.”
“Don’t forget to keep your promise!”
I didn’t recall what she meant by that.

8.5

At home, I caught my breath. Someone had eaten the Castella cake that Ozu had bought me to celebrate our victory over Misogi Circle. It was too late in the day to worry about a break-in, so I dumped the Castella cake into the bin and switched on the light. A lone Mochiguman hung from the light’s pull switch. The same Mochiguman I had found when I rode my bicycle from Honen-in.
However, there’s an opportunity that’s dangling in front of your eyes. If you do not catch hold of it now, you will walk the earth as you are now, forever unchanged.
I brought my laptop out and started watching the incomplete film I’d hope to make for Akashi. Waves of disgust and nausea washed over me at the thought of what I’d done. I should have never joined the Misogi Circle. I would have never met Ozu, and my soul would have been untainted. It’s just past midnight.
“What the fuck are you doing?” I scream at myself on the screen, and I burst into tears.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Tatami Galaxy

The Tatami Galaxy

The following is the plot-line from episode 1 of the cult classic “The Tatami Galaxy”, a sweeping 12 episode saga of an unnamed protagonist as he desperately searches for the ideal college life, but regrets his decisions at the end of each episode. The next episode gives him a fresh start and he begins anew. Although there are unofficial translations of the Japanese novel, this is my take on the first episode of its televised adaptation, with a few flourishes of my own. I hope you enjoy it.

The Master

The Shimogamo Shrine houses the matchmaking gods of yore. People from across Japan flock to this holy site, nestled between the Kamo and Takano rivers to make offerings and to receive a divine blessing. But few people know about the mysterious noodle cart that sets up shop near the shrine; serving up the delectable Neko Ramen. I sit on the lowly-seated wooden plank and slurp away at the delicious noodle broth rumored to be made from actual cats (for what is Neko Ramen without actual neko?) when the slurping of the patron seated next to me crosses the threshold for healthy gastronomic appreciation. I pivot to my right just in time to see the last bits of the noodle enter his cavernous mouth. Without skipping a beat, he looks at me through his half-closed eyes.
“You too are a resident of the Shimogamo Boarding House are you not?”
I am indeed a resident of that same boarding house: the nearly dilapidated structure located behind the Eizan Demachiyanagi station; whose ruddy innards are so ravaged by time that you would be excused for thinking that you stepped into a moldy hoarder’s dream home. And in that place, I recall seeing this curious man, in his pale (moldy?) green kimono, holding an audio disc to his ear and conducting Beethoven’s Ninth in complete silence with a cedar stick. Or the sight of his purple-spotted bandana fluttering as he lay stretched out on the terrace with sparrows resting on his gourd-shaped chin. Or the si--
“I am a god of the Shimogamo Shrine. I know everything there is to know about you. I have known you since you were in diapers, since the time you fell in love with S___ in high school, known the first time you confused infatuation for love. I know that you have stumbled through two years in college, loveless…”
This can’t be happening.
“...unable to open up to a soul, and as such seeking to interfere in the matters of the heart of those around you. Why do you live in such a timid state?”

Immediately, Ozu’s dark figure floated into my mind’s eye; his smile like the pearly whites of man-eating sharks. As if he read my mind, the (purported) Godman replied “I know your soul has been tainted by Ozu, but surely you have some role to play here?”
The wind rustled through the tall hackberry trees and I hear the sounds of a bell ringing gently and a cat mewing somewhere. The (alleged) God carries on, “I have to travel to Izumo and finalize the list that I prepare; the list of men and women that are destined to be together. Do you follow me?”
Not in the least.
“Does the name Akashi ring a bell?”
Indeed.
“As the god of matchmaking, I must settle on the name of the man I intend to set her up with.”
“Meaning,” he says with an impish smile plastered across his face, “it’s either you or Ozu.”
The winds howl as I’ve never heard before.

OZU

The first week at K___University was like a fevered dream. At the quadrangle, amidst the Brutalist-styled halls of learning, rows of students had their hands thrust out- a sea of brown and pale white- handing out flyers for clubs on campus. The whole point of joining a club was simple: it allowed you a chance to meet interesting people, share philosophies, make friends for life and if you were lucky, find a beautiful soulmate with hair black as ravens on a moor. I’m not exactly a genius when it comes to tennis, but I couldn’t resist the lure of the courts and so I joined the Tennis Circle. Predictably, I couldn’t return a serve and a volley was out of the question. It took me so long to find my voice, that when I did eventually find it, I was no longer in the Circle’s social circle. It was at this time that I met another freshman, Ozu. My first contact was also the worst possible contact. He was a short man with black, coiffured hair and with a smile that reminded me of a tiger shark swimming in placid waters.  I looked up at him and mused if he was an agent of the Lord of Darkness.

“You think such cruel things. Believe it or not, I’m your best friend.”
                                                                              
                                                                               ***
Ozu and I sit on the banks of the Delta, downstream of the Shimogamo Shrine watching the good folk lighting sparklers on the opposite bank, welcoming the advent of summer. Couples share an intimate moment in the relative darkness and the yellow glow of the sparklers and the white of the moonlight. Oh, how we have a surprise for them!
Ozu looks through his spyglass and remarks “Oh! I see Akashi!” The first thing I want to ascertain is if she came unaccompanied. I grab the spyglass and look in the general direction that Ozu pointed me in. Akashi, her jet-black hair let down, is in a simple white-collared shirt and blue dress, a watch adorning her left wrist, her left hand holding a bottle of what I imagine is wine and a paper cup in her right.
“She’s in the engineering department. Probably whipping something up for the Birdman Circle.”
My will started to waver. Ozu (Prince of the Irredeemable) seemed to catch whiff of my hesitance and insisted that we, the Black Cupids, dare not deviate from the plan of ruining these young lovers’ night out.
So I stood up, and loudly proclaimed that the Black Cupids had come to instill sense into those blinded by frivolous dreams of amour. Akashi mouthed something at me, although I couldn’t be sure if she could recognize me at all from this distance. Without further ado, we set off the bottle rockets from across the shore at the young lovers (and Akashi) and watched as they scattered like dust in the wind; the young women shrieking shrilly. Several livid young men, cross the shallow river and give us chase. As I bolt up the Delta, cartwheeling between the trees, I think of the words that Akashi has mouthed at me.

You fool.

---------
My lungs are on fire and I am wheezing heavily by the time I throw off my pursuers. Ozu is nowhere to be seen. I am in Kiyomachi, panting and trying to catch my breath. A grandmotherly figure is seated under the overhang of someone’s house and she emits a terrifying aura. Like a moth drawn to the flame, I approach her. She looks up at me and asks me what it was that I wanted to know. A fortune-teller eh? I muse.    
 She looks at me, nay, into the darkness of my heart and tells me that I am impatient; I am a man who yearns for his talents to be recognized and paraded to the world.
“I see an opportunity; an opportunity that dangles before your eyes. You must take a hold of it before it’s too late” she intones somberly.
“Else, you will walk the earth forever, unchanged, remaining as you are now.” She holds out her hand.
And so, as I roam Kiyomachi with these ominous words on my mind and my wallet a 1000 yen lighter, I bump into the Archduke of Misery himself who had a very beautiful and very drunken beauty on his arms.
                                                                                  ***
At the restaurant, Ozu and I discuss the beautiful woman who’d just kissed him goodbye. She was his dentist’s assistant; a woman who knew teeth better than anyone. What she saw in Ozu besides his razor sharp chompers, I’ll never know.
“You should ask out Akashi, you know” says Ozu, tossing out the mushrooms from his bowl. “She might say yes.”
I was flustered from the beer. “I’d rather have a raven-haired beauty who’d make tongues lag.”
“Wag.”
“Right. That’s what I said.”
“Then you won’t mind if I ask Akashi out? She might say yes!”
“There’s no way she would like someone as corrupt as you!”
“If you can’t take this opportunity, there’s no reason I shouldn’t.”
“I hate you. I’ve wasted my only college life thanks to you.”
“You say such cruel things! I’m sure you’re just as responsible for your share of things. You’ll end up walking this path no matter what. I just decided to join you.”
“Why do you haunt me so, Ozu?”
“We’re tied by the red string of Fate.”
I put my head on the table and nearly weep. When I open my eyes, I see that Ozu had disappeared (as demons are prone to do) and that Akashi was sitting at his place, shoving a large bowl of chicken and rice into her mouth.
“It’s on the Birdman Circle’s tab, senpai (senior)” she said. “You picked a grand time to gatecrash the party.”
I thank her and ran out the back. She stops me and asks me to hold good to my promise. In my drunken state, I could only mumble something incoherently and stumble out into the cold night.

Akashi 

 I return home to my four tatami (mat) apartment at the boarding house and find a box of Castella cake at my doorstep. Ozu’s handiwork without a doubt. He probably has come to visit the mysterious Master whom he reveres as a philosophical genius (I later realize that the Master is nnone other than the God of Shimogamo). I open the box and take a slice of cake and bite into it. And for no rhyme or reason, the outlines of Akashi’s slender body drift into my mind.
                                                                                                ***
I met Akashi, an engineer, who’s a year younger, at the Shimogamo Book Fair hosted at the park. Large wooden cupboards with books on topics ranging from Japanese cuisine to Zambian witchcraft were laid out in the afternoon sun. She was sitting on a cheap plywood chair in the middle of a patch of freshly mowed grass, reading a formidable tome#, while the eyes in the back of her head were monitoring the patrons for shoplifters. Akashi was a no-nonsense young woman, who despised small talk more than anything else; rumor has it that pickup artists having years of demonstrable experience hitting on women with silly jokes and quips about the weather all had to go back to the drawing board, tearing their hair out in frustration. Although I don’t ever recall speaking to her on campus, we did share a quiet moment in the park after the book fair. As we were drinking our sodas in silence, a black moth had landed on Akashi’s person and she had dropped her bottle and spluttered uncontrollably. She looked at my bemused expression, offered a hasty apology and to change the subject (from the horribly embarrassing display she’d shown), she showed me her collection of 5 tiny Mochiguman plushies on her keychain, one of which was missing. Being the gentleman that I am, I offered to scour the ends of the earth to find the missing Mochiguman, but instead she jovially asked me to promise to take her to the Neko Ramen stall someday.    
                                                                                                ***
I gaze up at the Mochiguman that’s tied by a string to the light bulb over my head. I reach out and squeeze it gently and I wonder if I deserved a life of happiness with Akashi after Ozu and I had destroyed the love lives of so many others. But then the very thought of Akashi being seduced by a demon like Ozu was just too much for me to bear. For the sake of the pure-hearted Akashi, I would yield to my baser nature and beat Ozu. Five minutes later, after angrily scarfing down half the Castella, I knock at the door of the Godman. He answers the door and I tell him impatiently that he cannot let Ozu have her. He closes the door abruptly, seems to answer somebody inside and then tells me to meet him at an address in the Nakagyo Ward at sometime past 10 pm. I look up the date and place of the rendezvous and it strikes me that it’s the Gozan.

The Hands of Time

Izumo be damned, the Godman had finally decided that he would set me and Akashi up at the Gozan viewing; the spectacular conclusion to the Oban Festival where bonfires lit in the mountains could be seen from miles away. Through the parted crowds comes Akashi. We walk towards each other and when we meet my mouth turns to cotton. I thank her for footing the bill the other day. She says it’s nothing; the Birdman Circle never even noticed the extra food and drinks that Ozu ordered (and never intended to pay for). And just like that I bow, wish her a good evening and walk on. This is progress, I tell myself, surely this is a “one small step, one giant leap” sort of moment. But I can’t help the feeling that I let an opportunity slip through my fingers. An opportunity...

The commotion around me brings me out of my reverie. I see a figure standing at the edge of the bridge, threatening to jump into the river. It’s Ozu of all people. People around him are screaming his name and baying for blood.
“What kind of mischief have you done this time, senpai?” cries out Akashi.
“Ozu!” I hear myself crying. “Get down, for God sakes!”
“I can see that you managed to botch the chance that Master set up for you! You’re really useless, you know that?”
“Y..You mean he’s the Master?”
“See? USELESS!”
Ozu teeters at the edge; the river is swollen and if he slips, he could really die. Much as I am conflicted about my feelings for Ozu, this is too much. I elbow my way through the crowd of his detractors and try to get him down.
“You’re friends with him?” yells the drunk president of the Film Circle. “You ought to join him!”
At this implication, the crowd hoists me over the railing of the bridge and I plunge.
As I’m falling, in that infinitesimally small period of time, as they say your life passes in front of your eyes, the only thing I think of is how much I regret having joined the Tennis Circle. Then I would have never met Ozu. Then perhaps I might have had a way to find the perfect college life. The perfect woman. It’s all over now.

I hear the clock tower chime midnight in the distance and as the new day begins, mine ends.


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