He didn’t want to step inside.
Which was stupid. He’d requested this assignment. He’d pleaded with his boss to do this interview.
“Elliot, why do you want to talk to this guy?” his editor, John, had asked.
“Because—” Elliot began, but John spoke over him.
“Because anything he could say has already been said.” John shook his head. “He’s been covered from every angle, multiple times, by every paper, magazine, and blogger that could make the trip.”
“But that was years ago,” Elliot tried. “He might’ve—”
“Might’ve what?” John snapped. He was tired, Elliot knew. Pictures of his one-year-old, Tyler, littered the messy desk. One, in particular, Tyler wrapped in John’s arms, sat in a heavy silver frame. The ones with his wife had slowly begun to disappear several months ago, when the bottle of bourbon began to make semi-regular appearances, popping out from his bottom desk drawer after most of the staff had gone home. “What could you find that all of them have missed?”
“I don’t want to write about the movie,” Elliot tried to explain, but John cut him off with a snort.
“What the fuck else is there, other than the movie?” Elliot could tell he wasn’t really looking for an answer, but he gave John one anyway.
“I don’t want to approach it as an accusation, or an exploration of creative genius gone awry. The Atlantic and Vox already tried that. And I don’t want to turn it into a conspiracy like fucking Alex Jones did. I just want to talk to him about the last few years, and how the movie affected his life. What it was like having to flee to America, that sort of thing. I want to talk about him, not the movie.”
“And why would our readers want to know anything about that psycho?”
“I think it’s been long enough he’d be willing to talk to someone. If there’s nothing to be told, no story there, I’ll let it go. But let me try, John, please?”
John sighed. He didn’t look at Elliot, instead walking around the side of the desk. His hands were shaking slightly. He folded his fingers together, stopping the tremors, and focused on his cluttered desk: the clippings, the partial stories, the articles of research. It was maddening, Elliot thought, that he was having to beg this embarrassment of a man. Having to plead for the ability to do his job.
“Cover your own expenses, and you get the new guy, Liam, as your cameraman. Take it or leave it.”
And Elliot took it.
So now he stood outside an apartment buried in the heart of New York’s Chinatown, four hours from home and smelling like the bus that had brought them here.
“Aren’t you going to knock?” Liam asked. Twenty-two, and fresh out of school, he was absolutely not Elliot’s first choice. If this was a story with real support, he would have had a full crew and a sound guy. Maria would’ve been ideal. She had a mastery of angles, managed to find the perfect ones to make certain moments dramatic, and make everyone involved look their most attractive. But, instead, he had Liam. Who was…fine.
Elliot tentatively raised a hand and knocked on the door.
They could hear a slow shuffling of footsteps, the sound of a lock being turned. The door opened just enough that they could see a face in the light from the hall, the chain preventing them from coming inside.
“Hiro Araki?” Elliot asked. He could see Araki’s forehead crease and hurriedly continued, “I’m Elliot, Elliot Quinn, from-”
“From the newspaper, right.” Araki’s voice sounded soft, and he closed the door in Elliot’s face. He could hear the sound of the chain being undone before the door opened wide enough for them to step inside. Elliot tried to hide his trepidation as he stepped over the threshold, Liam close behind.
Araki watched with a kind of detached interest as the two made their way into the living room. The place was a mess of red paint and dark wood. Mismatched chairs filled the tiny space, with a loveseat covered in blankets facing a moderately sized TV. The kitchen held a stock of clean and unclean dishes. A fruit bowl fit to bursting, most just on the side of spoiling,
. sat on the counter. A cat was lounging in one of the armchairs, curled into a tiny ball of black and brown fur. A small table to the right of the chair held a small lamp, a kiseru pipe, and a bag of tobacco.
Hiro Araki gently picked up the cat and sat back down in the chair, his hand resting gently on top of the cat’s head. Elliot stood halfway in the living room, trying not to look too awkward, uncomfortably aware of Liam behind him. The infamous filmmaker finally spoke.
“Elliot Quinn.” He repeated the name once to his cat, before looking up at Elliot again. “Is that a pen name?”
“Uh, no,” Elliot said, thrown slightly.
“Ah. It sounds like a reporter’s name. I thought you might have chosen it yourself.” Araki gave him a shrewd smile. Elliot stood for another moment in uncomfortable silence before Araki said, “You can sit, you know.”
“Oh, thank you.” He took a spot on the loveseat, Liam on one of the other chairs.
“You are from Boston Citizen?”
Elliot nodded. “Yes.”
“You came into town today?”
“Yeah, got off the bus and came straight here.”
“And straight back tonight.” Liam couldn’t hide a note of annoyance in his voice.
“A small newspaper, I assume?”
“Right,” Araki nodded. “So, how do you want to do this? Usually, we’ve had the camera over there, in that doorway,” He pointed to a corner that Elliot presumed led to Araki’s bedroom, “And then I sit here, and the interviewer sits wherever they think they will be in the best light.”
“Uh,” Elliot hadn’t expected to jump in quite so quickly, but Araki’s dark eyes were staring him down: the silent expression of You know what you’re doing, don’t you? “Sounds good,” he said, recovering quickly. “Liam, what do you need?”
Liam started with test shots, bringing the camera around to different spots in the room, checking angles and sound. From his bag, he pulled out microphones, attaching them to Araki’s sweater, and Elliot’s blazer.
“So we’ll do some test questions while he adjusts the levels,” Elliot told Araki. “Warm us up, too.”
Araki nodded and motioned for Elliot to begin speaking.
“So,” Elliot began, “How are you doing today?”
It wasn’t the best start, but Elliot told himself that he needed to begin as casually as possible, to make Araki feel comfortable.
“I’m alright,” Araki replied, “And you?”
“Oh, I’m fine, thanks.” Elliot took another quick glance around the room, checking that Liam was still working. “How many interviews do you think you’ve had here?”
“Quite a few, though, they’ve tapered off in the past few years. After the film was banned, there were a few that wanted my take on it, but, not lately. It’s been very quiet.”
Elliot nodded. The film had been blacklisted about two years ago, though reports of black market copies turned up from time to time.
“So, you’ve been here, in Chinatown, since you left Japan, right?”
“Yeah, found the place through a friend of a friend. It wasn’t the ideal location for me, but, to the unknowing eye, I blend in better here than I would almost anywhere else.”
It wasn’t a slight on him in particular, Elliot knew, but he still found it a bit hard to hear.
“Surely, people must find you anyway, recognize you?”
“Oh, sure they did. But, these days, I rarely leave the place. I can have almost everything delivered to me, and I do some remote work, consulting for various projects. It’s enough to keep me entertained.”
Elliot nodded, not sure how else to respond to the man admitting he’d become a relative hermit.
“What about your family? Are they still in Japan? Do they ever come to…” He let the question fade as Araki’s face twisted into a sad grin.
“Well, I’m sure you already knew I never married. My parents couldn’t handle the press. They stopped speaking to me some time ago. My mother would occasionally send a letter, but ask me not to write back. They stopped just over a year ago. I looked her up, and she’s dead. Died of heart failure. My father not long after.”
Elliot could only nod again. Everything he’d planned for, everything he’d wanted to ask, thrown out the window. Or, maybe not thrown out so much as in a place he could no longer reach.
“Let me ask you something,” Araki said, seemingly unbothered by Elliot’s frozen state.
“Sure,” Elliot told him.
“Why are you here?” It was not a judgment, but Elliot could feel what little sense of self he still had deflating.
“Because, I would think, especially for an outlet as small as yours, sending you here seems nonsensical. What more can I say that has not already been said?”
Something sparkled in Araki’s eyes Elliot couldn’t place, but it made his stomach clench. Steeling himself, he spoke, with as much bravado as he could muster, “I think there’s more than you’ve been telling people all these years.”
The corner of Araki’s mouth twitched upwards. “And what makes you think you’re the one that’s going to get the missing parts of the story out of me?”
Elliot met his stare. There was nothing but good-natured humor in his face, and it made Elliot angry, made his blood heat under his skin.
“No actors were harmed in the making of the film,” Elliot said, “No one was affected.”
“Until Haru,” Araki nodded, “Poor boy.”
“For months, nothing. Not a murmur of anything in the production. Even after, the actors had nothing but praise, or, at least, respect for you. How is it that it was kept a secret for all that time? Even after Haru died, they said nothing was wrong with the production, and I can’t imagine those statements were made out of fear. They saw the movie too.”
“Do you know why the movie received a premiere in the first place?” Araki asked. “Why it received any attention to begin with? Because the lead actor, Umeda Minori, was my friend from film school. Or, at least, he was, we lost contact too. Without his fame, his help, it would have ended in a pile of discount DVDs in one of those bins at supermarket checkouts. It wouldn’t have even made the cut for streaming services. But, maybe, it would still exist. It would have a shitty place in movie history, but if someone wanted to watch it, they could.”
Elliott tried not to react, but he was sure Araki could see. “My point then, is that Haru was the only one originally affected right?”
“Until your producer stated he thought it was the movie that made him kill himself.”
“And then it was one of the cameramen, he killed two of the extras.”
“Another producer killed our lighting designer,” Araki completed the list. “And some other attendees from the premier. That was a mix of suicides and murders, I don’t remember who did what. That was when we started to lose track of it.”
“But they didn’t all happen at the same time.” Elliot pressed. “They happened after Haru. After your producer was interviewed.”
“What are you implying?” Araki questioned.
“I think, it’s possible, that your producer found the opportunity to garner publicity – so much free publicity – for a film that would have otherwise lived in infamy at best and anonymity at worse. If it was remembered for anything, it would have been for dragging Minori into a piece of plotless, overly artistic shit. That interview assured that the film would be cemented into legend. At least for those with a sense of morbid curiosity.” Elliot swallowed, waiting for Araki’s response.
Araki took a moment, contemplating, then laughed. “It seems to have worked that way.” Elliot and Liam shared a look as the filmmaker continued to chuckle. “It’s why the movie was eventually banned. After someone reported a fourth of viewers were affected, there wasn’t really a choice. It’s why I am here, and not still in Tokyo. It’s why they call me a genius, a serial killer, or both.”
“And, what do you say you are?” Elliot leaned forward in his seat.
Araki sat back, clasping his hands together on his lap. He looked at Elliot for a moment, before shaking his head, and standing up.
“Do you want to watch it?” he asked.
Elliot and Liam exchanged another quick look, and, quickly, silently, Liam stopped the camera. He still held it, as if it were still recording.
“You have a copy?” Elliot questioned.
“It’s my movie. I have clearly seen it, many times. They weren’t taking it away from me.” For the first time, Araki’s tone betrayed a note of agitation.
“But, have you shown it to others…?”
“Not all say yes.” Araki shrugged. “Reporters, fanatics, and the like. If someone thinks they want to and talks to me first, they often talk themselves out of it. You, well, you’re aware of the risk. And if you think it’s a hoax, then, what have you to lose?”
Elliot watched as Araki stepped towards the TV stand, opened one of the cabinets, and pulled out a black DVD case.
“You never answered my question, though.” Araki didn’t look at Elliot, instead focusing on the case in his hands. “Why is it that you came here? I’d bet it’s more than just calling a bluff.”
Elliot was mesmerized by the case. The horrors it had caused. The possibilities it held. He was so focused, it felt like an unconscious part of him forced out the words to answer Araki’s question.
“I wanted to see it.”
Araki’s lips quirked into a smile.
“I knew you did.”
“Does it matter? I was right.” Araki took a moment and looked towards Liam. “What about you?”
“I don’t want to watch it.” He said quickly, “I’ll film you two as you do if you’re okay with that. Reactions, conversations, you know.”
“Of course.” Araki smiled at Liam and turned back to the TV. He squatted down in front of it, his legs wide to accommodate his older hips, his black trousers rising enough that Elliot could see the faded socks. They seemed mismatched: the left one was a slightly darker gray. Araki put the DVD into the machine and straightened up with a soft grunt of effort. Turning back to the chair, he picked up the remote and sat back down.
“We can keep talking,” Araki said as he turned on the TV, “As you watch. Or not. It’s up to you. But, I’m sure you have more questions, and I enjoy the conversation.”
The DVD menu was not extensive. It only had an option to play, or for scene selection. Araki pressed play, and settled into his seat, putting his feet up on the ottoman in front of him.
The title screen was black, the white characters spelling out “Thursday the 12th” in Kanji letters.
“Terrible name, isn’t it?” Araki said it more of a statement than a question, “Can’t imagine what I was thinking. And Minori let me get away with it!” He laughed and reached for the pipe on the table beside him.
Elliot was watching but wasn’t quite sure how to process what he was seeing. The movie began with a woman walking down a hallway. There were shadows, overplayed. Too much contrast in the lighting. He supposed it was to give the movie more of a scary quality, not quite sure who or what was where, but it made his eyes hurt.
The acting was good, all things considered. He couldn’t understand the Japanese dialogue, and there were no subtitles. There was a tacked-on romantic plot, he could tell that much. And the actors had a bit of chemistry.
The shot changed to a long hallway. A shadow at the back. A woman maybe? Not the main actress. A different figure. And the hallway lengthened, on and on and on. And Elliot’s eyes seemed to blur, his ears filled with the sound of footsteps, as someone walked towards the shadow.
But the sound of footsteps was fading, a white noise permeating through, overtaking his mind. The hallway kept extending, towards the shadow, who was coming into sharper and sharper focus. It wasn’t a woman, the hair was short, and the shoulders were becoming broader.
There was a glint of something, something silver, something sharp. And Elliot’s hand was closed tight around it, his palms slick with sweat.
No, that wasn’t true. His hands had formed fists, sweat permeating through his jeans. He could smell the smoke from Araki’s pipe, hear the shuffling of Liam’s feet. He blinked, and saw the shot had changed again, the main two characters were in a bedroom, Minori staring off into the distance as his love interest wrapped herself around him.
Slowly, as nonchalantly as he could, he unclenched his hands, keeping his palms on his knees, and leaned back into his seat. If Araki had noticed, he said nothing. Neither did Liam.
Elliot let out a breath, watching as Minori walked down a dimly lit street, his coat buttoned up tightly, his shoulders hunched, bracing himself against something. The cold, the wind, the darkness, he wasn’t sure. The shadow had appeared again, and, he could swear, it had long hair, like another woman. A jilted lover? Maybe that was the other piece of the plot he was missing.
Minori passed under a streetlamp, and the figure flickered in the light behind him. It was horribly cliche, straight out of a B movie, if not worse. Maybe a D movie.
But the figure wasn’t the same. It couldn’t be the same shadow.
He blinked again, forcing himself to clear his mind. This was crazy. Or, maybe Araki was a better filmmaker than Elliot gave him credit for. He felt his heart beating, just a little faster than it should.
Araki cast him a quick look and took a drag from his pipe.
“What did you pitch the story as, when you said you wanted to write it?” Araki said. “This one, about me.”
Elliot snapped out of his stupor and looked at Araki.
“I, uh, I said I wanted to do a piece about you, a human portrait.”
“So you lied?”
“I-” Elliot didn’t know what to say to this. Everything had been flipped on him. He was the journalist, he was the one supposed to question Araki, not the other way around. “No.”
“You came here to watch the movie,” Araki blew out a cloud of smoke, the scent lingering in the air. “I sincerely doubt you told your editor that.”
“No, I told my editor I wanted to do a piece on you. An in-depth portrait of you, not as a filmmaker, but as a person. And your life after the movie.”
“You think you have enough material for that?” Araki asked, a smile in his voice.
Araki let out a little sigh.
“Do you want more material for that?”
Araki let out a small snort of laughter, as if to say, I didn’t think so.
“John doesn’t care about the story. He’s been running the paper into the ground for the past year.” Why was Elliot telling Araki this? Why was he being so open, so honest, with this man?
Araki looked at Liam, who was looking at Elliot with wide eyes. This wasn’t the plan. Telling Araki any of this.
“Is this true?” Araki asked Liam. Liam didn’t say anything, and Elliot didn’t look to see his response.
Minori was in an office. His coat on the floor, running his hands through his hair. His eyes were bloodshot, his skin tinged gray with lack of sleep. Books toppled over on the desk, a gust of wind flying past him, making the edges of his shirt move.
His mouth moved, saying a word that Elliot could hear and understand.
The lights flickered. All the horror movie tropes, preparing the audience for the jump scare. Minori moved out of his office, into the open space beyond, trying to find the source of his fear.
He entered another room, and the figure was sitting behind the desk.
Minori’s eyes went wide.
The office looked eerily familiar to Elliot, who found himself leaning forward, towards the TV, without conscious thought.
The silver frame was flipped over, the picture wasn’t visible. He could smell something. What was it? It wasn’t Araki’s pipe. More like the stale stench of last night’s liquor.
Minori was reaching, his hand extending to the light, to turn it on, and Elliot didn’t want him to. His own hand reached out as if to stop him. He didn’t want to see who it was.
“You must not have much respect for your editor,” Araki commented. “To talk about him like that. To lie to him so brazenly. To lie to me.”
“I didn’t lie to you.” Elliot spared him a glance, forcing his hand back down.
“You did. You didn’t care about me, about my story. You wanted this. To sit, and watch, and see. If it was real. Or, real for you. To see whatever you wanted it to be.”
The figure lunged for Minori, hands clawing, and he was reaching for the frame, smashing the picture against the skull, glass cracking, blood spattering against the portrait of Tyler in the arms of his father.
Elliot swallowed, and swallowed again. His stomach was in his throat, his nails digging into his thighs.
“You know I sometimes wonder, as you did,” Araki began to speak, but, this time, Elliot didn’t turn to look at him. “If it was a mistake, to allow Haru’s death to be publicized as it was. People will use anything as an excuse, to reveal the darkest intentions of their hearts. They hunt for their scapegoats, to blame anything but themselves. For their lack of control.”
Elliot’s breathing was faster now, watching, as the blood pooled on the office floor, underneath the dark brown hair, mixing with the bourbon pouring from the broken bottle.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Araki asked. “To have that escape.”
He managed to get his tongue unstuck from the roof of his mouth.
“You let your producer make the claim,” he said, “That this movie could cause violence. That it could make people do things. You didn’t fight him. Didn’t dispute him.”
“No, I didn’t.”
Elliot wasn’t sure what he wanted to ask, so he let the unformed question die in his throat. His eyes were still glued to the screen, without seeing it. How the movie ended was inconsequential.
“Elliot?” He could hear Liam’s voice from far away, but Elliot didn’t reply to him. He could feel the weight building in his stomach, the realization settling in.
“Or maybe it’s not the escape. It’s the realization, of knowing where your nature truly lies.”
Their eyes met. And Elliot knew what he really wanted to ask.
“When will I know?”
The corner of Araki’s mouth tilted upwards; the first real smile Elliot had seen. One that met his eyes, making them sparkle in the lamplight.
The unspoken answer.
You already do.
Kirstyn Petras is caffeine in a human suit held together by hair spray and a prayer. She currently resides in Texas, though claims home as a combination of New York and Edinburgh. When not writing she trains contortion and aerial hoop. She is also the co-host of Dark Waters, a literary podcast exploring all that is dark, dreary, and wonderfully twisted.