Tiger Tanaka looked out the window of the plane as it began its final approach towards Formosa.
Tanaka had to remind himself that the island was Taiwan now. The Empire had renamed the island Taiwan in an effort to reject the old colonial past in East Asia. It was still an imperial colony, but at least it had Asian masters instead of European ones. Off at the edge of the horizon was the Chinese mainland, the tallest buildings of Fuzhou just visible through the haze.
He'd been here twenty years earlier under much different circumstances. As a junior officer, Tanaka witnessed the Third Humiliation. His destroyer and the entire East China Fleet evacuated as much of the Chinese Expeditionary Force from the continent as they could before the Communists could capture them. Those they could not save had been left to their fate. If the men were real Japanese they would have committed suicide either through -- seppuku or a bullet to the brain -- before the Chinese had a chance to capture them. There were reports of scattered Japanese prisoners of war living in China since. Gossip and the stuff enlisted men talked about while they drank. Two decades since and Tanaka still felt shame at both the defeats and the men left behind. Their dishonor had come at the hands of their empire's dishonorable actions. Their empire, the one they sacrificed their lives for, could not protect them.
"Gensui-kaigun-taishō," the pilot in the front seat of the small aircraft addressed him through the headphones. "Please fasten your seat belt. We are preparing to land."
Tanaka complied. He looked out the window as they flew over the city of Taihoku, the capital of Japanese Taiwan. It was a copy of every colonial capital the Empire had. Squat buildings in a grid formation with only a handful of those structures actually above ten stories. Anchored off the coast was the early formation of Tanaka's fleet. The crown jewel of the fleet, Tanaka's flagship aircraft carrier Kasagi, sat in the middle of the collection of ships. A light aircraft carrier, a few destroyers and cruisers and smaller support ships all orbited around the Kasagi like the planets orbited around the sun.
The plane landed onto the deck of the Kasagi with a hard bump. Tanaka saw that a small welcoming party had gathered at the end of the deck. He ran a thumbnail across his thick black mustache and made sure his white uniform and cap were in order before the plane came to a stop. Tanka exited and was met by his boss. Navy Chief of Staff Grand Admiral Kubo stood at the front, the captains of the other ships in the fleet flanked him on both sides and stood at attention.
"Grand Admiral Tanaka," Kubo said with a nod while the other officers saluted Tanaka. "Welcome to the Southern Expeditionary Fleet."
Tanaka quickly returned the men's salute before he saluted Kubo. The chief of staff returned his salute casually and looked back at the captains.
"I'd like a word with your fleet commander before formal introductions can begin."
The officers nodded and bowed to Kubo as he put his arm around Tanaka's shoulder. It was quite a reach for the shorter man, but he managed it. They walked across the deck as wind wiped across it, Tanaka holding firmly to his cap while Kubo's shaved head was bare. The plane that dropped him off was already taking off. It roared overhead as the pilot turned north back towards Japan.
"You look good, Tiger," said Kubo. "How was Korea?"
"Thank you, sir. And it was boring."
"Of course it was," Kubo laughed. "It's full of Koreans. At least Pusan has some international flair. I heard you took up with an American woman."
"Yes," Tanaka said curtly. "She's a widow, and I have never taken a wife. So there is no one to object. But what does that have to do with my role in Taiwan?"
"Touchy touchy," Kubo said with another laugh. "I just wanted to know how pink the nipples of white women are."
Tanak cleared his throat and pulled at the collar of his uniform. "Very.
"There we go." Kubo slapped Tanaka's back with a chubby hand. "Now since you are not in the playful mood, Tiger, I'll speak quickly. You know the mandate here, yes?"
"Yes," said Tana. "Pirate duty. Merchant ships from all across Asia are being boarded and robbed. Specifically in the East and South China Seas. Although... permission to speak freely?"
Kubo smiled. "Please, I welcome it."
"It seems a rather large fleet for pirates."
"Well," Kubo said with a grin. "There's a reason I was here to meet you. On paper, yes, find and destroy any pirates you come across. As the premier naval power in this part of the world, the duty to patrol the seas falls upon us. But if these patrols take you into other nation's waters... Filipino waters for example... then so be it."
Kubo's face showed no hint of emotion, only a slightly raised eyebrow conveyed his message. Tanaka bowed slightly to Kubo. The message was received. Kubo was a few years older than Tiger, so both men knew well had bad their retreat from the mainland had been. All the high command of the military knew disgrace and shame. All all of them were eager to regain their honor. Russia had been a start, but it was just that: a start.
"I believe that Asia has quietly forgotten about the Imperial Japanese Navy and all that we can do," Kubo said. "Perhaps they can be reminded by this new fleet."
"Yes, sir," Tanaka said with a smile.
((Tagging @Letter Bee just in case he's interested))
The small gathering in the apartment watched with rapt attention the action on the canvas screen hung on the wall. A medium shot of Date Masamune showed the mighty warrior on horseback, raising his sword to the sky in victory. There was a close-up on the face of the legendary daimyo, one eye covered by an eyepatch while the other remaining eye looked wild. The scene cut back to the battlefield. All around Date were fellow samurai from the Date Clan. They cheered as the camera pulled back further to reveal dead samurai and horses on the ground.
"We will remember our dead," Date shouted as the camera was back on him in close-ups. "While the losers of today's battle will never forget the Date Clan. We have united the north under our banner. Now we ride to Edo. The shōgunate will be ours!"
More cheers and cries from the samurai. Date's horse raised up on its hind legs before racing across the battlefield. Date, with sword still held high, led the samurai as they galloped across the field in the direction of the sun. The music swelled and the scene faded to black. The gathered people began to applaud and clapped harder when the words "Directed by Miki Yasutake" flash on the screen in Kanji.
From his seat in the back of the room, Miki took in the praise and applause with a grain of salt. Everyone at his apartment tonight had been either a member of the cast and crew of the film, or they were part of the Tokyo arts community who thought Miki could do no wrong.
He stepped forward and politely bowed as the lights came back on and the projector flicked off.
"Thank you, thank you. You are most kind. I have one more edit to go through, but for the most part this version of Dokuganryū will be the one released in theaters across Japan next month."
The film screen was the climax of the party. Miki walked around and continued to mingle, sipping champagne along with the odd shot of saki. He fielded questions about the next movie he would direct, his thoughts on the big Hollywood murder scandal, and when they could expect a sequel to Dokuganryū. Miki played the part of aloof artists and gave vague answers. With his black turtle neck, black slacks, sunglasses, and flowing premature gray hair he looked every bit the part of the auteur director.
"We do actually need to discuss your next film, Miki-san," Saito said as the party was winding down.
Miki resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He'd been successfully avoiding him the entire party up until this point. He looked at the man from the Imperial Information Ministry. If Miki was the cliched artist, then Saito was the cliched bureaucrat with his cheap suit and glasses and love of rules and regulations. For the Empire's chief propagandist, Miki found that Saito had very little in the way of imagination. He had to be someone high-up's nephew or in-law.
"The movie was received well," said Saito. "Here tonight and at my offices. With how Dokuganryū ends, there is room for a sequel. And the IIM would like to commission you to write and direct the sequel. Ideally, work on it would begin as soon as possible."
"No," said Miki.
"Excuse me?" Saito looked taken aback. "Miki-san, you know who the IIM is."
"I know very well who you represent."
Miki turned away from Saito and started through the now nearly empty apartment. Those that had stayed behind were admiring the art on the walls. There were a few Japanese pieces, but plenty were works of western artists. He had a few Edward Hoppers, an excellent Paul Nash painting inspired by the Great War, and a few paintings by his favorite artists Lucille Lucas. But the main attraction was the disturbing Goya paintting Saturn Devouring His Son. The piece was always a conversation starter. Even now, three of Miki's guest were huddled around it observing the stark painting the Spanish master had painted directly onto the wall of his house.
After passing the painting, Miki turned around and found Saito right behind him, looking up at him with a look that was half angry and half worried.
"No one refuses the IIM," it came out more incredulous than anything.
"And I am not," said Miki. "I am simply stating that my next film will not be a sequel to Dokuganryū. It will be something else all together."
"What will it be, Miki-san?"
Miki held up a long, thin finger and walked to one of the desks in his apartment. He pulled a well-worn book from the bottom drawer of the desk and handed it to Saito. He saw the little man's brow furrow at the sight of the square-jawed man on the cover, smoking a cigarette as he walked under a lamp post. The title was in English, but Saito had no trouble reading it aloud.
"'Poisonville: A Sam Bennett Mystery.'" Saito flipped it over and read the plot synopsis aloud. "'When an accused corrupt politician commits suicide, Sam Bennett is forced by a crime boss to investigate the death. What looks like an open and shut case begins to unravel and Sam finds himself waist deep in graft, girls, and guns. As the bodies start to pile up, Sam plays a dangerous chess game with the powers that be that could cost him his life and bring the whole rotten foundation of the city down.' Saito looked up at Miki with a frown. "Miki-san, this is not a Japanese book."
"No," Miki said with a smile. "It is not. But it is one of my favorite books. And I want to adapt it into a Japanese setting. An historical samurai movie, set before the Meiji era."
"A samurai detective story?"
"With the trappings of a Hollywood western," said Miki. "I want to show the world Japan can do more than simple propaganda, Saito-san. The IIM wants to promote Japanese culture, well so do I! But I need help with that."
"Yes," Miki said with a nod. "I need to buy the rights from the American author, and then production costs. I already have a screenplay, Saito. I will let you read it for approval. If you let me make this film first, then I will work on Dokuganryū right after. I will even work on the screenplay while we're in preproduction."
Saito rubbed his forehead and sighed.
"I will have to talk to my superiors about this, as well as review and potentially edit the screenplay. But... we have a tentative deal."
Miki bowed to Saito.
"Thank you, thank you."
"If you want to thank me, Miki-san, then make sure you make good films. Films that are Japanese."
"That has never been a problem with me," Miki said with a grin. "This one was written by an American, but when I am through with it, it will be thoroughly Japanese."
"Sixty thousand yen."
Abe Dokuro looked at the young man in the knock-off sharkskin suit and sunglasses. They were in the back alley behind a noodle shop, neon lights reflecting off the boy's dark lenses. Even though it was less than a kilometer away, the Saeki Ward was as far from the nightlife and hostess clubs of Naka as you could get. It was a rough neighborhood were working class rubbed shoulders with the criminals and petty grifters. Ghettos, they were called in English. Saeki was the ghetto. It was also where he'd been raised. To the Abe brothers, the ghetto was home.
The boy cradled in his hands, what appeared to be a Colt M1911 in good condition. Abe preferred American guns when he could get them. He chose quality over patriotism every time. In Japan, it was illegal for civilians to carry handguns. Military and police could carry them, but everyone else could only have rifles and shotguns after a lengthy screening process. Normally the Yakuza had a pipeline to weapons thanks to Chinese smugglers and IJA officers willing to look the way for extra yen in their pockets. But there was no way Goro would give Abe a weapon. Not after tonight. So he was having to resort to this: A kid pretending to be Yakuza.
"Here," Abe said, passing him the money.
The kid slid it into his breast pocket and smiled before he turned the gun on Abe.
"Thanks. Give me the rest of your money."
Abe looked down the barrel of the gun. He quickly turned his head to the right, causing the kid to look in that direction. Abe struck him with the open palm of his right hand. The gun jerked up and went off, a bullet whizzing past Abe's ear. The kid yelled as Abe jerked the gun from his hand.
"You little shit," Abe said as he struck the boy across the forehead with the butt of the pistol. "I was going to pay you."
He fell on the ground and his sunglasses clattered on the pavement somewhere. Abe pinned him down by placing his knees on the kid's shoulders. With Abe's left hand holding the gun on the boy, his right hand jerked the sixty thousand yen from the kid's jacket and put it back into his own pocket.
"At least I know the gun works," he said.
"Please," he pleaded. "Don't hurt me."
Abe flashed his tattoos at the boy. The kid's eyes went wide in recognition. Abe felt him starting to shake underneath his knees.
"If you want to play Yakuza, boy, at least look the part better."
Abe aimed the gun on the boy's head.
"Please don't hurt me. T-t-there's no more bullets in the pistol."
Abe ejected the magazine and looked in. He was right. The magazine was empty, as was the Colt's chamber.
"I can still bash your head in with it," he said, flipping the gun so that he held it like a club. "You're just lucky that I'm in a forgiving mood tonight. Answer me one quick question: The Koreans and the other foreigner gangsters. Where do they congregate?"