The Little Dorama Girl – 2nd Anniversary Post: Once Upon a Johnny
The Terrible Twos
The Little Dorama Girl turned two a few days ago (um, yay), although I know that things have been a little quiet on the bloggy front the past year. To be honest I haven’t had much progress with my drama To-Watch and review To-Write lists due to (what else?) Real Life obligations. But I hope that my 22 regular readers (down 2 from 24, ohnoes!) find themselves in a forgiving mood as they read this. THANK YOU for continuing to patronize my daft fangirly drivel, really I mean it. I don’t know if you notice, but I totally feel yer lurrve each time you drop me a line! Your comments brighten up my day, and that’s a fact. =D (And – dammit lurkers, STOP HIDING IN KAMENASHI’S CLOSET! lol)
So I hope you’ll enjoy what I’ve cooked up for my Second Anniversary Offering. Then again, maybe you’ll read this and curse the day you chanced upon my site, hahaha. But it’s Johnnies who got me blogging, and by gum, it’s Johnnies who’ll KEEP me going. I owe their skinny, tinsel-clad heinies more than most people give them credit for, so this post is for them – and for you, if you can, uh, keep an open mind while reading. This is something I’ve never tried before, but DAYYUM I HAD FUN WRITING IT SO THERE!!!
xoxo Ender’s Girl
*cue fairytale-y music*
Hello, I’m Ender’s Girl. For centuries, storytellers have spun their tales of magic and enchantment for the young at heart. There’s something about fairy tales that feels so familiar and universal, regardless of culture or clime. Some of these tales are funny, some are scary, and some romantic. But whatever the setting, these classic stories never fail to enthrall and entertain us – whether in their original form, or as modern-day retellings given a feminist twist, like Angela Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber,” or a satirical spin, like James Finn Garner’s “Politically Correct Bedtime Stories.”
I’ve taken the liberty of adding my own voice to the growing potpourri of contemporary fairy tale adaptations. So sit back and relax, and enjoy my collection of familiar stories – like you’ve never known them before:
A poor aspiring performer learns that with patience, hard work and a little magic, musical dreams really do come true, in “Jinderella.” A wooden puppet who yearns to be a real boy sets out on the journey of his life, in “YamaPinocchio.” And a beautiful kabuki princess fleeing great danger crosses paths with five multi-talented, chain-smoking miners who may just change her life forever, in “Matsu and the Five SMAPs.”
Once upon a time there lived an unhappy lad named Jin. His mother died when he was very young and shortly thereafter his merchant father, having fallen into hard times, was forced to sell the boy to a finishing school for aspiring pop idols, which was run by an evil old impresario named Johnny Kitagawa and his equally vile sister, Mary.
Now Johnny and Mary never liked Jin one little bit, for they could not bear the goodness of his heart and the pure head tones of his voice, which none of their pupils possessed. Of the boys at the idol factory, there was one who was especially nasty towards Jin. Kame his name was, a favorite of Johnny and Mary for he liked to suck up to the grownups and rat on his fellow idols-in-training. Nothing was too good for Kame – clothes, shoes, delicious food, soft beds, and every home comfort.
But, for the poor unhappy Jin, there was nothing at all. No nice clothes, only the other boys’ hand-me-downs. No lovely dishes, nothing but scraps. No rest and no comfort. Jin had to work hard all day, doing the meanest jobs in the school: he scoured the dishes and tables, and scrubbed Johnny and Mary’s bathrooms, and those of the pupils; he slept in a tiny garret, upon a wretched straw bed, while the other boys lay upon beds with the softest pillows, in fine rooms, with floors covered with beautiful carpets, and walls on which hung looking-glasses so large they might admire themselves from crimped head to pedicured foot.
Jin bore all patiently, and dared not complain. Only when evening came was he allowed to sit for a while by the fire, near the cinders and ashes. That’s why everybody – Kame most of all – called him ‘Jinderella’. However, Jinderella, even though he was dressed in rags, was a hundred times more comely and talented than the boys at the idol factory, though they would never admit it.
On some afternoons, Jinderella liked to spend a few precious minutes by the well outside the school, singing softly to himself:
“Some day, my big break will come
Some day Imma make it worldwide
And away to a concert stage I’ll go
To be happy forever I know
Some day when Christmas Day is here
And the bass goes ‘boom-boom’
Then the birds will sing
At my Yellow Gold bling
Some dayyy… when my drrrreeeams come trrrruue…”
For although he was never allowed to attend the voice and dance classes at the school (he was just a servant, after all), Jinderella inwardly longed to be a famous singer, and travel far and wide to wow the world with his voice, which he rather thought was pretty good, and his dancing skills, which he thought were more than adequate – and certainly better than the herky-jerky moves the other boys liked to practice all day long but with no discernible improvement.
“Some Day” was Jinderella’s little song to himself, the song that got him through each day and gave him hope that in spite of his wretched life there still was some good remaining in this world, and that if he wished hard enough, his secret dream of becoming a musical superstar would someday come true. So he would also sing it in the kitchen while making pies for dinner, because this was the time when nobody else was around, for the pupils were all busy in the studios rehearsing their godawful routines.
So pure and clear was Jinderella’s singing that random forest critters would come flying and scurrying in through the open window, drawn by the wonderful melodies from within. At the sound of his voice, chipmunks would claw their fur out in rapture, and birds would fly around in ecstasy and leave droppings all over the kitchen. And Jinderella would sweep the blood and fur and stools into the meat pies before baking them, for he did not want Johnny and Mary to know about his animal visitors; and besides, though he had a good heart, he wasn’t a saint.
The harder Jinderella worked without a word of complaint, the more the boys at the idol factory hated him. For Jinderella, even dressed in old rags, was a rangy and good-looking lad, while the other pupils, no matter how splendid and elegant their clothes, were still clumsy, bony and ugly and always would be. Kame was very mean to Jinderella, and loved to go out of his way to saddle the servant boy with extra chores while he sat in a corner and watched Jinderella with a strange gleam in his eye.
For nothing gave Kame as much pleasure as ordering Jinderella around. “Farm boy, polish my red stiletto boots. I want to see my face shining in them by morning,” he would say with an unpretty curl of his lip – even though Jin had been born in a city suburb and not on a farm. But instead of correcting Kame, Jinderella simply answered, “As you wish.” The next day Kame imperiously beckoned Jin into his ornate bathroom. “Farm boy, fill my bathtub with warm water,” he ordered, slowly (and seductively) stripping out of his neon pink leotards. Jinderella blinked but said nothing except – “As you wish.”
And the day after that, while Jinderella was sweeping the hallway, he heard Kame’s voice calling to him from inside his boudoir, and seeing that the door was slightly ajar, he knocked discreetly and entered. A jug of soymilk had been spilled on the floor beside Kame’s bed. “Farm boy, I… um, accidentally tipped my milk over,” Kame said lamely, while reclining on his satin sheets and fingering a purple feather boa which was twined (rather strategically) around his fishnet tights. Jinderella lowered his eyes and dutifully proceeded to mop up the mess. “As you wish” – was all he ever said to Kame.
Then one day, word arrived that a U.S. recording company was in town to hold auditions for “the next international pop idol.” Johnny and Mary wasted no time in ordering extra rehearsal hours for their best wards, and threatened the boys with everything from castration to tarring if they failed to impress the judges at auditions. At night, the evil impresario and his sister dreamed greedy little dreams of fat recording contracts and mountains of ka-ching, while the boys at the idol factory dreamed sweaty little nightmares of castration and tarring. Except for Kame, who dreamed only of Jin.
The auditions were but a week away and the finishing school was a chaotic blur of discarded ribbons, fought-over scraps of chiffon, curling irons, false eyelashes, and other unmentionables. Jinderella didn’t even dare ask if he could go too. He knew very well what Johnny’s answer would be: “You? You’re staying at home to wash the dishes, scrub the floors and turn down the beds for the boys, for they will come home tired and very sleepy.” So Jinderella sighed and washed and ironed the aspiring idols’ clothes and got all their knickknacks and makeup kits ready. Meanwhile, the boys talked all day long of nothing but who they thought stood the best chance of passing the auditions.
“Of course I shall get picked,” Kame told the rest loudly. “My natural talent will shine through. Farm boy, would you not be glad to go with us to the tryouts?”
“Alas!” said Jinderella, “you only jeer me; it is not for a poor servant like me to go to such an affair.”
“You’re quite right,” sneered Kame; “it would make the people laugh to see a scullery boy there.” And the other boys tittered meanly while Jinderella said nothing and continued to polish their boots and primp their luridly dyed hair with bobby pins and hairspray.
Then the time came for the aspiring idols to leave for the auditions, and as they flounced out the door Jinderella followed them with longing in his eyes, and when he had lost sight of them, he fell a-crying as though his heart would break. Then he went and sat by the cold fireplace to nurse his pain and smoke a reefer he had pilfered from Johnny’s gilded Fabergé case.
Suddenly something amazing happened. There was a burst of light and a fairy magically appeared before the despondent lad. “Don’t be alarmed, Jinderella,” said the fairy. “I’m very, very real. You aren’t high… at least not yet. But I know you would love to go to the auditions, wouldn’t you?” Jinderella could but nod mutely. “And so you shall!” the fairy declared. “How can I, dressed in rags?” Jinderella blubbered. “The bouncers will turn me away!”
The fairy smiled. For her real name was BoA and she was really a famous Kpop superstar in disguise. She had been following Jinderella and seen his good heart, great talent and… big feet, and wished to help him find his dream. With a flick of BoA’s magic wand Jinderella found himself wearing the most striking outfit he had ever seen: an oversized black-and-white bomber jacket decorated with large sequined flower patches; baggy acid-washed jeans with five gaping holes; and a black fedora that strategically hid most of his face. And bling. Tons of bling. Lastly, the fairy BoA touched Jin’s tatty socks with her wand and in their place there materialized a sturdy pair of army boots made of fiberglass. They didn’t seem very comfortable but they did look incredibly cool.
“Now for your riiiide,” sang the fairy BoA. “A real pop star would never go to an event on foot! Quick! Get me a pumpkin and seven mice!” “Oh of course,” said Jinderella, bobbing his head and dashing away. All he could find was a half-eaten (by him) turnip and six anemic lizards, but the fairy did not seem to mind. With a flick of BoA’s magic sparkler the turnip turned into a fully tricked-out black Cadillac Escalade, and the lizards became five gum-popping backup dancers cum posse members, while the sixth lizard grew into a chauffeur in a smart uniform. Jinderella could hardly believe his eyes. “I’m finally living my dream! This is the sh*t! That’s gonna be banana!!!”
“No, this is just the beginning, Jinderella,” Boa the fairy told him with a smile. “But remember! You must leave at midnight. That is when my spell ends. Your ride will turn back into a pumpkin – er, turnip, and your posse will become lizards again. You will be dressed in rags and wearing smelly socks instead of these uber-cool limited-edition fiberglass boots! Do you understand?” Jinderella happily replied, “Yes, I understand!”
Jinderella’s arrival at the theater where auditions were being held set everyone a-buzzing about the mystery guy whom nobody could recognize (for Jin’s fedora was pulled low over his face), but who walked and popped poses like a bona fide pop star. “Is he from SMAP?” the other boys whispered, enviously eyeing Jinderella’s platinum-and-diamond chain necklaces and shiny fiberglass boots. “2PM?” “Tohoshinki?” “Backstreet Boys?” “Aaron Carter?” “Maybe he’s one of those Super Junior guys, who flew over to help judge the auditions,” the others said.
Kame, who was doing breathing exercises to “find his center” in a backstage wing, took one look at Jinderella-in-disguise and sniffed, “I’ll say he’s all hype and no talent. Wait till we hear him sing – or try to sing. The judges will have him out on the street in no time.”
When the day deepened to evening and all the boys had finished auditions before a panel of bored-looking judges, it was finally Jinderella’s turn on the stage. “What is your name and what are you singing for your audition piece, son?” Asked the head judge, eyeing Jinderella’s tacky flower patches with mild interest. “My name is Ji – ah – I mean my name is… is… Aquaneesha!” Jinderella stammered , remembering that by no means must he let anyone know who he really was. “And, uh, I would like to perform a song I wrote myself… called, uh, ‘Bandage,’” he finished.
The head judge cocked a brow. “An original composition? How quaint,” he said while the other judges yawned. “Off you go, then.”
So Jinderella opened his mouth and began to sing. It was a poetic ballad about “sorrow soaring in the sky” and “the sun that shines coldly, hard and soft / like a machine, like love.” Jinderella dug deep and held nothing back, his clear, round falsetto soaring effortlessly over the notes and evoking wonder and mystery and rainbows and “a love like the sea of Chaos / where waves always rise at any time,” so that by the end of the song the judges were moved to tears at the sheer beauty and power of his voice.
“Bravo!!!” they cried, rising to their feet and sobbing. “Bravo!!! You are IT!!! You can ACTUALLY SING!!!”
Jinderella was amazed that the judges would receive his audition piece so well, and he bowed low and thanked them profusely. But just as the judges were clambering up the stage to cart Jinderella off to the recording studio, the clock struck midnight! Jinderella remembered what the fairy had said, and spun away in horror. “Wait! Don’t go, Aquaneesha!” shouted the head judge, who also happened to be the president of Warner Music Japan, and who was desperate to make Jinderella an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Without another word Jinderella slipped from the Warner Music president’s grasp and made for the wings as fast as his fiberglass-shod feet could take him. But Jinderella did not see Kame waiting spitefully behind the curtain with his shoe stuck out just as the boy hurtled past. Jinderella stumbled and fell, and in doing so one fiberglass boot slipped off his foot, but not for a moment did he dream of stopping to pick it up! If the last stroke of midnight were to sound… oh… what a disaster that would be! Out he fled and vanished into the night. By the time Jinderella reached the idol factory, his black SUV had turned back into a moldy turnip, and his gum-popping posse were but lizards once more.
The Warner Music president, who was determined to sign Aquaneesha to his roster of “international talents,” found the fiberglass boot backstage and called his suit-wearing flunkies over, “Let us go and search everywhere for the singer whose foot this boot fits. I will never be content until I find him!” So the record executives tried the boot on the foot of every aspiring idol in the land until only Johnny and Mary’s finishing school was left.
The other boys at the school eagerly tried on the unusually large shoe, but none of them could convince the record label executives that it was theirs. “Is there nobody else left in this place?” demanded the Warner Music president, looking around. Mustering his last ounce of courage, Jinderella shyly stepped out of the scullery to which he had been banished.
“That ugly and talentless scullery boy simply could not have been at the auditions,” snapped Johnny the evil impresario, while his equally vile sister Mary turned up her nose and nodded. “Don’t bother with the servant, for that is all he is,” Johnny continued. “All you Warner Music people have to do is choose from our wonderful array of multi-talented pupils! So which one will it be?” At which Kame loudly cleared his throat and self-consciously patted his artfully done coiffure.
“We believe in equal opportunity,” replied the Warner Music president evenly, and beckoned Jinderella forward. “Try it on, lad,” he said kindly. Jinderella slipped his rather large foot into the shoe, and to everyone’s amazement, the fiberglass boot fitted perfectly.
“Aquaneesha!!!” the record execs cried, much to the confusion of Johnny and Mary and all the idol wannabes, who only now were putting two and two together, seeing that the mystery singer at the auditions was indeed their scullery boy, Jinderella.
Then Jinderella pulled the other boot from under his roomy apron, and put it on his right foot. Suddenly the fairy BoA appeared and waved her magic wand. In a flash, Jinderella was arrayed in his complete outfit from the previous night, shining with youth and beauty and all that bling. Johnny, Mary and the idols-in-training cried out in astonishment and the Warner Music president said, “Come with us Jinderella! A fat and juicy recording contract awaits you. You shall be a star on the world stage!”
“And we won’t even have to AutoTune you!” piped in another Warner executive.
Jinderella thought fast. If these suits wanted him this bad, then a little negotiating wouldn’t hurt. “I wanna be an actor too,” he said. “I wanna make it in Hollywood. I wanna make it worldwide.”
The record execs looked at each other. “Ye-esss, I believe that can be arranged,” said the Warner Music president. “If you come with us, we’ll hook you up with a Hollywood agent. Maybe get you a part in the new samurai movie with that Klaatu fella, er…”
“Keanu Reeves?” another suit supplied helpfully.
“Yes, him!” said the president. “How’d you like to star with Keanu? All you gotta do is wave a sword around and say ‘banzai!’ The movie audiences will love you!”
“That’s gonna be banana!” Jinderella exclaimed.
“Actually it’s ‘bananas,’ plural. ‘That’s gonna be bananas.’ But no worries, that can be remedied with English tutorials,” the Warner Music president said. “We’ll give you a complete makeover, the works. Feed you good, too,” he promised, eyeing Jinderella’s overworked, skinny frame. “Come with us and you’ll never go hungry again.”
“That’s the sh*t!!!” Jinderella said. “Let’s shake on it!” said the Warner Music president.
So Jinderella went with the record label executives, happy to finally be leaving the finishing school which had been, for so long, his place of torment, his home and his hell. The other boys watched him go through the windows of the idol factory, resentful and envious of Jinderella’s unbelievably good fortune. Defeated, Johnny the evil old impresario and Mary his equally vile sister turned their rage on the less talented boys at the school, who were promptly demoted from their trainee status and made to scrub the floors and cook their meals and live in the tiny garret that had once been Jinderella’s room.
Whether or not they eventually graduated to become legit (or semi-legit) pop stars, the boys at Johnny’s idol factory never forgot Jinderella and his fiberglass combat boots – most of all Kame, who would shed bitter tears in private just thinking of the lonely nights that lay ahead, nights when he could no longer watch Jinderella go about his boudoir, silently obeying his every twisted whim.
One year later, international pop sensation, rapper extraordinaire and newly minted Hollywood actor Aquaneesha flew into town for a one-night-only sellout concert at the Tokyo Dome. Of all the immensely well-received songs on his repertoire, it was the beautiful piano-powered ballad “Eternal” that moved the crowds the most. For it seemed as though he were singing it for one particular person, and those who heard the song felt that the lyrics – “If I can have my wish granted / May I have a spell cast / So that you will never shed tears of sadness again…” – spoke deeply of someone whom Aquaneesha had known in the past, but had since left behind.
Kame watched the Aquaneesha concert from the darkness of his theater box (the one reserved for local celebrities, for he had by now achieved some measure of success as a pop tart, although he mostly did the rounds of country fairs and backwater circuses), and he wondered in his vain little heart if he was indeed the person that Aquaneesha – Jinderella – Jin – was singing about, and if this meant that there was hope he and Jin could still be… friends in spite of everything, in spite of the beastly way he had treated Jin. But of that he could never really be sure.
I’d say the “Jinderella” fairy tale is the one that most mirrors reality among the stories featured in this collection. Jpop fans know Jin’s own Cinderella story too well: Bakanishi yearns for his big break, then leaves his old life *coughKamecough* behind when Warner Music signs him up for an international recording deal… it does seem the stuff of fairy tales, does it not?
I tweaked the lyrics of “Someday My Prince Will Come” (from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – wrong fairy tale, I know) to include some of the familiar Jin tropes – e.g. Yellow Gold, “bass go boom,” “Imma make it worldwide.” I also apologize to fans of the 1987 Rob Reiner fantasy classic The Princess Bride for co-opting the iconic “Farm boy…” / “As you wish…” exchange between Buttercup and Westley. I know that making Kame do a Buttercup was pretty heinous of me, but I kept getting flashes of Kame delivering those lines in his neon pink leotards and seriously, how could I NOT write that in.
Lastly, I cast Kpop superstar BoA in the role of the fairy because of her well-documented flirty/snarky Twitter exchanges with Bakanishi in April and June of this year. (And yes, TwitterKing Jin reportedly DID at one time tweet, “that’s gonna be banana!” Hahahaha.)
(For Jenny and ockoala – who love YamaPi just the way he is)
Once upon a time, there was a carpenter who picked up a strange lump of pinewood one day while mending a table. When he began to chip it, the wood began to moan. This frightened the carpenter and he decided to get rid of it at once, so he gave it to a cobbler friend called Johnnypetto, who wanted to make himself a puppet. Johnnypetto took his lump of wood home, thinking of the name he would give his puppet.
“I’ll call him YamaPinocchio,” he told himself. “For he will bring me good luck.” Back in his dingy basement workshop, Johnypetto started to carve the wood. Suddenly a voice squealed:
“Ite! That hurt!” Johnnypetto was astonished to find that the wood was alive! Excitedly he carved a head and a pair of dead-fish eyes, which immediately stared right at the cobbler. But the second Johnnypetto carved out the nose, it grew longer and longer, and no matter how often the cobbler cut it down to size, it just stayed a long nose. The newly cut mouth began to chuckle and when Johnnypetto angrily told it to stop, the puppet stuck out its raspy tongue at him. That was nothing, however! When the cobbler shaped the hands, they snatched the good man’s wig, and the newly carved legs gave him a hearty kick in the nuts. Johnnypetto doubled over in pain, screaming expletives at the puppet.
“You $%@(*&^ naughty thing! I haven’t even finished making you, yet you’ve no respect for your maker! I’ll teach you who’s master!!!” Then he picked up the puppet and was about to hurl it into the fire when it spoke again. “Please don’t hurt me,” it pleaded. “I – I just wanna be a real boy.” Johnnypetto blinked and dropped the puppet on the floor. So it could think. And speak. And, apparently, inflict great pain on his privates. But could it feel real human emotions besides mischief and fear? He gazed at YamaPinocchio thoughtfully. It was such a novel thing, to have a talking, animated puppet, one that could be trained to be useful around the house, and it would be a pity to see him end up as common firewood.
“All right, YamaPinocchio,” Johnnypetto said after a moment. “I won’t throw you into the fire even though you deserved it. But I expect you to help me with chores, and you must do whatever else I command you,” he added sternly. “Then, will I become a real boy?” asked YamaPinocchio, his dead-fish eyes shining with hope. “Of course,” answered Johnnypetto confidently, though in truth he had no inkling how that could ever be possible. “Just do as I say and you will one day be a real, live, flesh-and-blood boy.”
So YamaPinocchio dutifully did everything that his old master commanded – hauling and chopping firewood, carrying water from the nearby well, cooking and cleaning, going to market, and repairing random things around the house. He did all this because he believed it would turn him into a real boy someday.
In the evenings Johnnypetto liked to dress YamaPinocchio in various costumes he fished out of a rusty chest, and he would make the puppet tapdance in front of the fire while he played tune after bawdy tune on his battered fiddle. Johnnypetto’s chest seemed an inexhaustible trove of outfits, some stranger than the others: on some evenings YamaPinocchio would be made to wear a sailor boy uniform with white trousers and a navy blue cap; on other evenings the ensemble would consist of ruffled petticoats with satin bows and ribbons. But YamaPinocchio never complained as he dressed up each night and stamped, click-clacked and shimmied all over the living room floor until the room spun from Johnnypetto’s relentless fiddling and he fell down, exhausted, and did not get up till the following morning.
YamaPinocchio would often wonder why he had not yet turned into a real boy as Johnypetto had promised. His limbs were still wooden, and each time that he anxiously gazed in the mirror – which was quite often – he looked no different from the day he was carved. At night, after his master had bolted the door and gone off to bed, YamaPinocchio would creep to the windowsill and gaze at the stars. Something stirred deep within him, that indescribable longing to be human. Somewhere nearby he could hear a cricket chirping. It was the last sound he heard each night before he slept.
One afternoon, Johnypetto brought home two people YamaPinocchio had never seen before. One was a squinty-eyed and rather greasy fellow who carried a strange black object that had a round nozzle attached to a flashbulb. The other person was a pretty girl around his size. She was chewing gum and looked very bored. Johnnypetto waved YamaPinocchio over: “This nice young lady’s name is An-An, and she’s a fashion model,” he told the puppet. “And the fine gentleman here is a photographer and he’ll be taking pictures of you both.”
“Yes, Johnnypetto,” said YamaPinocchio.
“That’s my boy!” the cobbler said heartily. The girl just stared at YamaPinocchio, cracking her gum. She turned to the photographer, who was eyeing YamaPinocchio speculatively. “He’s weird,” she said.
“Now, now, let’s not go labeling people, luv,” Johnnypetto replied smoothly. “Shall we begin the pictorial?” He cleared his throat meaningfully and the photographer discreetly slipped a drawstring purse into the cobbler’s pocket. Though small, it was heavy and clinked with coins.
Johnnypetto made YamaPinocchio and An-An shed most of their clothing and do various poses for photographer. They went from room to room, with the photographer clicking away as he directed YamaPinocchio and An-An where to stand and sit and hold each other and look into the lens. The strange incessant flashing of the camera bulb frightened YamaPinocchio, but he did not want to upset Johnnypetto by refusing to do the pictorial.
Then the photographer herded YamaPinocchio and An-An into the bathroom and instructed them to disrobe completely. The girl obeyed mechanically, as if this were something she was quite used to doing. But YamaPinocchio was feeling very, very unhappy. He could not understand why Johnnypetto and the photographer were making him do this, but he knew that it was wrong. The photographer turned the shower knob and as the camera kept clicking and flashing, YamaPinocchio could feel the water droplets drenching his wooden body. He closed his eyes to drown out the misery. If he were a real boy he’d be crying by now, but no tears rolled down his wooden cheeks, because he was not a real boy, just a wooden puppet.
YamaPinocchio searched for Johnnypetto and saw him by the bathroom door, greedily counting his gold. Then YamaPinocchio realized that he could no longer stay in this house and keep doing the things – the nasty, awful things – that his master made him do. He pushed past An-An and the astonished photographer and skidded across the slippery bathroom floor and out the door, knocking Johnnypetto down in the process.
“Where do you think you’re going, you bloody fool!!!” roared Johnnypetto, his gold coins scattering all over the wet tiles. He made a grab for YamaPinocchio’s arm but the puppet was too fast for him. YamaPinocchio was almost at the door when he realized that he had no clothes on! He ran back to Johnnypetto’s old costume chest by the fireplace, hurriedly opened the lid and fished out the first outfit he could find: it consisted of a large blue bib-like bowtie, dark trousers with red suspenders, and an orange cap with a red feather.
YamaPinocchio looked back and saw Johnnypetto barreling towards him, his face a bright purply pink. Thinking fast, the puppet kicked the heavy iron chest in his master’s direction and Johnnypetto tripped over it, screaming foul curses at his ward. YamaPinocchio dashed out the door, the clothes bunched under his arm, and ran away from the cottage as fast as his sturdy wooden legs could take him.
YamaPinocchio ran and ran and ran, passing fields and farmhouses, and pausing only to put on his clothes when his wooden body had dried off from the shower. He did not know where he was, but all he wanted was to get as far away as possible from his old master and his old life.
Evening fell and YamaPinocchio, exhausted from running, found a ditch by the woods where he could hide and pass the night. He lay in the ditch staring at the pale yellow moon which shone through the brambles that grew over the ditch. A single star twinkled just outside the moon’s hazy nimbus, while the wind whipped and howled through the bare branches of the trees. YamaPinocchio shivered. He had never felt so alone in his whole life.
Suddenly, he could hear a faint voice singing in the darkness. The voice grew steadily louder but YamaPinocchio could not make out the form of the singer – and yet the words of the song moved him and filled him with hope and courage. The voice went on singing:
“When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires will come to you
If your hearts is in your dream, no request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star as dreamers do…”
Out of the night air, a shimmery ball of blue light started forming. The light hovered above the bramble patch and alighted on the sodden turf by the ditch. YamaPinocchio almost cried out in fear but he realized that the lovely song he was hearing was actually coming from the blue light. The light grew and grew, enveloping the ditch in the same radiance, but taking on a more solid form as the song ended. A fairy stepped out of the light and knelt down beside the ditch where YamaPinocchio lay trembling. She was very beautiful and wore a blue gauzy gown and matching headband that sat prettily on her short dark hair.
“Hello YamaPinocchio, I am the Blue Maki,” said the fairy in a soft, musical voice. “Speak your heart’s desire, dear one.”
YamaPinocchio slowly sat up and crept forward in wonder. “I – I – just… want to be a real boy,” he whispered.
The Blue Maki smiled and laid a creamy hand on YamaPinocchio’s disheveled cap. “I can turn you into a real boy, but you must first prove yourself worthy. Before that time comes, you shall remain a wooden puppet.”
“Then what must I do?” YamaPinocchio pleaded.
“Prove yourself brave, truthful, and unselfish, and someday, you will be a real boy,” answered the Blue Maki. “But do not worry, for I will leave someone who can be your guide and your friend, if you will let him.” She whistled a few more lovely notes until a small creature jumped down from a nearby branch. It was a cricket, but dressed rather oddly, with a miniature bowler hat and black jacket, and carrying a tiny pink umbrella. “This is Kamenashi Cricket, and he will accompany you on the road, YamaPinocchio,” said the Blue Maki.
Kamenashi Cricket swept the bowler hat off his head and bowed low before YamaPinocchio. “Ohayo amigo,” the cricket chirped, winking good-naturedly at the puppet.
“O… hayo…” YamaPinocchio responded, looking askance at the cricket. For some reason the creature annoyed him very much, but he dared not voice this to the fairy.
Smiling, the Blue Maki leaned down and breathed a kiss on the puppet’s wooden brow. She smelled of lavender and citrus and rainbows. “Now remember, YamaPinocchio: be a good boy,” she told him. “And always let your conscience be your guide.” (At which the cricket gave a small, self-important cough that ticked YamaPinocchio off even more.) Then the fairy was gone in a burst of blue starlight.
Kamenashi Cricket hopped down from the branch where he was perched. “Well, that’s that,” he said brightly. “Go rest now amigo, for tomorrow will be a busy day for sure.”
Early the next morning, an incessant buzzing sound in YamaPinocchio’s ear jolted him from his deep sleep. It was Kamenashi Cricket, holding a leaf that he had furled into a cone and was using as a makeshift loudspeaker. “Tiiiime to waaaake up, amiiiigo!” the cricket trilled.
“It isn’t even daybreak yet,” YamaPinocchio grumbled. “Lemme sleep s’more…” But the cricket was very insistent. “We have much traveling to do, if you’re to find the secret to becoming a REAL BOY! With a REAL FACE!!!” Then he started singing loudly, “Girigiri de itsumo ikite itai karaaa / A-aaah, koko wo ima tobidashite ikou ze…”
YamaPinocchio swatted the side of his head but the cricket nimbly skittered out of reach. “Don’t ever wake me up this way again,” said the puppet crossly, sitting up. “I don’t care if the Blue Maki sent you to help me. I don’t need your help, so go away and leave me be.”
The puppet jumped to his feet and clambered out of the ditch, leaving Kamenashi Cricket behind. “Wait for me, amigo!” the cricket chirped, still trying to crawl its way to the top of the furrow. But YamaPinocchio was already skipping down the road, laughing nastily. “I’m NOT your amigo. So long, ya stupid little bug!”
It was noon when YamaPinocchio arrived at a fork in the road. As he stood there contemplating which way to go, the puppet failed to notice a tall, lean fox and a squat mutant cat strolling down the road some two dozen paces behind him. As soon as they caught sight of YamaPinocchio, the duo stopped in their tracks, staring hard at the puppet.
“Look Teggy, look, it’s amazing!” whispered the fox to the cat. “A live puppet without strings! A thing like that ought to be worth a fortune to someone. Now let me see… that’s it! Stromboli! Why that old bastard would give anything for this. Listen, if we play our cards right we’ll be on easy street or my name isn’t Honest Ryo.” To which the mutant cat grinned stupidly and hiccupped.
The fox and the cat approached YamaPinocchio, who was still standing at the juncture. “Well, well, what do we have here, Teggy,” said the fox loudly to the cat, feigning surprise. “A wooden puppet without any strings? How terribly fascinating!” YamaPinocchio turned to look at his fellow travelers. They made an odd pair: the fox was wearing a blue cloak and a bowler hat; he had a sallow complexion and droopy eyelids, suggesting a variety of questionable health conditions ranging from plain nutrient deficiency to jaundice to ptosis. The cat, upon closer inspection, looked very strange indeed, for it actually had two heads – one head seemed normal enough, but the other sported curly orange hair and was gawking at YamaPinocchio with round empty eyes and a mouth that never closed, that the puppet felt the sudden urge to kick it right in the face. But he remembered the Blue Maki’s admonition to be a good boy, and made the effort to do nothing rash – for now.
The fox stuck out a well-groomed paw and shook YamaPinocchio’s hand. “The name’s R. Nishikido Foulfellow, but do call me ‘Honest Ryo,’ for that’s what I am. And this here’s my feline associate, TegoMass. Our work is in… um, procurements.” The fox winked lazily at the cat, who tittered and hiccupped on cue (at least the normal-looking head did; the other head just stared uncomprehendingly at YamaPinocchio with that mouth that never closed).
“I am YamaPinocchio and I want to be a real live boy,” answered the puppet.
Honest Ryo threw the cat another sidelong look. “Hear that, Teggy? The puppet here wants to be a real, live, BOY. And I think I may have the remedy for that,” said the fox to YamaPinocchio.
“Oh do you really, Honest Ryo, do you really?” cried the puppet in amazement. “The Blue Maki told me last night that if I am brave, truthful and unselfish, then I will become a real boy.” With a stab of guilt YamaPinocchio remembered how he had left Kamenashi Cricket behind in the ditch, but Honest Ryo’s smooth, silky voice cut into his troubled thoughts.
“Perhaps the Blue Whatsis – er, your friend was right, but she obviously hasn’t heard of the easier road to success – and apparently, neither have you.” The fox looped a furry forelimb through YamaPinocchio’s wooden arm and led him down the left branch of the road, with the mutant cat ambling after them. “There’s only one place where all dreams come true, YamaPinocchio. And that place is… Pleasure Island!”
“Pleasure Island?” asked the puppet.
“That’s right! The happy land of real, live, carefree boys, where everyday’s a holiday! Come with us, and we’ll make sure you find your heart’s desire – and much, much more! Bright lights, music, applause. Fame! But let us hurry, for the last ferry departs at sunset!”
So YamaPinocchio happily went with Honest Ryo and TegoMass. The fox taught him this merry song called “Hoshi wo Mezashite,” about “aiming for the stars” and “taking one step at a time.” In their enjoyment, neither the puppet nor his new friends noticed the tiny cricket with a miniature bowler hat and pink umbrella huffing and puffing down the road some distance behind them. The insect looked mad enough to slay a rhino.
By late afternoon, the road had narrowed to a footpath that snaked through a low-lying stretch of scrubland, opening into a seaside hamlet that had clearly seen better times. YamaPinocchio, Honest Ryo and TegoMass walked past crude wooden houses and shops crammed cheek-by-jowl along muddy alleys swimming in refuse. Hollow-eyed faces peered at them from behind the dark windows. The place reeked of raw fish and a dozen unpleasant things.
At the far end of the village was a ramshackle wooden pier to which a ferryboat was moored. The words “Pleasure Island: Free rydz b/w 3-6 pm” were painted on the starboard side in large, uneven letters.
“Here we are, YamaPinocchio, our ride to Pleasure Island!” announced Honest Ryo. The fox produced two copper coins from his pocket and gave them to the one-eyed sailor manning the gangplank. “One for me and Teggy,” Honest Ryo said. “And I believe this puppet here gets a free ride, since it is, after all, his first time and he is very, very excited to be going to Pleasure Island, after all… Wouldn’t you agree, matey?” the fox asked the sailor pointedly. “Aaarrr, me hearties!” growled the grizzled tar, waving them through with a leer.
Inside the boat were a great many boys of all shapes and sizes, all eager to set off for Pleasure Island and the many delights it promised. Free popcorn and cotton candy were being passed around by scruffy deckhands. YamaPinocchio found himself on a wooden bench, wedged between Honest Ryo and another runaway boy named Koyama. The boy had a thin, hungry face and liked to talk about himself in the third person for the duration of the trip.
Again, nobody seemed to notice the cricket that had managed to latch on to the gunwale of the ferry just before it pushed off. The little stowaway was now clinging desperately but determinedly to the rotting wood amid the tangle of barnacles and seaweed, counting the myriad ways he’d like to teach his wooden ward a lesson for (literally) ditching him that morning.
It was evening when the ferryboat docked at Pleasure Island. As soon as YamaPinocchio disembarked with his two animal companions, his senses were assailed by the sights, sounds and smells of the crowded fairgrounds. With Honest Ryo and TegoMass nudging him this way and there, the puppet ran from tent to tent, hoping to sample all the pleasures of the place. And what a place it was! Each tent had its own attraction to show off – there were Siamese twins and snake charmers, hairy hobgoblins and hermaphrodites, maid cafes and microcephalics… and oh, more of that wonderful, free-flowing popcorn and cotton candy everywhere he looked! YamaPinocchio was too busy stuffing his face and enjoying the sideshows that he forgot all about the Blue Maki and his quest to become a real boy.
The puppet followed the fox and the mutant cat into a large square, full of people standing in front of a little wooden stage painted in garish neon colors. A stained crimson curtain hung before the stage while a four-piece brass band played on in the tiny orchestra pit. On the stage outside the curtain, a frenetic boxing match between two gaudily dressed midgets was taking place before the claps and jeers of the spectators. This little freak show seemed to be the front act to the main event – whatever that was.
“What is this place?” YamaPinocchio wondered aloud.
Honest Ryo replied, “Read the sign and you’ll know.”
“But I can’t read, I’ve never been to school.”
“Oh really? Then I shall read it to you. This place is the Master Showman’s Great Marionette Theater – The Never Ending Wonderful Show.” The fox steered YamaPinocchio away from the throng and towards a side door behind the stage. “Let’s go take a look, shall we? It will be nice to see other boys of your… own kind.”
Then YamaPinocchio remembered that he had come to Pleasure Island to find the cure to his wooden condition, not fraternize with other puppets. “But I don’t want to be a puppet anymore,” he protested as Honest Ryo and TegoMass pushed him inside the door. “Honest Ryo, but you promised to help me become a real boy.”
The puppet turned to leave, but it was too late! Quick as a flash, the fox snaked a forelimb around the puppet’s neck and held him firmly in place, while the two-headed cat pounced on YamaPinocchio’s feet, pinning him effectively to the floor of the fusty backstage room. “Now, now,” said Honest Ryo in that lazy voice of his, his skin looking more jaundiced than ever. “It’s too late to escape, little one. Or Stromboli won’t like it one bit.”
“W—who’s Stromboli?” asked YamaPinocchio, feeling a rush of dread at the sound of the name.
Just then, in strode Stromboli the Master Showman, a frightful-looking man with fierce bloodshot eyes. His beard was as black as pitch, and so long that it reached from his chin down past his huge paunch. His mouth was as wide as an oven, his teeth like yellow fangs, and his eyes, two glowing red coals. In his huge, hairy hands, a long whip, made of green snakes and black cats’ tails twisted together, swished through the air in a dangerous way.
“And what’s this?” the puppet-master sneered, jerking YamaPinocchio up by his red suspenders and giving the puppet a mean shake.
“Put me down!” howled YamaPinocchio wretchedly.
“Insolent little toothpick! Puppets that can’t show no respect will make a fine fire for my spit.”
Honest Ryo smoothly stepped in with an ingratiating bow. “Oh, but our puppet friend YamaPinocchio is far more useful on the stage than in your fire,” said the fox unctuously. Purring, TegoMass the cat rubbed its flank coaxingly against Stromboli’s filthy boots. “See? No strings,” the fox continued. “You don’t need no strings to make him move. He’s a special one, he is.”
“No strings, eh?” Stromboli released YamaPinocchio and the puppet dropped painfully to the dirt floor. The puppet-master rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Well, well, well. A marionette like this will be very good for business, very good indeed.”
Honest Ryo stepped closer, rubbing his paws together. “Then do we have ourselves a deal? That’ll be eighty gold coins for the talking puppet.”
“Thirty!” countered Stromboli. TegoMass the cat hissed in disapproval.
“All right, fifty,” said the fox.
“Done!” the puppet-master boomed. The flickering flames in the nearby fireplace cast grotesque shadows on the wall as Stromboli and Honest Ryo quickly settled the deal, chuckling evilly. YamaPinocchio could hear the clamorous buzz of the crowds outside the theater as the brass band kept blaring in the background. The midget show must be over now, he thought.
Stromboli reached down and seized YamaPinocchio by his suspenders. The puppet struggled feebly but was no match for the fearsome showman. Over Stromboli’s shoulder YamaPinocchio could see the two tricksters waving goodbye at him, nasty grins on their faces. “Well then, we’d best get going now. It was oh-so terribly nice traveling with you,” the fox called out in mock sincerity. “Nyaa!” said the mutant cat.
Behind the curtain, YamaPinocchio could see a row of other wooden puppets sitting limply on the stage with strings attached to their wrists, heads, knees and ankles. The midget boxers were gone and the outdoor theater swarmed with boys and girls of all shapes and sizes, wriggling and stomping about in impatience to see the marionettes dance.
Stromboli stepped onstage and in a loud, pompous voice made the following announcement:
“Most honored friends, Gentlemen and Ladies! Your humble servant, I, Stromboli the Master Showman of this theater, am proud to present before you tonight a most unusual kind of puppet, the only one of its kind…the only puppet who can sing and dance without the aid of strings!!! And he will sing and dance for you tonight, as he will do every single night that we will be in town, as well as every single night that we will be touring and performing before the kings and queens and emperors of all the great courts of the world.”
The speech was greeted by much whistling and applause. Stromboli shoved YamaPinocchio towards the front of the stage, but not before whispering dire threats in the puppet’s ear about what awaited him if he did not do as he was told. The Master Showman bowed with a flourish, his heavy black beard sweeping the floor. “Presenting the new star of our Never Ending Wonderful Show, a one-of-a-kind addition to my collection of dancing NEWS boys… I give you, YamaPinocchio!”
At the crack of the puppet-master’s whip, the brass band resumed playing and the other marionettes started dancing on the stage, manipulated through their strings by Stromboli’s silent minions perched on the theater rafters. YamaPinocchio started shuffling his feet to the beat, thinking dully that his current state was not really much different from his days with the old cobbler Johnnypetto, who had also been fond of making YamaPinocchio dress up and dance for him. Stromboli and Johnnypetto… An-An and the photographer… Honest Ryo and TegoMass – they were all the same. None of them really wanted to help YamaPinocchio become a real, live boy. None of them were his true friends, but were only using him for their own ends.
The marionettes kicked and clacked around the stage. YamaPinocchio’s head spun from the flurry of strings and jerking limbs, and he tripped and fell flat on his nose. But the crowds were clearly enjoying the spectacle despite YamaPinocchio’s clumsiness: coins (and the odd piece of underwear) were soon flying through the air as the people laughed and clapped and cried at the NEWS boys’ antics – and most especially, at YamaPinocchio’s.
The puppet show was a rousing success, and it was midnight when the crowds finally dispersed, vowing to return the following evening. Stromboli gathered all the marionettes and threw them into a cage in the room backstage before sitting down at a table to count his sizable earnings. YamaPinocchio found himself jumbled together with the lifeless, sightless puppets, their wooden appendages entangled in the strings.
“Lemme out of here!” YamaPinocchio wailed, rattling the iron bars. “I’m gonna get out! You can’t keep me! I’m gonna be a real boy!”
“QUIET! Shut up before I *knock* you silly!” Stromboli bolted the cage with a terrible clang and turned the key in the padlock. “You belong to me now. And when you have grown too old to sing and dance, you will make good firewood! Good night now, my little wooden gold mine! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!!!” The puppet master swept the coins off the table and into a metal box, which he tucked away inside his coat. “Time to go celebrate with the ladies! Now don’t do anything you’ll regret!” And with that he slammed the door shut behind him, leaving YamaPinocchio in the dark.
Stromboli had been gone a few minutes when a scratching sound could be heard – not from inside the room, but from somewhere very near. Then, a small familiar form popped out through the sliver of space between the door and the dirt floor, using his pink umbrella for leverage. “Kamenashi Cricket!!!” YamaPinocchio cried out in amazement. For some strange reason, he was very happy to see the insect.
“Shhh!!!” said the cricket grumpily, still sore that he had to make such a long and arduous journey. “You stupid little blockhead, do you want to call that mean old monster back here?” Kamenashi Cricket hopped over to the cage where YamaPinocchio was huddled. “So this is where I find you! How do you ever expect to be a real boy? Woe to boys who refuse to obey their conscience! They will never be happy in this world, and when they are older they will be very sorry for it.” The cricket stood there with arms akimbo, shaking his head in exasperation.
“I—I’m sorry I left you behind,” YamaPinocchio said, and he actually meant it. The cricket rolled his eyes. “Do you know I that almost got drowned, mutilated, desiccated, and squashed to bits just to find you? You buttered your bread. Now sleep in it!”
“I won’t do it again, I promise. P-please don’t tell the fairy I was, um, a little mean to you this morning.”
“A little mean? A little mean? You were downright beastly is what you were. A little boy who won’t be good might just as well be made of wood.” Then the cricket sighed, his rage fully spent. “But I might as well try to get you out of here, amigo.” He inserted his pink umbrella into the padlock, twisting and turning to spring the latch free, but his attempts proved futile. The cage remained firmly locked. Kamenashi Cricket threw his umbrella down in disgust.
“What are we gonna do now?” YamaPinocchio whimpered. “How am I gonna get out now?”
“I don’t know, amigo, I don’t know.” The cricket crawled between the iron bars and sat tiredly at YamaPinocchio’s feet. “But I can sing to keep you company until the puppet-master returns. And I will never leave you again, even if I have to hide in your silly blue bib all the time.”
So the cricket sang the same lullaby that YamaPinocchio had first heard from the Blue Maki back in the forest. The puppet knew he would probably spend the rest of his days in Stromboli’s clutches, but having his only friend by his side somehow gave him a renewed sense of comfort, as did the words of the song:
“Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true…”
The last line of the song faded into a resigned silence. YamaPinocchio and Kamenashi Cricket sat side by side in the cage, feeling more worn out than they’d ever been in their life – when, just like in the song, the Blue Maki appeared before them in a shimmery burst of light!
The puppet was suddenly ashamed of admitting the truth. “Um, I, uh, didn’t really mean to leave Kamenashi Cricket behind,” he hedged. “In fact I didn’t even notice I’d been traveling without him.”
The poor cricket looked crestfallen at YamaPinocchio’s prevarication, but was too weary to object. All at once, the puppet’s nose began to stretch, and the Blue Maki laughed.
“I mean, I, uh, I did kind of notice,” YamaPinocchio backpedaled. “But – you see, I was kidnapped by evil strangers! They tied me up and brought me to this awful place!” The puppet’s nose grew longer at these words.
“A lie keeps growing and growing until it’s as plain as the nose on your face,” said the fairy rather sternly.
Blushing in mortification, YamaPinocchio had no idea what to do with such an ungainly nose and he began to weep, not noticing that he was actually shedding real tears whereas he could not do so before. “I’m sorry I lied,” he blubbered. “The truth is I hated Kamenashi Cricket so I left him behind and then I met a fox and a two-headed cat and they told me if I went with them to Pleasure Island I’d become a real boy… I—I deserve to be in this cage and I don’t deserve to be a real boy…”
The room was silent except for YamaPinocchio’s hiccupping sobs. Then the Blue Maki clapped her hands and a flock of woodpeckers materialized from nowhere to peck the puppet’s nose back to its proper length.
“Now, don’t tell any more lies,” the fairy warned him, “or your nose will grow again!” She waved her hand over the padlock and it came free while the cage unbolted itself by magic. “You are free to go, but you must leave this island and never come back. Head for the trail at the back of this theater. The moon will show you the way. The path leads down a steep hill and into a secret cove, where a small rowboat awaits to take you back to the mainland. I will meet you on the other side – but you must hurry, before Stromboli returns and finds you out!”
Overcome with joy, YamaPinocchio was out of the cage like a shot – but not before remembering to tuck Kamenashi Cricket – and his pink umbrella – safely inside his big blue bowtie. He turned to say “thank you” to the Blue Maki, but the fairy was gone.
Moonlight shone on the path that led down to the cove – whether by magic or natural means, YamaPinocchio could not tell. A dinghy sat on the rocky beach at the foot of the hill, just as the fairy had said. With unnatural vigor, YamaPinocchio pushed the rowboat into the water and began working the oars, the lights and sounds of Pleasure Island quickly receding behind them. He was finally out of Stromboli’s clutches! From the pale light of the moon, YamaPinocchio could see the faint outline of the mainland. If he kept rowing in that direction, he and Kamenashi Cricket were sure to reach the shore before daybreak.
Then, without any warning, a hulking shape broke from the water and loomed over their little dinghy. It was a monstrous white shark! The creature had an enormous head with a huge mouth, wide open and showing three rows of jagged teeth that glistened in the moonlight. YamaPinocchio cried out in terror and tried to maneuver the little rowboat away from the path of the shark, but that immense mouth kept coming nearer and nearer. “Faster amigo, row faster!” screeched Kamenashi Cricket, who had crept out of the puppet’s bowtie upon hearing the commotion. “Try to make it to the shore!”
YamaPinocchio rowed harder and harder and harder. The little dinghy shot through the water, but alas! It was too late. The monster overtook them and chomped down hard on the rowboat, easily snapping it in two. The puppet found himself between the rows of gleaming white teeth. There was no escaping now! For as the icy cold water rushed into the shark’s cavern-like mouth, he was sucked in with it. “This is surely the end of me,” thought YamaPinocchio even as he tried to kick free of the deadly vortex.
Suddenly, the shark let out a sickening scream and thrashed about in the water, spewing out the contents of its mouth. The force was so great that YamaPinocchio hurtled through the air to land against the shattered hull of the dinghy. Shaking the seawater from his face, he turned to stare at the beast, wondering what had caused it to behave so – when he saw Kamenashi Cricket standing on top of the shark’s snout! The cricket was jabbing mercilessly at the monster’s bulging eyes using his tiny pink umbrella, hopping from one orb to the next in blinding-quick succession. The shark screamed again in pain as the umbrella punctured its corneas like a vicious little needle.
“Swim away, amigo!” Kamenashi Cricket cried, stabbing relentlessly at the shark’s wounded eyes. “Swim for your life!”
“No! I can’t leave you here!” YamaPinocchio shouted. Looking around, the puppet sighted one of the oars floating near him, and he swam clumsily towards it. He was not a strong swimmer, but his light wooden body kept him from sinking and made it easier to paddle and move about. “I’m coming Kamenashi Cricket, I’m coming!” The oar in one hand, YamaPinocchio pushed towards the shark and hauled himself up using its pectoral fin as leverage, heedless of the abrasions that the monster’s rough dermal scales were inflicting on his wooden limbs.
“Why’d you come back?” Kamenashi Cricket gasped. The cricket was tiring fast, but the monster was recovering from the stinging blows just as quickly. “You’re my only friend and I’m not leaving you alone, EVER,” yelled YamaPinocchio over the din. The shark reared its head high above the water, preparing to plunge into the ocean and take the cricket and the puppet with it. But before it could make that dive, YamaPinocchio sprang forward and thrust the oar he was holding deep into the monster’s left eye.
The shark screamed again, its agony and rage a hundred times greater. But it was simply too strong for the puppet and his brave cricket friend. The oar still jammed in its head, the beast gave a mighty shake and came down hard on the water, dislodging both Kamenashi Cricket and YamaPinocchio before disappearing into the depths. The puppet was thrown into the water several feet away, and when he bobbed back up he swam hard towards the floating wreckage of the boat, calling out the cricket’s name.
The puppet found his friend lying on a broken board, his eyes closed, the pink umbrella gone. “Kamenashi Cricket! Talk to me!” YamaPinocchio sobbed. The cricket’s eyes opened one more time. “You came back for me, amigo,” Kamenashi Cricket whispered ever so faintly. “You… came… back.” Then his battered little body gave one last shudder before going completely still, his sightless eyes wide open.
YamaPinocchio did not have time to mourn, because the sea monster suddenly resurfaced with a vengeance, this time aiming straight for the puppet. But instead of swallowing him whole, the shark bit down savagely on YamaPinocchio’s right arm, tearing it right off at the elbow. YamaPinocchio nearly fainted from the pain but he had lost the energy to scream. The shark, obviously toying with the puppet before it finished him off for good, turned its attention to YamaPinocchio’s left arm. Two seconds later, that limb had also become a jagged stump of pinewood.
YamaPinocchio looked down at the shards that used to be his arms. He looked up at the monster, which was slowly dipping its head beneath the water, about to chomp off the puppet’s legs. Then with his last burst of strength, YamaPinocchio plunged both his shattered arms straight into the shark right eye, all the way down till they pierced its brain, never letting go – not even when the beast thrashed about in the water, shrieking madly; not even when its blood and bits of brain gushed into the ocean; not even when other, smaller sharks converged on the great white and began taking little bites out of its injured body.
The bites from the smaller predators became bigger and bolder, but throughout this feeding frenzy YamaPinocchio’s arms remained lodged in the great shark’s eye, simply because he had no more strength to shake himself free. And as the monster’s half-eaten carcass sank deeper and deeper into the sea, taking YamaPinocchio with it, the puppet thought he could see a ray of blue light piercing the inky abyss like that from a single, vivid star. But the darkness soon took him.
A low, musical voice whispered: “Little puppet made of pine, awake. The gift of life is thine.”
The boy awoke on a grassy knoll. The sun was shining through the fleecy clouds; a cool wind fanned his face. His senses were alive in a way they had never been before: he could feel the turf tickling his feet, smell the scent of brine and seaweed nearby, hear the cawing of seagulls high above. He sat up slowly, looking around him. He appeared to be on a small islet a short distance from the mainland. The rusty ruins of an old lighthouse towered behind him in the center of the islet. The sea was calm this morning, the gentle roll of the surf giving no hint of the terrible things that had taken place a short while ago.
Memories from the previous night flashed through the boy’s mind: marionettes in a cage… a midnight escape by boat… a monster’s huge, terrifying jaws … a brave little cricket lying on a piece of flotsam, dead forever… The boy wept bitterly as he remembered his fallen friend, whom he would never see again.
A gentle touch on his shoulder caused the boy to look up. Through his tear-blurred vision he could make out the shimmery form of the Blue Maki. “Haven’t you noticed, YamaPinocchio?” she asked him. “You have proven yourself brave, truthful, and unselfish. Your wish is granted. A puppet you are no longer.”
YamaPinocchio looked down at his limbs, and for the first time he realized that the jagged stumps were gone, and in place were a pair of sturdy arms and hands of real flesh, fully made whole again. The boy reached up to touch his face and marveled at how soft his cheeks felt – for they were no longer carved out of wood, but made of real skin and veins and tissue knit together by the very miracle of life. His hair ruffled in the breeze – real hair, not a painted head of wood. Even his toes felt different – no longer hard and stiff, but wonderfully pliant, wriggling and flexing at his command. His clothes were in tatters – all that was left of his outfit were his trousers and red suspenders – but he was wholly, completely human. He was a real, live, boy.
“You will no longer be called ‘YamaPinocchio,’ for gone is the nocchio – the gnarly lump of wood from which you were carved,” the fairy continued. “From this day on you will be known simply as ‘YamaPi.’”
YamaPi was silent for a moment. “I thank you,” he said quietly. “Really, I thank you. But… must it hurt like this? Why does my heart hurt so much?” Being fully human, YamaPi could now feel things with a clarity and intensity far greater than he had ever felt as a marionette: Love. Fear. Hope. Anger. Hatred. Grief.
“Yes. That is what being human means,” the Blue Maki answered with a sad smile.
YamaPi remembered Kamenashi Cricket in a fresh rush of memories. “This is all their fault,” he said fiercely. “Honest Ryo and TegoMass – they tricked me and sold me to Stromboli!” YamaPi’s hands balled up into a fist. “If none of that had happened, Kamenashi Cricket would be alive right now!”
The boy rose to his feet. “I’m going after them,” he vowed. “I’m gonna hunt them all down – the fox, the cat, Stromboli and Johnnypetto, and all the tricksters, cheaters and swindlers that are still out there. I won’t rest until I’ve killed them all! No – I’ll swindle them first, give them a dose of their own medicine… And when I’ve beat the bastards at their own game, that’s when I’ll finish ‘em off! Then Kamenashi Cricket’s death will be avenged!”
The Blue Maki looked at the boy for a moment. “Revenge is not the answer, YamaPi,” she said gravely. “It will not bring your friend back. Even if you roam the streets of every town and city in all the world, dogging these swindlers day and night without rest, and even if you wear a thousand disguises and fool a thousand people, your heart will never be at peace. For your friend will still be dead.”
Deep down, YamaPi knew that the fairy’s words rung true. There was nothing in the world that could bring back a loved one lost. He sank down to the grass and buried his face in his hands, his body racked with sobs.
“If this is what being human is like, then I’d rather be a puppet again,” YamaPi whispered.
The Blue Maki smiled sadly and shook her head. “Alas, I do not have the power to turn you back.”
The place was silent except for the heartbroken sounds of weeping from the boy who was once made of wood.
But the fairy took pity on him, and said, “I may not have the power to reverse the spell that made you human, but I can help you forget what it is that you wish to forget. But be warned, for once my spell is cast, it cannot be undone.”
YamaPi lifted his head and gazed out at the ocean, watching the rhythmic motion of the waves as they crashed onto shore before ebbing back to sea. “Yes, I would like that,” he said presently. “To forget all of this, for it is too painful to bear. That is all I want.”
“Then it shall be as you wish.” The Blue Maki stood to her full height and lifted a slender arm, pointing her thumb and index finger at the boy as she recited the spell. “Bang,” she said. “Bang… bang… bang…” YamaPi could feel his eyes growing heavy and he slumped back on the grassy slope, slipping into a deep sleep. The fairy went on in her soft, lulling voice:
“So be at peace, forevermore
And lie, untroubled, upon this shore
May your dreams keep you safe and warm
With magic, I now seal this charm.”
The Blue Maki leaned down and kissed YamaPi on the brow. Then a fresh sea breeze blew over the islet, leaving in its wake the slumbering boy and a few shimmery blue wisps that rose and scattered in the wind.
And there he lies to this day, a solitary boy in red suspenders, sleeping deeply without a care or worry in the world, warmed by the sun on that grassy knoll by the ruined lighthouse, forever young, forever innocent, and with only a cricket to keep him company in the vast, eternal playground of his own sweet dreams.
This was the Nobuta wo Produce OT3 fic that never should’ve been written, lol.
The idea for “YamaPinocchio” was ridiculously easy to come by, given YamaPi’s legendary woodenness in front of the camera. So casting PiPi as Pinocchio wasn’t a stretch at all. However, this story took me the longest to write of the three, mainly
because YamaPi stories usually take me forever to complete, hello my unfinished “The Devolution of Yamashita Tomohisa” ficbecause of the richness of the source material. After all, Carlo Collodi’s 19th century classic “The Adventures of Pinocchio” is less a fairy tale than a full-length serial novel for children, chock-full of twists and turns and moral lessons learned.
My revisionist tale also takes the most deviations and detours from the original compared to the other two stories in this collection: for one, though it was only natural for Geppetto to find a real-life counterpart in Johnny K., I couldn’t make the resulting hybrid – Johnnypetto – the kind, softhearted surrogate father that Collodi’s woodcarver was – that would just feel wrong, lol. Besides, Johnnypetto worked better for the story if he retained the sinister, exploitative qualities of the real-life Johnny K. (And yes, Johnny really made YamaPi do that nudie photoshoot for AnAn Magazine (No. 1597) back in Feb. 2008, including that infamous shower scene.)
Having been weaned on all things Disney, I also borrowed heavily from the 1940 animated film Pinocchio, particularly the names of the secondary characters Stromboli, J. Worthington Foulfellow/“Honest John” the fox, Gideon the cat, the Blue Fairy, and Jiminy Cricket. Only Stromboli remained Stromboli in my version; Honest John and Gideon were re-dubbed Honest Ryo and TegoMass, respectively (Nishikido Ryo and TegoMass being YamaPi’s crewmates from the JE boyband NEWS); while Horikita Maki and Kamenashi Kazuya assumed the parts of the Blue Fairy and Jiminy Cricket, respectively – obviously as a shout-out to Nobuta wo Produce fans (myself included, whee) for whom the YamaPi+Maki+Kame OT3 ranks as the most epic TV threesome EVAR.
I also merged the Pinocchio-and-the-marionettes chapter with a later sequence where the puppet is taken to Toyland (Pleasure Island in the Disney version) – although for reasons of brevity I left out the bit where he gets turned into a donkey.
Now for the music: besides using the classic song from the Disney movie (“When You Wish Upon a Star”), I inserted lyrics from a couple other J-Pop songs, namely “Hoshi o Mezashite / Aim for the Stars” (2007 NEWS single), and “Real Face” (2006 KAT-TUN single). Kamenashi Cricket calling YamaPinocchio ‘Amigo’ is an obvious reference to “Seishun Amigo” (theme song of Nobuta wo Produce, peformed by YamaPi and Kame as the unit Shuji to Akira).
And finally, I cribbed a few things – no, actually a LOT of things, from YamaPi and Maki’s 2006 swindler+cosplay drama Kurosagi. Not my favorite renzoku by any standard (though I did love the brilliant opening credits and the score), but it was necessary to rip certain elements from that show to serve the purposes of this story, e.g. the seaside hill with the rusty lighthouse! bare-chested YamaPi in red suspenders, lolling on the grass! YamaPi vowing to become a swindler out of revenge! Maki pointing her fingers at YamPi and going “Bang!” (which quite honestly made me go “LOLWHUTLOL” when I first watched the drama). Try viewing the Kurosagi intro (video posted above) and look out for the 00:27 mark — just so you’ll know I didn’t entirely make this all up, lol.
(For yanie and all the KimuxMatsu shippers out there, who know too well that “True love never runs smooth.” May our tribe increase)
A very long time ago, in mid-winter, when the snowflakes were falling on Tokyo like feathers from heaven, a beautiful queen of the royal kabuki house of Koraiya sat sewing at her window, which had a frame of black ebony. As she worked, she looked sometimes at the falling snow, and it happened that she pricked her finger with her needle, so that three drops of blood fell upon the snow. How pretty the red blood looked upon the dazzling white! The young queen said to herself as she gazed at it, “Oh, if only I had a dear little child who had skin as white as snow, lips as rosy as the blood, and hair as black as the ebony window!”
Soon afterwards she gave birth to a daughter whose skin was white as snow, lips rosy as blood, and hair as black as ebony. She named her “Matsu Takako.” Matsu’s father delightedly ordered a new family crest to be hung in the nursery – in a beautiful, bold design red as blood and white as snow.
But alas! When little Matsu turned five, her gentle mother died.
Several years passed and Matsu’s father decided that although Matsu was a girl, she could be groomed to be the first woman kabuki star in centuries. It’s what his dead wife would have wanted, he thought, and Matsu’s illustrious lineage all but demanded it. So one day he brought Matsu’s cousin, Ichikawa Ebizo, to come and live in their house. Ebizo was roughly Matsu’s age and, while just a boy, was already a rising kabuki star. Matsu’s father, who was often away on tour, bade his talented nephew to teach his daughter the tricks of their trade, as well as keep this lonely, motherless girl company.
So Matsu spent her days immersed in kabuki training, which usually took up the whole afternoon after school. Not wanting to displease her father, she dutifully attended her drama and voice classes, practiced the shamisen, and even took up extra lessons in gidayu recitation and Noh dance. She never had time to ask herself if she was truly happy, but when winter came she often gazed out the ebony window of her room, thinking of her mother and wondering what it must be like to have been born into a different house, a different family.
Matsu’s cousin Ichikawa Ebizo did his duty in overseeing Matsu’s training, but he had a rotten core, and could not bear that anyone else should surpass him in talent and prestige. Though he treated Matsu with civility, in his heart he coveted her place and pedigree, and vowed that one day Matsu’s inheritance would become his.
Ebizo also had a magic mirror that could tell only the truth. One day he stood before the mirror and asked, “Mirror, mirror upon the wall, who’s the best kabuki actor of us all?” The mirror answered, “Thou, O Ebizo, art the best kabuki actor of all.” And Ichikawa Ebizo was content, because he knew the mirror could speak nothing but the truth.
But as time passed, Matsu grew into a lovely young lady, bright as day and showing more talent in singing, dancing and acting than anyone else in their clan or guild. After a day of watching Matsu rehearse for a stage play, Ichikawa Ebizo asked his magic mirror,
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the best kabuki actor of us all?”
The mirror answered, “O kabuki prince, though great you be, Matsu is greater far to see.”
Ichikawa Ebizo flew into a black rage, and from that moment envy and pride festered in his heart like a rank sore, so that he had no peace day or night, until one day, while Matsu’s father was away for an Osaka show, Ebizo called one of his shady Yakuza friends (for he had many of them) and said, “Take my dear little cousin into the woods, for I can no longer bear the sight of her. And when you return, bring with you her heart that I may know you have indeed finished her off.”
That night the hitman waited for Matsu to come out of dance rehearsals, followed her into a dark alley, and there drugged her, and took her into the woods outside Tokyo. When they were out in the forest, Matsu awoke and saw the hitman watching her with a sorrowful expression. For he was secretly a fan of Matsu’s who liked to go to her concerts and stage plays, though he would never admit this to Ichikawa Ebizo. The hitman quickly untied Matsu’s bonds, helped her to her feet, and said, “I shall spare your life but you must run away, and never go home again, or your cousin Ichikawa Ebizo will surely kill you.” While to himself he thought, “The wild beasts will soon have devoured you,” and yet it seemed as if a stone had been rolled from his heart since he no longer had to kill her.
Then as a young wild boar came rushing by, he killed it, took out its heart, and carried it back to Ichikawa Ebizo, who ate it thinking he had eaten the heart of Matsu.
Poor Matsu was now all alone in the wild wood, and so frightened she was that she trembled at every leaf that rustled. Then she began to run, and ran over sharp stones and through thorns, and the wild beasts ran past her, but did her no harm. And she kept running until she came to a little house in a forest clearing, and seeing that the door was not locked, she opened it and went in.
Inside the cottage, everything she saw was brightly colored (if a little kitschy), and not quite clean – the dishes were piled on the sink, and the floor looked like it could use a little sweeping. Upon a dirty pink checker cloth-covered table there stood five plates piled high with cold food. Beside the plates lay five spoons, and five pairs of chopsticks, and five wine goblets and five ashtrays. Against the wall, and side by side, stood six – not five, but six – unmade beds whose quilts and sheets didn’t quite match. On the wooden headboards were tacked pinups of various pop tarts in skimpy clothing.
Matsu considered leaving this strange place, but her hunger and thirst got the better of her that she took a little food from each of the five plates, and drank a few drops of wine from each goblet, for she did not wish to take everything away from one. Then, because she was so tired, she crept into one of the beds, but it did not suit her, and then she tried the others, but one was too long, another too short, and so on, until she came to the sixth, which suited her exactly; so she said a prayer of thanks and soon fell fast asleep.
When night fell the masters of the little house came home singing their coming-home-from-work song in five different voices. They were five miners who worked with a pick-axe and spade, searching for things like copper and gold in the heart of the mountains.
They lit their five candles and then saw that someone had been to visit them. The first, their leader, said in a rather squeaky voice, “Who has been sitting in my chair?”
The second, rangy and with bleached hair, roared, “Who has been eating from my plate?”
The third, looking petulantly at his favorite brush, which now had a few straight, black strands (Matsu’s) entwined with his coarse curly ones, demanded, “Who has been going through my dresser?”
The fourth, who had headed straight for his wine goblet, whined, “Who has been drinking out of my goblet?”
And the fifth, who had eyes like a hawk’s and instincts like a wolf’s, stalked over to the sixth bed on the far end of the wall, and merely said, “Someone IS in Mori’s bed.” And he flung the dusty coverlet off Matsu’s sleeping form. The other four came running up, and they cried out with astonishment “Oyaoya!!!” and brought their candles closer to let the light fall on Matsu. For a moment they were silent, for they had never met such a creature before. “She’s the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen!” – the fourth miner blurted out in wonder while taking little swigs from his wine goblet. The fifth miner promptly clouted the fourth, causing him to slosh his drink all over his frilly overalls. “Baka. You’ll wake her up. We can get her story in the morning – even if we have to wring it out of her.”
So the five miners tiptoed away, careful not to disturb their sleeping visitor, and ate their dinner in hushed voices and washed up with as little clatter as possible. Then they got into their beds and blew their candles out. The fifth miner, whose bed was just beside the sixth, stared thoughtfully at Matsu’s huddled form until sleep eventually took him.
When the sun rose, Matsu awoke and, oh! How frightened she was to see the five miners lined up at the foot of her bed. But they seemed more friendly than hostile, and asked her who she was. “My name is Matsu,” she answered.
The first miner cleared his throat and bowed formally. “Welcome to our humble abode. My name is Nakai.”
“Shingo,” the second miner said, smiling broadly.
“Goro,” said the third, still a bit miffed that Matsu had used his brush the night before.
“Tsuyoshi,” added the fourth, smiling creepily at Matsu.
The fifth miner held Matsu’s curious gaze a moment longer before bowing stiffly. “Kimura,” he said.
“We have nicknames, too,” Shingo ventured with a wink. “They call me Saiyuuki ‘coz I like to, uh, monkey around. This here’s Squeaky,” he said, clapping Nakai on the back. “Primpy, for obvious reasons,” he said, rolling his eyes at Goro, who had wandered to his dresser mirror to run his brush through his thick, permed hair. “That’s Tipsy over there,” Shingo said, indicating Tsuyoshi. “And try to guess who Smexy is,” he added grinning. Kimura coughed and reddened slightly. “You really don’t have to use our stupid nicknames, you know,” he informed Matsu drily while giving Shingo the finger behind his back.
“Oh… Oh I see,” Matsu replied, still a little overwhelmed by all the male attention.
Nakai aka Squeaky promptly came to her rescue: “In case you were wondering, we’re actually miners. But we believe in fair trade so we’ve formed a guild and called ourselves ‘Super Miners Always Playing’ – or ‘SMAP’ for short.”
“Because all work and no play can be the pits!” Shingo aka Saiyuuki declared. “Right boys?” Nakai nodded earnestly, Goro aka Primpy just said “unh-huh” rather distractedly while examining his reflection, and Tsuyoshi aka Tipsy said nothing but gave Matsu a watery smile that creeped her out even more.
“But there are six beds here,” Matsu pointed out. “And only five of you.”
“There was a sixth miner, Mori, but he left the forest to pursue another career path,” Nakai answered while the other four began to discreetly pull the sexy pinups down from their headboards. “You were sleeping in his bed.”
Kimura kicked the crumpled pinups under his bed and cleared his throat. “Now that we’ve gotten the pleasantries out of the way,” he said, “Let’s hear the lady’s story.” He crossed his arms and looked at her hard. “What were you doing in our house? We don’t normally take kindly to trespassers, you know.”
So Matsu told the miners how she had grown up without a mother and how her father was constantly away, and how her cousin Ichikawa Ebizo had intended to kill her, but the hitman had spared her life and she had to run on until she reached their little house. By the end of her story Nakai was wiping away tears, Shingo was shaking his head in mingled anger and sorrow, Goro had at least put his brush down for a moment, Tsuyoshi was taking large gulps from his goblet and turning redder by the minute, and Kimura had fallen silent, watching her with amber eyes. All five miners simultaneously reached for their back pockets and pulled out a cigarette, which they lit in unison.
“You can stay here with us,” Nakai told Matsu kindly.
“You should stay forever!” Tsuyoshi interjected eagerly, licking the wine from his lips.
“Only while her life is in danger, but not longer than that,” Goro huffed, taking up his brush.
“You can stay for as LONG as you like,” Nakai the leader concluded diplomatically while Shingo nodded in agreement.
Kimura took another drag on his cigarette, walked over to the kitchen and began poking around the icebox. “Best if you don’t wear out your welcome,” he muttered. “But we could use a housekeeper – or something. If you know how to make our beds, wash, mend, and knit, and keep everything neat and clean – if you can manage to do that, then you may stay with us… for now.”
“Yes, of course. Thank you very much, I am most grateful,” answered Matsu with a deep and graceful bow.
“Just one house rule,” Nakai said. “Leave the cooking to us.”
“Because WE LOVE TO COOK!!!” Shingo bellowed. And Matsu’s stomach growled in response.
“Hear that boys?” Nakai squeaked. “The lassie’s hungry. That means it’s time for breakfast! So what do you feel like eating today?” he asked Matsu.
“Oh!” Matsu replied, thinking hard. “Well… back home, we had kaiseki ryori every day. But that’s all right if you can’t cook such elaborate meals here,” she added hastily, regretting that she had imposed such an unreasonable request on these rustic forest dwellers.
“So, haute cuisine for breakfast, eh? Leave that to us,” Nakai answered confidently. He then turned to the other four and screamed, “ORDERRRRR!!!”
The other four miners donned their color-coded aprons and briskly set to work while Nakai settled Matsu down at the dining table and kept her company with his easy conversation. The tiny kitchen became a flurry of flying knives and rattling saucepans as the miners whipped up dish after exquisite dish – there was sashimi on shredded daikon, chawanmushi custard, octopus sunomono, takenoko gohan, pickled plums, and the most fragrant miso soup. One by one the miners presented the food before Matsu, who sampled each dish with great delight and adjudged them all to be “Oishii!” (Except for the grilled cod, which Tsuyoshi had burned beyond salvaging.)
After the wondrous feast (and there was enough for the miners to pack in their bento boxes, and still enough left on the table for supper later), the miners left Matsu alone in the cottage, but not before warning her to lock the door until they returned that evening. They went down the forest path in high spirits and their frilly overalls, puffing on their cigarettes and singing their off-to-work song in five different voices.
So the weeks passed and Matsu stayed with the miners and kept the house neat and clean for them, who (after cooking breakfast for the better part of the morning) went off to search for copper and gold in the mountains. For the rest of the day Matsu was alone, but kept in mind the miners’ warning not to let anyone into the cottage. “For,” said they, “your evil cousin will soon discover that you are living here.”
Matsu got along very well with the miners, who were friendly and affable (especially Nakai and Shingo) and were quick to laugh and joke around with each other and with her. At least Goro would now let her use his dresser while he was away (seeing that Matsu had brought no grooming kit with her), and while Tsuyoshi kept giving her those feeble little smiles over his wine goblet, he now seemed more harmless than creepy.
Now that they had a captive audience, the miners would mount little revues every night after supper, when all the dishes had been cleared away and everyone had assembled in the living room. The SMAPs weren’t exceptionally good singers, dancers or actors, as Matsu’s kabuki-honed instincts told her, but they performed with such peppy enthusiasm that when each routine ended and they eagerly looked at Matsu for her feedback, she did not have the heart to critique their less-than-stellar variety shows, and instead gave very encouraging comments – which were received with immense delight, hi-fives and back-slapping, and – for Tsuyoshi most of all – extra rounds of wine.
Kimura said little to her when the others were around, but after Matsu had offhandedly mentioned one morning at breakfast that she was fond of apples, he began a habit of bringing an apple home every evening to leave on Matsu’s pillow. Their beds were beside each other, and sometimes, when the others were fast asleep (and snoring loudly, in Shingo’s case) they would converse deep into the night, their low voices filling the empty space between their beds, talking long after the nocturnal forest sounds outside the little cottage had quieted down one by one.
They talked of many things: Matsu shared bits and pieces from her childhood, and what it was like growing up with all the demands and expectations of her kabuki house. And Kimura would listen, ask questions thoughtfully and then listen some more, and his amber eyes were the last thing that Matsu remembered before falling asleep. In the morning Kimura would be his usual reserved self around her, but he never failed to bring home a crisp red apple, freshly picked from deep in the forest, to later lay on Matsu’s pillow.
There were mornings when Kimura would get up at the crack of dawn and go off to the little woodshed behind the cottage. But he would always slip back into the house just in time for the miners’ morning “kitchen performances,” and though Matsu asked him a few times what he was doing in the woodshed, he would just smile and shake his head, and go about his cooking.
Then winter came and the land was soon blanketed in snow. Back in the kabuki house of Koraiya, Ichikawa Ebizo, believing, of course, that Matsu was dead, and that he had eaten her heart, and that therefore he was again the most talented performer in the land, went to his magic mirror and said –
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the best kabuki actor of us all?”
The mirror answered, “O kabuki prince, though great you be, Matsu is greater far to see. Over the hills and far away, she dwells with five miners to-day.” And an image of the little cottage in the forest clearing appeared in the mirror, and then dissolved into a reflection of Ebizo’s livid face.
How shocked and angry Ebizo was, for he knew that the mirror spoke the truth, and that his hitman friend must therefore have deceived him. He thought and thought of how he might kill Matsu, for he knew that he would have neither rest nor peace until he really was the greatest kabuki actor in all the land. At length he decided what to do. So he painted his face, donned a wig and dressed himself like an old peddler woman, so that no one could recognize him when he left the city.
In this disguise Ebizo made for the forest, climbing the seven mountains that lay between him and the miners, until at last he came to their cottage and knocked on the door. Remembering that Matsu loved apples as a child, he had brought a basket filled with a dozen of the bright red fruit, but which he had laced with the nastiest poison known to man.
Alone in the house, Matsu peered from the window and said cautiously, “Good day dear obaasan, you seem lost in the forest, are you not?”
“Just passing through, my sweet,” Ebizo croaked, summoning all his talent and years of acting experience to play the part of a harmless old crone. “I do have a basket full of plump red apples. Would you care to let me in and spare you a few? It is very cold out here, in the snow.”
“Surely I might let this poor obaasan warm herself here?” thought Matsu, and unbolted the door to let the crone in.
“Dear, dear, what a sight for sore eyes you are, child,” said the old lady. “Here, take an apple, for it is as rosy as your cheeks. Rosy with love, eh my sweet? Ah, to be young and in love!”
Matsu, who was thinking of one particular miner at the moment, blushed prettily and smiled. “Oh do warm your hands and feet by our hearth, dear obaasan, and thank you for this lovely apple, I do love them so.” She reached for the apple that the crone was holding out to her, but hesitated a moment, for she remembered the miners’ warning.
“Surely you are not afraid of poison,” said the crone. “See, I will cut one in two: the rose cheek you shall take, and the white cheek I will eat myself.”
Now, the apple had been so cleverly made that only the rose-cheeked side contained the poison. Matsu longed for the delicious-looking fruit, and when she saw the obaasan eat half of it, she thought there could be no danger, and stretched out her hand and took the other part. She bit deeply into it, so red and juicy and… poisonous. Matsu fell down and could not breathe, lying on the floor as though she were dead.
Ebizo laughed aloud as he gazed at his cousin. “White as snow, red as blood, black as ebony,” he said. “Now the miners cannot awaken you. And now,” he chortled, “I am once more the greatest kabuki performer in the land.” With that he made haste away from the cottage.
When the miners came home that night they found Matsu lying cold and still on the floor of the cottage. Kimura was last to enter the house, regretting he could not bring an apple home to Matsu since it was winter and the apple trees in the forest were all bare. But when he stepped into the cottage he saw the other four sobbing over Matsu’s crumpled form. Though the sight of her punched a hole in his chest and sent his head spinning, his sharp eyes took in the partly eaten apple not far from Matsu’s limp hand, and he knew beyond doubt that it was Matsu’s evil cousin who had come that day.
Nakai was checking Matsu’s pulse. “I can’t feel anything,” he said brokenly, even as Tsuyoshi attempted to resuscitate her orally. Shingo and Goro said nothing but took their hats off and covered their faces. Nakai looked up and met Kimura’s stricken gaze. “She’s gone,” he said simply.
Kimura backed out the door and stumbled over the cottage steps. But the miner noticed that the murderer’s tracks were still faintly visible on the snow-covered ground. His grief burned into revenge, and he stood up to face the other four. “He couldn’t have gone far,” he told them. “I’ll get him, I’ll get the bastard. Just don’t… don’t bury her until I return.”
Kimura tore through the trees, tracking Ebizo’s footprints all over the forest, until he came to a snowy hill where a discarded basket and a dozen or so apples lay at the foot of the rise, half obscured by snowflakes. Sensing his quarry was near, Kimura raced up the slope. The ice crunched under his boots. On the crest of the hill he could make out a shadowy form: Ichikawa Ebizo. In his haste, Matsu’s cousin had somehow lost his way and was now standing over a steep drop, for the other side of the hill was actually a rocky and treacherous ravine.
Kimura shouted Ebizo’s name over the howling of the wind. Matsu’s cousin, still in his obaasan costume, turned around with hate in his eyes, and came rushing at Kimura with a knife which he had suddenly produced from under his thick kimono sleeves. The two men scuffled in the snow, rolling dangerously close to the edge of the precipice. Ebizo lashed out at Kimura with his knife, and managed to cut the miner in the arms and chest, but he was encumbered by the heavy robes of his costume, and the face paint which had begun to melt from his sweat stung his eyes. Though weakened from the gashes, Kimura gave one last heave and kicked Ebizo off him. Ichikawa Ebizo tumbled back, his feet and legs entangled in his long kimono, and fell screaming into the deep, dark ravine. No sound was heard from him again.
When Kimura hobbled back to the cottage, he saw that the other four miners had built Matsu a bier made of pine wood, with the top made of glass. So pale and beautiful she looked, hair black as ebony and skin white as snow. Her face needed no makeup, and they dared not defile it with Goro’s dubious cosmetics. So they lifted her tenderly, combed her hair, and washed her with wine and water, but all in vain – dead she was and dead she remained. They laid her in the casket, and all five of them sat round about it, and wept as thought their hearts would break, for three whole days.
On the third day, Kimura went into the woodshed behind the cottage and brought back a perfectly shaped glass apple, which he had been crafting in secret those mornings before breakfast, and which he meant to give Matsu on her birthday. He placed the glass apple on Matsu’s still breast, above her clasped hands. And all five miners bowed deeply before the casket, before setting the lid firmly atop it. “Arigatou,” they said. “Thank you for bringing light and color into our lives.”
Then they carried Matsu to the top of the tallest mountain, but they could not bear to leave her in the ground. So they left her bier above ground and one of them always stayed by it and watched it. And birds came too, and wept for Matsu; first an owl, then a raven, and last a dove.
It chanced that a traveling prince came into the wood, and went to the miner’s house, meaning to spend the night there. He saw the bier upon the mountaintop, and asked the miners who was it who lay inside. They answered the prince, and when he learned it was Matsu who was inside, he realized that this was the long-lost princess of the royal kabuki house of Koraiya, now presumed dead, and whose puzzling disappearance from the city last autumn had sent the entire kabuki world into mourning.
And so the prince said to the miners, “If you will but let me have the casket, I will take it to her father, so that Matsu may be properly mourned back home. For she comes from a great lineage of artists, a living national treasure in her own right, and she deserves better than to rot on this mountain in the middle of the forest, watched over by a bunch of poor miners.”
The miners held their tongue at the prince’s haughty words, for though it grieved them to part with Matsu, they knew he spoke the truth, that she did not belong to them, or to their world. With great sorrow they gave the prince the coffin, but insisted they help him carry it to the edge of the forest. “It’s the least we can do for Matsu,” they said.
But as the small procession descended the mountain, the prince stumbled against the stump of a tree, and the violent rocking of the casket dislodged the piece of poisonous apple which had been caught in Matsu’s throat, so that she coughed and opened her eyes, raised the lid and sat up, looking around her.
All were amazed to find Matsu alive. The miners knelt on the ground and wept, overjoyed beyond words. “Where am I?” Matsu cried, and the prince, having recovered from the shock, swiftly told her, “Thou art with me, dearest.” With a flourish he then took out a shamisen from his rucksack – for he was also an accomplished minstrel – and regaled her with a hastily made-up song about a long-lost kabuki princess who died in the forest but magically returned to life after being awakened by a prince. Matsu listened in silence as the minstrel prince strummed and sang, but she kept glancing at the miners who were looking at her with indescribable expressions.
When the song ended, the minstrel prince bowed low and introduced himself. “I’m a prince, but also a minstrel, my lady,” he said grandly. “A musician of the highest order, in fact. And now that you have been found – by me, it is time to return to your home and ease your father’s sorrow.” He helped Matsu stand and step out of the coffin. “Come my sweet, we shall be wed, and both your family and mine – both very, very, very well-respected families, I must add, will be pleased by our glorious union,” he finished pointedly, eyeing the miners who had also risen shyly to their feet.
Matsu looked from the minstrel prince to the five miners. “Must I really go with you?” she asked the prince. The miners looked at the ground and were silent, but Kimura stepped forward. “Go with him,” he said. “You belong to that world, with him, with your family. Your evil cousin is dead, and he won’t be able to hurt you anymore.” He bowed deeply. “Sayonara.” With that he turned swiftly and walked away. The other four miners followed suit, throwing Matsu brave, sad smiles over their shoulders as they trudged back into the thicket.
“Well,” said the minstrel prince, plucking absently at his shamisen, “thank goodness they didn’t make a scene and try to keep you in these godforsaken backwoods. In fact I rather thought they were happy to get you off their hands. You can never expect these uncultured laborer types to know how to comport themselves before royalty. They’re not like us, you know.” He clasped Matsu’s hand in his. “Shall we?”
Matsu said nothing as the prince led her through the forest; presently they reached the outskirts of the city where her family lived. A thought kept niggling at the back of her mind, this vague feeling that she had left something behind. “Wait,” she said, stopping in her tracks. Then, suddenly, she remembered what it was.
“I’m deeply grateful to you for making such a tremendous effort to bring me back, but I cannot go back with you,” she said.
The minstrel prince turned to look at her, blinked a few times, then said smoothly, “Don’t be silly, Matsu. You’re a national treasure, don’t forget that. Surely you don’t want to throw that all away just to go live in the boondocks, do you?”
Matsu took a step backwards, away from the prince, and firmly said, “Please tell my father that I love him and will visit him one of these days. But I cannot go back to my old life. For the first time since I can remember I’m actually making a choice on my own, and now I choose to be happy. Make a song out of it if you like.” And Matsu turned and walked back into the forest.
She retraced her steps until she came to the abandoned casket, which was now covered with a thin layer of snow. She reached into the wooden box and drew out what she had remembered holding while she was still inside, during those brief, confused moments between waking up and rising from her casket. It was the single glass apple, made of cold, clear crystal that glinted in the winter sun.
Matsu stuffed the precious apple into the pocket of her robe and ran all the way back to the forest clearing and the cottage she had come to love so dearly, even though it took her the better part of the day. She flung open the door of the house, and saw the miners gathered around the dining table – red-eyed and silent, a cigarette in one hand and a wine goblet in another, nursing their grief in the only way they knew.
“I’m back,” Matsu announced. The miners looked up and rubbed their eyes blearily. “Great. Now I’m starting to imagine things,” Goro said testily. “Me too,” Tsuyoshi mumbled. “Or maybe I’m just drunk… again,” he finished morosely. But Nakai stood up slowly, his eyes widening. “Ano… I don’t… think… we’re just imagining things,” he said. Shingo slapped his cheeks and rose quickly, upending his chair. “It’s her, it really is her!” he roared.
Matsu walked over to them, smiling brightly. “Hello, it’s good to be back,” she said. “But where’s um, the fifth one? You know, um, Smexy?” she asked, her eyes twinkling. The other four chuckled while blowing their noses on their sleeves at the same time. “I think Mr. Smexy went off to the mountaintop, where we used to keep watch over you. He said he wanted to be – well, he just wanted to be alone,” Nakai said.
“Then I must go to him and let him know that I’m back,” Matsu told them. “Wait!” Goro cried. He grabbed his brush and tossed it at Matsu. “Your hair’s a mess,” was all he said. While Matsu was combing the snarls out of her long ebony hair, Tsuyoshi came up behind her. “Um, you know, I’ve always liked you,” he began shyly. “But I think he likes you more,” he finished with a smile. Impulsively, Matsu turned and hugged his bony frame. “I’m lucky to have a friend like you,” she said, and planted a kiss on his cheek, which made him giggle and turn beet red.
Matsu put Goro’s brush down and made straight for the door, then stopped and turned around. “Thank you. For giving me a home – for everything,” she said to the four miners, who waved in return. “Best not keep him waiting,” Nakai said while the others grinned knowingly. When she left the cottage she could hear them singing merrily, and in four different voices, a familiar ditty of theirs: “Chotto akita kana / (Time to get it on) Go now!!!”
Matsu ran up the mountainside until she found Kimura leaning against a tall pine tree overlooking the forest, smoking a cigarette. Cigarette butts littered the snow at his feet.
“Hi. I’m – I’m here,” she called out.
His back still to her, Kimura froze; the cigarette fell away from his fingers and burned a hole in the snow. He turned around slowly. “I thought you’d gone home,” was all he said.
“Well, I am home,” Matsu answered.
“Where’s your prince?” Kimura asked, searching the trees behind Matsu.
“He’s not my prince,” Matsu said.
Still Kimura said nothing, so she took a step closer to him. “I came back because… I never got to thank you. For this.” She fished out the glass apple from her pocket and held it up in her hand. “It’s beautiful. Did you really make this for me?” she asked.
He nodded, could not speak. “You didn’t have to come back,” he said after a while.
“Yes, I did,” Matsu replied. She moved closer until their faces were level. Then she kissed him.
And he kissed her back.
“I carved something on it. Did you notice?” Kimura asked when the kiss ended. Matsu held the apple up and turned it against the light, peering closely at the perfectly formed crystal. There, in exquisite script, were etched the words, “True love never runs smooth.”
“It won’t be an easy life – being married to a miner, you know,” Kimura said quietly, leaning his forehead against Matsu’s.
“I know,” she replied. “And I’m fine with that. Besides, perfect endings only happen in fairy tales.”
And they embraced tightly, as though they never would part, and together watched the sun set over the snow-topped forest that was their home.
This is the closest I’ll ever get to writing a KimuxMatsu shipper fic. I was never comfortable with the thought of doing KimuxMatsu fics unless the context was as far removed as possible from Kimura and Matsu’s present-day reality – which kind of made this fairy tale the perfect medium. Obviously, for purposes of the story I’ve chosen to completely ignore certain real-life details like Kimura having a wife and kids (a minor complication really, haha), or Matsu having an older brother (actor Ichikawa Somegoro), or even that Matsu’s mother is still very much alive.
Matsu’s real-life cousin (and kabuki world heartthrob) Ichikawa Ebizo seemed a shoo-in for the Evil Queen character given his late 2010 involvement in a highly controversial barroom brawl. (You may also remember him as the fruit drop-sucking Ultimate Baddie opposite Kimura in Mr. Brain.) And yes, that’s really him in full onnagata mode in the photo shown above. The traveling minstrel prince in my version of the story can find a parallel in Matsu’s real-life husband, professional guitarist Sahashi Yoshiyuki. (And no, I have no idea if he’s as big a douche bag in reality as I’ve painted him to be in the story. Hyuk hyuk hyuk.)
For the benefit of non-SMAP fans, the cooking scenes were inspired by the popular Bistro SMAP segment of the manband’s long-running variety show SMAPxSMAP, on which Matsu has occasionally guested.
This version of the fairy tale also draws inspiration from the1997 fantasy/horror film Snow White: A Tale of Terror (starring Sigourney Weaver as the Queen), in which Snow White meets seven miners instead of dwarfs, eventually falling for one of them (played by Gil Bellows).
And I hope that Love Generation fans will overlook the liberties I took in ripping certain elements from that drama, like the iconic glass apple, the scene where Kimura runs up a snowy hill, and the “true love never runs smooth” adage. And finally, no offense meant to SMAP members Nakai, Shingo, Goro, Tsuyoshi and Kimura, whose traits I selectively and deliberately exaggerated to serve the story – i.e. Nakai’s squeaky voice, Goro’s vanity, Shingo’s expansiveness, and Tsuyoshi’s drinking. I also wrote the Kimura character in my story to be a little more reserved around Matsu than he is in real life, so as to give both their characters more sexual tension. I hope it worked. =)
1) Fairy tale templates taken from:
- “The Adventures of Pinocchio” by Carlo Collodi
- Walt Disney’s Pinocchio (1940)
2) Opening spiel partly lifted from Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre (Showtime, 1982-1985)
3) Title photo taken from behance.net
4) Photo of Horikita Maki courtesy of Jenny via Tumblr
5) Photo of SMAP taken from their 2011 Softbank CF series. (The boys were darlings to agree to dress up as miners just to humor me, knowing I had written this story about them. Hahaha. No, not really. But I’m entitled to a fairy tale of my own, doncha think?)
6) Videos uploaded by:
- sellyreko (“Eternal” PV)
- Haruki-Hikaru (Kurosagi Ep. 1)
- kumpulanmusik (“Shiawase na Ketsumatsu,” theme from Love Generation)
If my above sophomoric scribblings have put you in the mood for fairy tales of the more respectable kind, then allow me to share my favorite fairy tale of ALL TIME, the one I adore WAY MOAR than what Hans Christian or Jakob & Wilhelm have ever published – and believe me, I’ve read ‘em all.
For all of us who are blind fools in love:J-Ent: Welcome to the Freakshow, Misc, Miscellaneous, The Kimura Project comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.