"The Soldier and the Actress" -- Watanabe On

posted Thursday, September 08, 2005

Ong came back from the war and took his first walk around town in a long time. His tanned face reflected in the fancy shop windows up and down the street. The stores, with their expensive neckties and Czechoslovakian glassware, didn't seem to have changed a bit.

"Hey! Wait up!"

It was a stylish-looking girl in make-up, calling Ong from behind.

Ong cheered up at once. "Haru-chan!" he said. "Nice timing!"

"What happened to you?" asked the girl.

"'What happened'?" Ong looked her over more carefully. "Aren't you at the Honolulu Cafe any more? Didn't you read my letters?"

"Sure, I read them. But I quit the Honolulu ages ago. You mean you didn't hear?"

"Hear what?"

"Oh, you're hopeless! Look at that picture-postcard shop over there. My photo's pasted all over it."

"Huh! You became a movie actress?"

"Yep. You really didn't know? Wow, you must have gone to war." She shook her head a little more than was necessary and sighed as if impressed.

"Of course I did!" Ong said. "I even sent you some photos I took on the battlefield, don't you remember? And look how dark I tanned." He brought his face close to hers and grinned.

The two of them went to the something-or-other cafe to sit down over a coffee.

"So, what's it like being an actress?" asked Ong.

"Terrible," the woman replied. "I'm completely broke."

"Really? You're wearing pretty stylish clothes."

"Yeah, but I practically have to steal them. I spend all day, every day running around sweet-talking people to get clothes like this. You can't be an actress if you aren't well-dressed."

"How come they aren't giving a star like you a big fat monthly salary? Surely it isn't like that for everyone?"

"The studio thinks that actresses can make enough money on their own to get by, so they don't pay us a decent salary. You can't even talk to them."

"Those idiots."

"No, it's us actors who are idiots."

"So how come you signed up to be one?"

"What else was I going to do? I mean, why did you go off to war?"

"The partisans in the Mamluk Sultan's country next door went on strike and rioted. We went to take care of it."

"Isn't that none of our business?"

"You can get your head bitten off for saying something like that. The partisans are a bunch of brigands, so if they get out of hand and the strikes continue, they could well cause serious problems for the companies and mines and things that Cecil Rhode and Yamagami Gonzaemon and all those famous billionaires have there. So, they had to be put down."

"So because some millionaire has problems, you have to go to war?"

"Hey, I don't know. Ask the generals or the admirals or something."

The woman watched as he sipped his coffee. There was anger in her face at first, but then she smiled faintly as if she'd suddenly remembered something.

"Did you see Time Flies, that movie that was supposed to be based on the Glenburg play? It was a Kharakhorum Pictures production -- did they have them over there?"

"Nah. Soldiers don't have time to watch movies. What about it?"

"Nothing, really. Just that that movie kept telling the audience, 'Go to war, go to war', and there were all kinds of bugles and drums and marching music. And it was all about how wars aren't as tragic and terrible as everyone thinks -- they're surprisingly peaceful and pleasant, and sometimes there's even time for songs and romance."

"It what?"

"And you know what else? They also said, 'Why do we have wars? So that justice be done' -- but they don't explain what they mean by 'justice', or even give us a hint about who we're supposed to be fighting. I wasn't impressed at all."

"I envy whoever wrote that script. I thought this war would be like that too."

"Yeah. Well, now that you mention it, those snapshots of the battlefield you sent -- the weather was so great in all of them, wasn't it? And there was soft-looking grass growing in the trenches, and the fields were like a big broad lawn, and even the smoke from the gunfire wasn't any worse than spring brush-burning... the soldiers pointing their guns at the enemy didn't look like they were in any more danger than middle schoolers at naptime."

"There weren't actually any enemy troops there."

"How can you have a war without an enemy?"

"Well, you could say that the soldiers just can't see who their real enemy is. We did see an artillery piece aiming at a tank of ours from a clump of grass one time, so thus one gutsy kid leapt off the tank and took care of it with a hand grenade. But then we found out that they weren't the enemy. They were our allies, wearing the same helmets as us. That turned into a big fuss, and when we got to the bottom of it, we couldn't believe it -- that whole incident had been a charade, orchestrated by some Turkistani movie studio, for profit."

"Kharakhorum Pictures. I'm sure of it."

"Maybe so. The point is, breaking strikes or making money for some movie studio, 'we happy few, we band of brothers' were being used all along. They had cameras set up in the grass in the trenches, and in the shadows at the doorways of the empty huts that the people had left behind, and they were filming everything we did. And then every so often they'd set up some ridiculous fake incident, give it a title like Atrocities of our Enemy, and rake in the cash."

"What a drag," the girl said. She pursed her lips, then pulled out a lipstick and began applying it to them, glancing furtively at her handbag mirror.

"War's in fashion all over the world," Ong said with a shrug. "That's the reason for it all. And no-one cares about anything but money. What a terrible time to be alive, huh?... What's that shade called?"

"Bourgeoisie rouge. No, really! It's written right here!... Anyway, it's so sad -- even homebodies like you getting sent out to fight, turning that dark in the sun... I can hardly stand it."

"Well, it is a volunteer army. I chose to sign up. 'Forces of Loyalty and Courage'... it's just crazy."

"When I saw with movies like Big Parade and Wings how perfectly educated young men would just hear the recruiting drums, get all excited and sign up for no real reason at all, I simply couldn't believe what barbarians men are."

"The real problem is that they play to full houses. When you take an audience made up of the hundreds -- no, thousands, millions -- who are most likely to join the army, egg them on like that, and make money off -- not only are you luring them into a trap, you're also squeezing them dry on the way down. It's completely despicable."

"And movies are so easy to understand, and popular, so most of the people who watch them are the exactly the type to get involved in wars."

"Right. Which means that artistic merit and technical craft are irrelevant -- the directors themselves are the real enemy of their audience."

"I don't really understand it all myself, but I just can't see the appeal of films that are all about war. Still, that's all that gets released -- war film after war film, and then finally, even Kharakhorum Pictures jumps on the bandwagon and releases The March of the Ages, or whatever it was called -- some flimsy phony thing. I mean, what can you do?"

"They don't even understand that the ages are really on the march. They don't realize how regularly the world turns, and how steadily it's going to come around again."


『兵士と女優』 (Heishi to joyû), published 1928, written by Watanabe On (渡辺温 or ワタナベ・オン), 1902-1930.

Aozora Bunko version entered by Amizako (網迫) and Tsuchiya Takashi (土屋隆), and proofread by noriko saito.


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